familiarity breeds content

Over the past few months Barby and I have had the privilege of spending time in countries that were new to us: Thailand, Denmark, and Morocco. Each time - months in advance of the trip - we would get hold of the Lonely Planet book and pore over its pages as we planned what we would do and see together.

As I look back now the same thing happened each time.

Before we entered the specific country those Lonely Planet books were tough going. The names of cities and streets and sites were hard work because the Thai and Danish and Arabic languages were so foreign to us - and some of those maps were hard to read!

But once in the country and experiencing it first-hand and, even more, once we had left the country and collecting our memories, then flicking through those Lonely Planet guides and noting all that we had seen and done was so much fun. The books came alive because the information they contained was so much more familiar to us.

I wonder whether we value the familiar enough in our churches today.
For example, preachers can place themselves under this burden to come up with something profound and new every week - when reminding people of the familiar truth that sweeps across the scriptures may well be what is needed most. Sometimes people need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed. They can benefit so much from hearing again what they already know...
Or, alternatively, consider those who 'lead' worship services and the excitement they can convey when it comes time to teach the congregation a new song. This excitement is not always shared by the congregation who seem to give themselves the most to the songs they know the best. It is worth remembering. Yesterday I just loved singing the familiar "Faithful One" and even "I love you Lord and I lift my voice" (in a youth service!).

In times of uncertainty - which is a bit like entering a new country - let's breed a deeper contentment among the people of God by drawing on the familiar more often. Lets allow our engagement with word and worship to be like reading a Lonely Planet book that is alive with excited 'been there, done that' memories and 'been there, seen that' images - and not mired so often in language that is so foreign.

nice chatting



Nigel said…
but is contentment the goal? I have what I would consider a holy discontent inside me. The drive for contentment would seem to parallel the drive of consumerism.
Paul said…
I know what you are saying, Nigel, but I do not think it is the full story on contentment - at least in biblical terms.

1. What about finding contentment in whatever circumstance God places me (Paul in Phil 4)? It often does take a 'finding' as opposed to an ejecting out of there. It is a gracious and godly quality that develops with perseverance in difficult places. I have a Dad with debilitating Parkinson's Disease and yet living some of his most contented days under God's gracious hand.

2. In the context of money issues Paul writes about how 'godliness with contentment is great gain'. To this day I still make consumer decisions on the basis of 'is this consumer choice a reflection of my contentment with what I have and/or is this consumer choice a reflection of my generosity with what I have'? Which I think is the polar opposite angle from which you are viewing contentment ... (both probably valid!)

3. Less directly I wonder how New Testament 'contentment' might relate to Old Testament shalom? Where does contentment fit within the 'peace is joy resting; joy is peace dancing' couplet?

4. Then in terms of 'holy discontent', this is a phrase that is quite common and as I don't know which Nigel you are - or even if I know you - let me say that I am not often persuaded by its use. It often seems far from 'holy' and often used by people who have a problem with submitting to authority ... and can not stay settled and committed to one thing over the long haul. In the words of Shania Twain - "it don't impress me much" ... but that is just a personal opinion. :)

And then back to worship and word ... so when I sing familiar songs like Faithful One or work messages from familiar texts (like Ecclesiastes as I have been doing this morning) - the very reminding of familiar truths breeds a contentment deep within. It settles and shalominises me. I reckon this is a good contentment that sustains me for God's call on my life.

oh dear - it turned into a bit of a rave. Thanks for jumping aboard :)
Mark Maffey said…
Hi Paul

I keep getting drawn back to Isaiah 55 especially vs 1-2, here are some of my thoughts:

Isaiah 55 vs. 1-2 – Come to me my people

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to me all you who have no money,
Come buy and eat! Come; buy wine and milk without money and without cost
Are you hungry, my word to you is rich, eat of it, it is better than honey
The world in which you live is full of deception, lies, people are desperately lost
They are searching for answers, seeking in wrong places, that is not funny
They search on the web, they buy that has no value, and the rubbish arrives in the post
They desire for more, to keep up with the Jones, they put on a face that is sunny
I say to you forget these things, look to me, I give you far more without cost

Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
You face so many options, so many choices, advertisers try to sell you enhanced beauty
I gave my only son that you might not perish but have eternal life, that’s beyond compare
Yet you struggle to understand that it’s a gift for you, come to me is my entreaty
Come, seek my face, my goodness, and as you do my perfect love will cast out all your fear.

We need to be familiar with eating, dining on Spiritual food which enables us to both appreciate and be content in being in God's favour, but also motivates and challenges us to share the Good News with others.

As Verse 2 questions us Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.

To quote another older song, He lifts me up to his banqueting table, and his banner over me is love.

Behold what manner of love the father has given unto us....

That we should be call the children of God

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