In our home, we have six children. As you can imagine, this brings a parade of child-training opportunities. In addition to the blessing of children, the Lord has blessed me with a wife who is creative and persistent in how she trains the kids.
Not surprisingly, young children will sometimes do things they shouldn’t. Let’s say they’re playing Dora the Explorer Chutes and Ladders. One child snatches the backpack piece because he wants to be the backpack and not the monkey. Another child becomes upset. As parents, we intervene, explain the wrong behavior, show why it is wrong, and show them the right way to handle the situation (“We don’t snatch with our hands but ask nicely with our mouths”). Then we’ll make them redo the entire sequence to make sure the lesson is learned and the right behavior is modeled. Believe it or not, sometimes the kids will only go through the motions—they won’t really buy in. When this happens, my patient and committed wife will start over, explaining, modeling, and redoing the right behavior. I have seen this go on a half dozen times before the child seems to get it. Here is a parent who is willing to take the time to teach her kids.
I’m convinced that God often uses trials for the same purpose. Through repetition, he brings us to see what is really important while training us in godliness. The fifth chapter of James addresses believers in the midst of persistent trials. James urges them to patiently endure the difficulty (5:7–8). He reminds them that patience and perseverance through trials are the traits of the faithful throughout history (5:10–11). And then he assures them that the Lord is compassionate and merciful (5:11).
Often adversity is a tool of the Lord to remove the things that impede our contentment. The point of the trial is to clarify our vision, strengthen our faith, and produce perseverance (James 1:3). In this process, we are reminded of the truth that God is compassionate toward us. No matter how difficult a situation is, we cannot outrun the abiding truth that God has been merciful to us. Being reminded of God’s mercy clears away discontentment by assuring us that God is for us in Christ Jesus—even if we must “redo” a trial a few times before we get the message.
If you are having a hard time being content, make a list of everything you have that you don’t deserve, and then make a list of everything you deserve that you don’t have. When you and I realize how kind and gracious God has been with us, we’re able to see things in a proper perspective.
Do you remember when you were first converted? Mercy and love flowed down from heaven through the words of the gospel. You were forgiven and accepted. What glorious truth! God had taken care of your most pressing problem, and he had taken care of it powerfully and permanently.
We have been shown tremendous mercy. We have cried, with the sinner in the temple, “God be merciful to me, the sinner!” and God has answered with infinite mercy. When we remember that our ultimate and most pressing need is fully met in him, it is difficult to complain. As I’ve heard Mark Dever quip, “Anything less than hell is dancing time for Christians!” Amen. May we never forget it.
This is an excerpt from my book Chasing Contentment: Trusting God in a Discontented Age, pp. 61-62.