This week's Bible Study - March 6, 2016
Our Need for Contentment
John 6:26-27; 35-40
Quotes of the Week:
A contented mind is the greatest blessing a man can enjoy in this world.
Following a fascinating study from Matthew 5 and much of the Sermon on the Mount, we now will be doing a few studies from the book of John. These studies will be entitled Our Need for "…". These needs will include contentment, direction, protection, hope, peace and purpose. In preparing to teach or lead Bible studies over the years, as well as being involved in other studies, listening to thousands of lessons and sermons, I have learned that every passage of Scripture has some application for our lives, if we will only open our eyes and our hearts.
In the last series of studies, I was touched by how Jesus told us over and over that it is less important in regards to the things that we do and it is more important for us to be the people we have been called to be. When you take a step back and think about it, that's really an important key, isn't it? We get so caught up in our lives doing things or being at places and are so busy that we lose track of who we really are. Those few times where we enter a church or Bible Study are great. The tasks we do in some aspect of ministry are good. The times of fellowship with other believers are indeed sweet. The things we avoid because we know that they are harmful in one way or another are good to avoid, but those are merely external aspects. We can put on a very 'Christ-like looking' persona, and at the same time know that we are harboring bitterness or un-forgiveness towards another, or are perhaps we are just being plain old mean to someone else. The real question is "Who are you, really?" At least that is something that God really spoke to me about in the last series and I am looking forward to what is in store in the coming few weeks as well.
This lesson is about contentment. What does that mean to you? Some people would say to be content would mean they had what they wanted. Others (the ones who want to give the 'church' answer) might say that contentment is wanting what they have. We'd like to say that we are fine with that, but there are some, even without any external distractions, are anything but content. It may be that their job is not what they wanted. They may have strained or broken relationships in their life, or some other set of circumstances always has them on edge. We may say that we are fine when we are asked "How are you?", but people rarely give the 'real' answer to that question. (Only a few people would care to hear the real answer!)
There are so many distractions that we face. You can't watch anything on TV without being bombarded by the stuff that you are told that you need. If you have a TV with more than 10 channels, I would imagine that there are at least several channels specifically targeted at selling you something. What an ingenious idea! They can come right into your house and show you want you so desperately need. On those shows, every few minutes, you'll find something else that you don't have. Or, maybe you have it, but it is 'last year's thing to have'. There are newer and more sparkly things out there now. They only have a few left and people are buying them, because they obviously know more than we do! We may easily become discontent with what we have, simply by being shown what we don't have.
In our dog eat dog world, we learn at an early age that we have to set goals if we want to get anywhere. If you want to excel in sports or in music, you need to put the time into practice. I've seen young children who have been put into hours and hours of lessons, practices and are solely focused (usually at the desire of one of their parents) towards some goal. It's like they are told that they can only be content if they can 'make it big' or get that college scholarship. On the other hand, there are childhood prodigies in all different kinds of fields that are able to pick up on things without any practice. After struggling through three years of piano lessons as a child, I have always been amazed when there are little kids that seem to have a knack to play music without any training. How do they do that? If I wanted to be a concert musician (and were able to make that happen), would I be content if I could have their skills?
We work towards goals. Many people always have something else on their radar - something bigger and better. I've worked for nearly 30 years in the same technical field and I've seen roadmaps of capabilities that seemed so far in the future at one point; yet I have seen them come and go. Seriously, who would have thought we would have all the gadgets that we have now, even 20 years ago? There are some people that are so goal oriented that their ever elusive goal is the one thing that gets them out of bed in the morning, so that they can attack their day. Unfortunately, I've seen many of these people attain their goals, only to be disappointed and, sigh, discontent. How do we find contentment?
As we consider this lesson, we need to think a bit about the timeframe during which Jesus lived. I read in some commentary long ago that one of the ways that the Romans kept masses of people under control was by feeding them and entertaining them. Since I couldn't find the source, I'm not sure if it's true or not, but it does make sense, doesn't it? If you keep your citizens content, they are less likely to rebel. However, in another way, it implies that you've taken on the role of having to provide meals and entertainment day after day. (This sounds like where some people desire to take the government today!) For many, contentment is the feeling they get when they've eaten a good meal. They are fine until they get hungry again. Feeding hunger for contentment, well, that is fleeting.
As Jesus was ministering to people, He had quite a following. We read that many people followed Him wherever He went. In John 6, the account of the feeding of the 5000 is documented. This was a huge miracle, as feeding a large group like that is a logistical nightmare, even if you had the supplies with you. (Can you imagine how much food it would take to feed 5000 people?) There is a lot that could be said about this miracle or any of the others, but I would have to think that many followed Jesus for the 'wow' factor. Wowing might be good, but it only leads to 'what's next'? If you've been a believer for a long time, perhaps you've had your share of 'wow' moments, where it is obvious that God has done a great thing in or around your life. Those are good to bolster our faith, perhaps, but there is a danger if you begin to think you need the wow factor to maintain it.
Have you ever thought about how churches would grow by leaps and bounds if every need of every member was met routinely? I'm sure there would be more members, right? While it would be good to get them in church, if it was only that their needs were being met, it only creates a dependency on the church, as the people begin to assume that they will be provided for, again and again. While many might welcome this type of provision, I believe that it would take a toll on the faith of the members. God provided manna for the Israelites in the wilderness, on a daily basis. And, Jesus prayed the words "Give us this day our daily bread". While we know that God provides for our needs, we all seem to have a level of discontent if we can't see how we can care for ourselves and those we love long term. Is there a way that we can learn contentment, despite all of these other things?
As people kept closing in on Jesus and following Him everywhere, it was as if at times, He became elusive. After the feeding of the 5000, He withdrew alone and as the disciples left in a boat, Jesus met them in the water - as He walked on top of the water to the boat, which was yet, another miracle. All of these miracles, and hearing Jesus teach, had to encourage the disciples of the person of Christ. In each of the miracles, He showed Himself to be the provider of different needs, and His power over many of the things that men are most fearful of.
The crowd found Jesus on the other side of the lake and asked how He got there. Jesus, seeing their real reason for following, answered that they weren't looking for Him because of the signs and wonders, but because they had experienced the provision of a personal need. Who wouldn't want to follow someone who could meet their needs? However, they were, as are many people today, most interested in the here and now, and did not see the implications of the eternal need that they had. While people are interested in meeting the tangible needs of today, many laugh off eternity, as if it were a concoction of weak minded fools. Jesus pointed out that they were seeking food that would spoil. Jesus offers food that endures forever. There is food that spoils and food that endures. What type of food are you seeking?
The interest of the people was piqued. They wanted to know how they could do the works that were required by God. Perhaps they expected a series of hoops through which to jump. This would line up with what many people think today; that they have to earn God's love somehow. Some believe that they are set right with God by doing some series of rituals on a continual basis, or just through good deeds throughout their lifetime. The thing that people miss, though, is that not even one of us is good enough to approach God on our own. Even believers wrestle with this, thinking that they just need to be good enough (and then God would act in some way that they desired). However, they can't be good enough - you can't and neither can I. Jesus told them to believe in Him. They wanted more signs. They wanted more proof. They referenced the signs that their ancestors had in the wilderness, the daily provision of manna, or bread from heaven. However, they seemed to forget the continual actions of their ancestors; grumbling against God. The ancestors had the signs, and even had the presence of God with them, but they wanted more and more.
Jesus knew that what the people sought was not what they needed to be content. He couldn't put on a daily show for them and make them believe. He wouldn't promise that all of their desires would be met. Certainly, we have tremendous benefits in following Christ, but these benefits are the outgrowth of a heart that seeks God. We don't receive benefits that serve as carrots to lure would-be followers.
Have you ever thought about how much we as believers often settle? While we know that it will not give us 'contentment', many believers seem to be content to more or less go through the motions. They may be honest about seeking God, but their actions would tend to make you think that church attendance or some Bible study or some other aspect of Christian life is what it is all about. They may seem to be more focused on rule following and jumping through 'Christian hoops'. While these may be good things, if you just do these things and nothing else, you are working for food that spoils. We aren't called to seek perfect attendance at church or to become 'smarter' Christians, but we are called to be people that strive to follow Christ.
After the people said that they desired the bread from heaven to eat, Jesus told them that the Father had given them the true bread. They asked Jesus that they would have this bread. Jesus said "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty". We are not called to seek 'godly' things which continue to keep us hungry and thirsty. We are called to seek Jesus, who satisfies. I have heard it referenced as an empty side in each person, as some have called it a "God sized vacuum". So many people are seeking for 'something' to put into that empty space, but mostly they want something that they can control. It is as if people are looking for that magic thing, thinking that once they have that, they will be content. Some believe it would be possessions or money. Some believe it would be relationships. Some seek spiritual significance and will open themselves to anything of a spiritual nature. Outside of Jesus Christ, all things are lacking and in none of them can you find satisfaction and contentment.
Jesus said that they had seen him and still did not believe. They were trying to understand Jesus from an earthly standpoint - that he would be an earthly king. However, true belief comes from the Father. Jesus' purpose on earth was not to get more and more people to believe in Him, but to be diligent to follow the will of the Father. God's will was that those who turn in faith to Jesus would not be lost, but rather raised up at the last day. The Father's will then and now is that all who look to the Son and believe in him shall have eternal life.
Jesus came to earth to provide the way that we could find true life - both for today and in the future. This was the will of the Father and the purpose to which Jesus stayed true. Have we stayed with our purpose as much as we have been called to? I have to admit that I have had major failures in different areas of my life. However, life is not about perfection, but being able to get back up again after you've fallen. We fall down - but God has called us to get back up. Thank God that Jesus did not deviate from His purpose, but became our Savior.
We all want contentment. Our hearts are restless, and we truly want to find rest. We seek things that we think will bring us relief, even when we know in our hearts that these things are fleeting, at best. We need to realize that there is no person or thing that can provide the sustenance you need. Many people try and find it in a perfect family, a perfect job, a perfect church or more and more stuff. Some people think that "If only I had...", then I'd be happy. How much of life is wasted thinking that very thought?
Many will spend a lifetime going from one thing to another. They may find temporary satisfaction in some places, but they are far from content. Until you get it right, you will keep seeking and your heart will keep aching. The only place to find true contentment is in Christ and keeping yourself there.
Jesus told the people to seek the food that does not spoil. A mind set on the pleasures of today misses this food. We should have our heart set on the things of eternity, and the things of the Father. 1 John 2:16-17 says "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts, but the one who does the will of God lives forever." Where is your heart? Are you seeking the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life? Are you seeking what you may think to be the right thing, but holding back different areas of your life to follow as you see fit?
Although we will struggle throughout life, there are times where we realize that we can rest in the contentment that comes from knowing that we are in Christ. I (Berkley) think it might also be relevant to mention what contentment isn't. It is not accepting a negative situation; a terminal illness; a unexpected death; marital strife….and the list could go on and on - as "Hey, it's no big deal….it's all good…..I'm content". Contentment doesn't mean I don't strive to resolve issues or seek a treatment or grieve - it means I can find some deep peace in the midst of those circumstances because of my relationship with Christ. It doesn't mean the difficult situation is suddenly resolved, instead contentment can exist in the midst of that difficulty when I finally reach a place where I realize I've done all I can, and that if the situation is going to change, it will be because God moved. I can find contentment in the midst of Don's disease by focusing on what we have experienced and what we are experiencing today. I can focus on what we do have, what Don can still do and not focusing on the daunting future. I can find contentment in realizing that it's ok to allow myself to grieve and that my love for God is not diminished because I hurt at my core. One can find contentment in a difficult marriage when we recognize that our spouse can't fill all our needs and that we can rest in Christ and pray for change.
Again - contentment is not feeling good, or alright or happy when we are in tough times, but finding the assurance that we have in God and being reminded that we are not alone and that He will not leave us or forsake us. I can be content in the promises I can claim. The situation may be awful and expressing that doesn't mean you are discontent - it means you are human and have feelings and emotions, and I've found that just being able to be real with God can bring me some of the greatest contentment I've ever had. I'm content when I don't feel like I have to fake it with God - when I can empty myself of my hurt and anger and confusion and just sit at the feet of Christ and let Him soothe my tired and weary soul. When I do that, the contentment I feel is authentic, I don't feel like I'm having to slap on a happy face and pretend I don't hurt when I do.
As we've seen in this lesson there are a lot of ways to be discontent and there are many ways we can seek to be content. It's our hope, that regardless of the situation you find yourself in, that you will seek God and ask Him to fill the void you are feeling and to give you the deep peace - the contentment - that can only come from being in a relationship and relying on Him. He is the giver of peace and He longs to give this gift to you - are you willing to accept it?