Much of the Christian life is a paradox. We hear how we are supposed to lay down our life in order to keep it (Luke 17:33), how giving leads to plenty (2 Corinthians 9:6), and how the foolish things of this world are chosen to shame the wise(1 Corinthians 1:27). I have also heard a lot about the benefit of contentment, the two main verses cited being 1 Timothy 6:6: "But godliness with contentment is great gain" (In context, it is an admonishment not to love money or seek riches) and Philippians 4:11-13:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.My current question/struggle/wondering is this: What is the balance of being content and in seeking purposefully after what we want? The Bible contains example after example of people who came to the Lord seeking desperately for something they wanted: Hannah wanted a baby (1 Samuel 1), cried out to the Lord while weeping bitterly, and got one (actually, in the end she had six children). Could not someone have told Hannah to be content with her husband and stop longing for children?
Time after time in the New Testament, people come to Jesus to heal them or someone they love. The woman who had bled for twelve years and who fought through a crowd simply to touch Jesus' robe (Luke 8:43-48) wasn't content to stay in her house alone and accept her fate, and she was healed. Two blind beggars wait for Jesus at the side of the road and yell out for Him until He comes, even after the crowd tries to make them stop (Matthew 20:29-34). They do not seem very content with their lot, and they received their sight. The Canaanite woman nags Jesus about her demon-possessed daughter and won't accept "No" even when Jesus initially doesn't promise her help(Matthew 15:21-28). She ends up with a healthy daughter.
Luke 18: 1-8 is the account of the persistent widow. The Bible says about this that: ". . . he[Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart." (Luke 18:1) The parable conveys the idea that we need to keep on praying for what we want. The rest of the account does say that what the Lord will give us is justice (Luke 18:7) and not just anything we want, so I have to keep that in mind when I think about that example.
Matthew 7:7-11 tells us to ask for what we want, for "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" (Matthew 7:11) In Luke 11:5-13, Jesus expounds on that story, and tells how a man will give a friend bread because of his "impudence" in asking.
So, which is it? Be content or seek God to change something in your life? Can we do both? Does it depend on what it is?
No surprise to anyone who knows me or who reads this irregular blog regularly, but I am specifically thinking of this question in relationship to singleness (or any desire we have that is not a promise from God). There are many people who give the well-meaning advice of "Just come to a place of contentment. This happened to me (or my friend, or my sister, or my third cousin-once-removed) and THEN God brought me a mate." Yay for you, and there is some truth to that, but Hannah wasn't content in her childlessness and then God just suddenly sent a baby. She was weeping loudly enough that the priest thought she was drunk, and praying HARD for that child.
We are not to have idols, and any unmet desire can easily become an idol, especially when it is a good thing (marriage, a baby, health, security, even someone's salvation). I believe that God's desire is that we would seek Him above what we want. Yet, would the bleeding woman or the blind men or Hannah have come to the Lord without wanting something? They weren't there just to praise God. They were there to fix the problem, to meet the desire, to get what they wanted.
I wonder how that made Jesus feel? Happy that they did come, sad because it was only to get what they wanted? Or happy because the trial did what it was supposed to and drew them to Him? I was going to say that there are no examples of people coming to Jesus who didn't get healed/rewarded, but there are. The rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-23) walked away. Pilate refused to really find out who Truth was (John 18:33-38) and washed his hands of it all.
Obviously, many pray persistently for healing and do not receive it on this earth. People pray for children and never conceive. Others pray for spouses and the answer is "No." How do those of us in these situations--any of us who are going to Jesus to seek healing or the fulfillment of godly desires--balance contentment with persistence? Jesus was denied relief from crucifixion. Yet He did go to God seeking it.
If I know myself at all, I know that I am probably wanting a formula when I just need to be seeking Jesus. I do think there is not an easy answer, and I promise never to tell anyone that they just need to be "content" and then God will do whatever it is that they want, because I don't see that in Scripture (and if your heart is anywhere as devious as mine, you also know that you are trying to achieve contentment to gain the goal which. . . not what God has in mind, I'm pretty sure).
My comfort, as we begin the season of advent, is this:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)Immanuel means "God with us" and to have God with me, even though my greedy heart fights for more, is all I really need.
I may never figure out this balance. I come to Jesus all the time with my sinful, mixed-up desires and motives. I will never love like He does. In my own strength I can't seek Him wholeheartedly. Yet the miracle of Christmas and Easter is that God did the seeking and finding for me, and made the way for my sinful self to come before His perfect throne. This fact is the only paradox that really matters.