As turkeys descend upon our supermarkets and we prepare to descend upon our in-laws, we remember that we are to think of all we are thankful for. And we remind ourselves that we are to give thanks for all things, the good and the bad. But how often does the conduct of our lives match the content of our prayers? Are we truly content in the hard times? What would this even look like?
The trials in our lives are the events or circumstances that leave us feeling discontent or desperate. Whether it is losing an athletic competition or losing a loved one, trials affect us in very real ways. As good Christians, we acknowledge that God has placed them in our lives for a reason. Yet, we often fall short of finding true peace, joy, and satisfaction in the midst of the trial. With the intellectual truth of God’s sovereignty in our minds, we often simply become resigned to the trial, and we lack the depth of peace and the height of joy that comes from a life truly satisfied in God.
Let us not be content with this! Shouldn’t we desire to live truly satisfied lives that are full of abundant hope, joy, and peace in all circumstances? Too often a counterfeit of contentment overtakes our lives. Learning to identify this counterfeit will help us pursue true contentment and thanksgiving as we rest satisfied in the Lord in the midst of any trial.
Counterfeit Contentment: Resignation
As a picture of resignation, think of being stuck in traffic when you’re late for work. No other routes are available, so there’s nothing left to do but change the song to “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and plan the next vacation away from the city. Never did West Virginia sound so appealing!
In life, we become resigned when we don’t like where we are but we recognize we can’t do anything about it. There is something almost tragically heroic and praiseworthy in resignation. But I say almost because in reality resignation is just the recognition that you can’t do anything about your circumstances. That’s just observation, not heroism.
In our Christian walks, resignation is the hollow shell of contentment. It is patience and endurance without joy. It is the acceptance of life’s circumstances without peace. It means believing in God’s power and sovereignty over your current circumstances while forgetting His goodness and compassion. Resignation wears the mask of submission to God’s will, but it is a half-hearted, listless submission. We are resigned when we think of our current circumstances as a waiting room for future goodness instead of as a feasting room of the abundant goodness of God.
Resignation may not appear as bad as its ugly brother Anxiety (no offense if you have an ugly brother or are an ugly brother). It is less overtly disobedient, but it is still damaging. Resignation shakes a fist at God, because even if we believe God is bringing about something good in our future, we do not believe that He is good to us right now.
When we become resigned to our circumstances, we do not experience the fullness of peace and joy God has for us. We don’t complain, but we fall short of true satisfaction and rest in God.
Do you find yourself wearing the mask of resignation in your trial? God desires more for you! Do not be content with being resigned. There is joy, peace, and satisfaction that you can experience even now.
True Contentment: Satisfaction
If resignation is stopping short of realizing the fullness of God’s goodness, how do we overcome it? True contentment presses past just an intellectual acceptance of the facts of life. It even goes beyond just acknowledging the sovereignty of God in your circumstances. To be content is to be satisfied with where God has you for as long as He has you there. And to be truly satisfied in God in the midst of a trial, you must remember that God is compassionate, gracious, patient, loving, and kind even now (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 103:8). It means believing that when God says that He withholds no good gift from those who walk uprightly (Ps. 84:11), that means He is withholding no good thing from you right now.
God demonstrates goodness through trials in two main ways. First and most familiar is the way trials refine us as gold (James 1:2–4; 1 Peter 1:6–7). Just as a fire refines gold and a forge hardens iron, so too the heat of our trials produces a patience that leads to completeness and a proof of our faith that leads to the glory of God. When we are faithful in the furnace, we come out on the other side stronger and more confident in His faithfulness to us.
But secondly, God also demonstrates His goodness in the middle of the trial. God does not ordain trials in your lives just so that you become something better on the other end. He ordains trials in your life to put His character on display– His compassion, love, faithfulness, and goodness– through every second of the trial (Ps. 94:19). Your discontentment and desperation serve as prompts to look beyond yourself and your circumstances to find satisfaction. They are painful and pressing reminders that you must look to God. Therefore, your experience of peace and joy in the midst of the trial depends upon how you view God and how often you look to Him.
You will be truly satisfied not as you assess your circumstances but as you remember and dwell upon the known character of God. God’s loving presence in the middle of the trial leads to a vivid manifestation of His goodness. You would never know the depth of His tenderness and care if you were never deeply hurt. You would never truly long for His presence if life’s circumstances never left you unsatisfied. You would never know the extent of His steadfastness and faithfulness if your trials did not continue beyond the limits of your endurance. It is the specific challenges in your circumstances– the very things that hurt and press you the most– that provide you the opportunity to see the truest expressions of God’s presence and goodness.
Are you experiencing peace and joy in your trial? If not, pray that God will reveal His compassion and lovingkindness to you in this moment. Remember, it was in the Valley of the Shadow of Death that the Psalmist experienced the comfort of God, not just on the other side of it (Ps 23:4). God is not waiting to reveal His goodness to you until after until you get through the trial. He is not waiting to show His compassion after you’ve had to rough it for a while. Right now, in the midst of your circumstances, you can be fully satisfied as you realize God’s nearness and goodness in a new way.
The End of Satisfaction: God’s Glory
As good Christians, we acknowledge that God pursues His own glory above all else. How does this affect how God deals with us in trials? Quite simply, our good and God’s glory are inextricably intertwined. God’s glory shines in our hearts when we see His character in His Word and as we see it displayed in the events of our lives. Therefore, as we experience the goodness of God in our trials, it is a very real manifestation of His glory.
In every trial– and in every day of the same trial– we see God’s attributes revealed from a new perspective and to a new extent. You ask, “Is God good to me even in this? Even today?” As you seek Him each moment, He will reveal that yes, even today He is still good. As your trial continues, you will see more clearly and fully the beautiful reality of who He is.
Have you have exhausted the storehouses of His compassion? Have you seen the boundaries of His mercy? Have you drunk the fullness of His lovingkindness? God’s presence with you in your trial reveals new riches and depths of His wonderful being. As He thus freshly communicates to you each day and in each trial, His majesty is manifested to you. As you come to God and see more of His goodness amid the trials of life, you experience in a greater capacity the weight of His glory. And this leads to contentment and abundant thanksgiving as you see Him more clearly through your trials.
Encouragement and Exhortation
Are you in the midst of a trial? Do you, with the Psalmist ask “How long, O LORD?” (Ps. 13:1). Does each day reveal new frustrations and disappointments, or does it have the same frustrations and disappointments? Has someone let you down? Has a desire been left unfulfilled? Has a loved one been taken away? Do not merely look past the trial, and do not simply become resigned to your fate. Call upon Yahweh. Seek after Him. Read passages of Scripture that remind you of who He is (Ps. 23; Ps. 103:6–14; Ps. 116:1–8). Trust in His sovereignty and rest in His lovingkindness (Ps 37:3–7). And remember that Christ not only bore your sin, but He carried your grief and sorrow (Isaiah 53:4–5). He became like you so that He might sympathize with you and save you (Hebrews 4:14–16). God desires to display His glory and goodness to you. He is near and He will never leave you!
Are you in a time of peace? Is life relatively easy right now? Give thanks to the Lord and use this time to grow in the knowledge of Him. The riches of His grace are not locked until a trial comes. His light appears brightest when life is darkest, but you can still see His goodness even now. God has you in this time for a reason, and He may be preparing you for something ahead. Take advantage of this time to plumb the depths of His inexhaustible being.
To the friend who has not yet trusted in Christ, do you desire to have peace in this life? You must first have peace with God. You were born an enemy of God and stand now under His judgment (John 3:18). But He demonstrated His love by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for you (Romans 5:6–11). Jesus bore your sin, grief, and sorrow, so that you may have forgiveness and life. You cannot earn you way to God, but Jesus Christ has done all that is necessary. True satisfaction in life can be found nowhere else. Turn from your rebellion and trust in Christ today!
May God lead us to a greater knowledge of Him. As we see His abundant goodness in every circumstance of life, may we glorify Him and say,
Mike Engelsgjerd recently separated from the U.S. Army after 15 years of service. Towards the end of his service, Mike began to feel God’s call to full time Christian ministry. In following this call, He is pursuing an M.Div. at TMS with the goal of becoming a Chaplain in the U.S. Military and a Pastor.