I started reading this with my 5th-6th grade Bible class last school year, but we didn’t finish it. I started over when summer break began, then got sidetracked a couple times. Then I committed to plodding at two pages per day and it was a fantastic kick in the contentment pants every day. Though brief, it’s not really a book to read in a week, any more than one wants to take a month’s worth of antibiotic pills in one gulp. Highly recommended, especially if you’re ready to be reminded how foul a discontented heart really is.
Although I probably could get an exhortation to confession from every page in Jeremiah Burroughs’ The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, I promise I won’t. That said, contentment and thankfulness and emotional self-control requires constant vigilance, and it often requires repentance of fear and anxiety as well.
The confession of every Christian is, Jesus is Lord. At conversion we repent from self-will and self-serving. We turn away from sin and are delivered from our slavery to unrighteousness. Jesus is Lord, we submit to Him.
Sanctification is the process in which our wants and wills are transformed by the Spirit, from the inside out. We are free from sinful wants. We are also becoming more and more free from sinful reactions.
This Genesis 3 world is tough. Even in the 21st century West not everything is easy, and much of our days is spent carrying some sort of burden. The burden carrying is right in so far as we receive it as from the Lord. Where we go wrong is when we add to our suffering an attitude of slavery to the suffering. Burroughs wrote,
“How unseemly it is that you should be a slave to every cross, that every affliction should be able to say to your soul, ‘Bow down to us.’ …Truly it is so, when your heart is overcome with murmuring and discontent; know that those afflictions which have caused you to murmur have said to you, ‘Bow down that we may tread upon you,'” (147)
How easy it is to elevate our troubles into masters, when we answer questions from friends, rant on social media, or just in our emotional reactivity. Our souls are free, not from suffering, but from being slaves to suffering. We confess, Jesus is Lord, and no man can serve two masters.
God frequently reveals the priorities He has for us, and it is very common for us to make alterations. He says what He wants, we give Him something else that we think He might be happy with instead.
The Lord regularly told the Israelites that He desired their obedience rather than their offerings (Hosea 6:6); Psalm 50:8, 14-15, 23; Proverbs 21:3). Those sacrifices were, of course, sacrifices that He Himself had commanded them to make. But the sacrifices were to be an act of obedience, not a substitute for obedience.
It is just as likely for us to offer up something to the Lord that appears to meet the specs. It is not just possible, it is likely that Christians often consider their attendance and participation in corporate worship as something that pleases God, which it is, but only as we are worshipping Him in all the ways He wants.
Jeremiah Burroughs wrote,
You worship God more by [contentment] than when you come to hear a sermon, or spend half an hour, or an hour, in prayer, or when you come to receive a sacrament. These are the acts of God’s worship, but they are only external acts of worship, to hear and pray and receive sacraments. But this is the soul’s worship, to subject itself thus to God. (The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, 120)
He continued by pointing out the power of our being pleased with what God does.
in active obedience we worship God by doing what pleases God, but by passive obedience we do as well worship God by being pleased with what God does. (.ibid)
Maybe you have done all the things you think you needed to do this week. But have you been pleased with all the things that God has done in your week? Pleasure in His work is worship.
“Just as no one can be a scholar unless he learn his ABC, so you must learn the lesson of self-denial or you can never become a scholar in Christ’s school, and be learned in this mystery of contentment.”
“And the truth is, I know nothing more effective for quieting a Christian soul and getting contentment than this, setting your heart to work in the duties of the immediate circumstances that you are now in, and taking heed of your thoughts about other conditions as a mere temptation.”
—Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, 52
“The Lord knows how to order things better than I. The Lord sees further than I do; I only see things at present but the Lord sees a great while from now. And how do I know but that had it not been for this affliction, I should have been undone.”
—Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, 36
My Bible class started to read through The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment the last Quarter of the year. We didn’t quite make it halfway, but I wanted to start rereading it again for myself this summer anyway. Though a repetitive Puritan (is that redundant?), Burroughs convicted me many days in class. If I can keep up the reading I’m sure I’ll have more quotes to share.
The following one made me think about a few things: social media and Matthew 15:10-20 and emotional control. It’s easy to blame our negativity and fear and irritation on external things, when in fact the problem is in our own hearts. We can, and should, learn the art of a calm heart even when the outside is neither smooth or still. (Also, we can unfollow as necessary.)
“A great man will permit common people to stand outside his doors, but he will not let them come in and make noise in his closet or bedroom while he deliberately retires from all worldly business. So a well-tempered spirit may enquire after things outside in the world, and suffer some ordinary cares and fears to break into the suburbs of the soul, so as to touch lightly upon the thoughts. Yet it will not on any account allow an intrusion into the private room, which should be wholly reserved for Jesus Christ as his inward temple.” (23)
Because we are learning to be content in whatever condition we’re in, we are also making great progress out of the condition we’re in. The two conditions are not the same, otherwise the statement would contradict itself. One condition is our station, the other condition is our fellowship.
If we allow false standards to rule our thinking about “higher” callings (think 1 Corinthians 7:17-24) then we will not have true communion. False standards create guilt which inhibits connection between people because guilt is an isolating energy. False standards also create envy of those who we presume to be better than us, or they produce pride over those we presume to be better than. If we are discontent with our earthly calling, be it our family or gender or occupation or gifts, we will be disconnected from our people.
On the other hand, if we receive our earthly calling from the Lord with humility and gratitude, we will be able to give Him thanks for those around us who have also received their assignment from the Lord. Our contentment with what we have will help us be glad for what others have and we won’t compete with them but instead enjoy communion with them.
So as we stop longing for something else we get something else. As we stop seeking some other, better condition, we will know better communion. As we’re changed to be satisfied right where we are, we find ourselves to be in a better position after all.