March 21, 2015

Elusive contentment

Numbers 24:1–25:18, 1 Corinthians 7:17–40, Psalm 21:1–13

Balaam, the prophet from Moab, seems an odd duck. He was asked several times by his king to curse the people of Israel and replied that he would say only what God told him to say, yet he kept listening to the king’s requests and going with him to supposedly offer the curse. What was going on in his head?

After doing this a few times, he finally realized God was not going to let Him curse His people, but put only words of blessing in his mouth, so “When Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he did not go, as at other times, to look for omens, but set his face toward the wilderness. And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe. And the Spirit of God came upon him, and he took up his discourse and said, ‘The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down with his eyes uncovered: How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your encampments, O Israel!’” (Numbers 24:1–5)

As I think about this man, some of my own actions seem like his, not the blessing/cursing part, but the inability to have straightforward motivations. I want to do right. I want to please others, which might mean not doing right. I do right and it doesn’t work out the way I’d hoped, so I wished I’d gone the other way . . . yada, yada. The NT calls this ‘double-mindedness’ and when in that dilemma, I cannot please the Lord or please myself.

Sometimes the struggle is actually spiritual war, usually identified by my inability to immediately know what is wrong. Sometimes it is just me being foolish and I know exactly what is wrong.

Spiritual wars are God’s unseen enemies messing with God’s people so we are not able to obey or glorify Him. The psalmist understood how these are God’s battles. We have to resist evil, but it is the Lord who turns the tide: “Though they plan evil against you (Lord), though they devise mischief, they will not succeed. For you will put them to flight; you will aim at their faces with your bows.” (Psalm 21:11–12) During these skirmishes, I often pray, “O Lord, You are my Savior. Please save me.”

Some of those other battles (where I immediately realize what is going on) involve my ambition. I want to be or do something that God has not commanded or sanctioned. It might not be a sinful action, but since it is not His will for me, then it is a sinful thing for me. The NT reading for today cast this sort of thinking in the realm of marital status, but it could be anything, like employment, position in the church, abilities in certain activities or sports, anything that I have been called to do but am discontent with it.

The verses say . . . “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches . . . So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God . . . This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.” (1 Corinthians 7:17; 24; 29–31)

Paul told his readers to be content wherever they were, whatever they were doing. If God wants me elsewhere or doing something different, He will bring it to pass. Otherwise, be content for God knows what is best.

I don’t want to be like Balaam and be flopping back and forth with the will of God, and I don’t want to be a double-minded person. Spiritual warfare isn’t much fun either. Contentment is the best choice, and while it seems a no-brainer, some days that place of grace can be terribly elusive.

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