It is sad that much of what is taught as self-help today is really just an endless cycle of new and “improved” addictions. This was and is true of the prosperity gospel as well. Longer chains or new and improved cages are promoted to replace the old ones. But freedom is more than getting a new drug or a more brightly painted cage (or car or house!)
This is because the world has always missed what the only source of lasting peace and satisfaction is: Christ, Himself.
Even Christian success experts turn Christ (and thus faith) primarily into a means of attaining “the good life” and not the actual life of Christ. (For instance, the Apostle John wrote, “He who has the Son has the life. He who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.”) Specifically, these false teachers teach people how to use faith and use Christ to get what they really want more than Christ…and what they (wrongfully) think will make them ultimately happy.
In reality, it becomes an addiction to wealth, leisure, spiritual experiences, feelings, attractional techniques, pursuit of bucket-lists, awesome sex, beautiful bodies, conflict avoidance, cancer-evasion, and on and on. I am not saying that any of these things are necessarily evil in themselves (though they can be), but simply that they will in the end fail to meet your deepest needs, as they have mine. They always leave you needing…more.
Someone reading this may be thinking, “What else is there? I don’t understand why pursuing these things is wrong?” It is wrong because if and when Christ is displaced by these things in any person’s life – it is idolatry. These things are of temporary, fleeting, meager value at best. But they are pursued more than Christ.
How bizarre the experience of the apostle Paul must seem to those who still see Christ as a tool to “the good life”:
Because of these surpassingly great revelations, therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:7-10)
Paul had heavenly out-of-body experiences with the Living God. If anybody had a platform for talking about angelic encounters, glory realms, special revelations, etc. it was this man! Furthermore, he could have used his spiritual experiences as a huge platform for self-promotion and profit-making. But he came back (from heaven) and said that God had not allowed him to speak about it. Furthermore, when he referred to his supernatural experiences he didn’t actually talk about the experiences or heaven at all; not about streets of gold; or about meeting famous people!!! He simply focused on the person and life of Jesus.
Paul had an entirely different orientation for life as a result. His goal was not to maximize his own leisure and sensual gratification or to promote his brand and become widely known and followed. His goal was to know Christ and to live in whatever capacity necessary for people to see Christ more simply and purely. And he learned that acknowledging his own weakness, yes even boasting in his weakness, was the way that others could most readily see Christ in and through him.
Only God has the wisdom to infallibly know how He can best be seen and glorified in a person’s life and circumstances.
This means that we always need to consult Him before we grab a proof text and begin declaring to God how He’s supposed to act! For John the Baptist it was having his head lopped off in prison. Yes, there are promises in the Bible about Jesus setting prisoners free. John was freed from the fear of death…by going through death. For Paul and Silas a heaven-sent earthquake freed them from prison, so they could continue to minister. For some of our precious brothers and sisters in Haiti, an earthquake ended their earthly ministries and took them to heaven.
For one person it is healing from cancer; for another it is sustaining them through cancer treatments, so they can show others how a real believer trusts God through chemotherapy. For another their fearlessness and joy as they die speaks volumes regarding their faith in Christ. During a horrendous plague in the 4th Century, some Christians were divinely protected from getting sick, while others (equally pious) who refused to flee the places most ravaged by the diseases, died while serving the sick back to health. The Roman Empire was meekly conquered for Christ by these amazing Christians.
One person is born with tremendous sports ability, another with a crippling, life-altering birth defect. Both can result in God’s glory. I recently was in awe of God’s power as I heard the testimony of a man who was born with no arms and feet. God is using him in such a glorious way all over the world. I was literally stunned by God’s ability to glorify Himself in that situation. (Click here to learn more about Nick Vijucic.)
The contrasts are almost limitless. You just cannot put God in a box. His glory can show up in so many ways, so many places, so many circumstances. Contentment is NOT getting your most preferred outcome, but an amazing Christ.
Regardless of circumstances, the ultimate result is the same for anyone who truly trusts Christ in the midst of whatever they are going through. Jesus knows how to best glorify His name in the lives of His people. We need simply to trust Him and to dig deeply into Him regardless of what we are now facing. Let Him take full control. He will speak to us about how to interpret His promises and the situations we are facing. He will show us how we can glorify Him through our acknowledged weakness and His incomparable power toward us who believe. As this happens there will be testimonies that uniquely glorify Jesus and produce an amazing contentment and joy in His servants.
This is true faith. This is real contentment.