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In a culture consumed by materialism and covetousness, a spirit of contentment provides a sharp contrast to the general way of thinking. But where and how is such peace found? Alistair Begg explores the nature and development of spiritual contentment and encourages a perspective centered on God’s promises. Although the circumstances of our lives are always changing, we can trust in the plan of our all-knowing Father, who intends to bring about good as He transforms us into the image of His Son.

Series Containing This Sermon

Thankful Living

Series ID: 26001

Sermon Transcript: Print

Father, we pray that as we turn to your word, that you will help us, because we can’t do anything as we ought without your help; and we pray that on this particular Sunday, when so many factors militate against concentration, and understanding, and application, that you will, in that remarkable way that only you can accomplish, speak into our individual lives and let us know that you, the living God, have planned to say these things for us today in order that we might know you and love you and find our contentment in you, for we ask it in Jesus’ name and for his sake. Amen.

Please be seated. I’d like to turn you to two further passages of Scripture: one in the book of Psalms and the other in Philippians chapter 4. In Psalm 131 and then in Philippians and the fourth chapter. Psalm 131 is one of the Songs of Ascent. It only has three verses. I’ll read it for you:

My heart is not proud, O Lord.
 My eyes are not haughty.
I do not concern myself with great
 or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
 like a weaned child with its mother,
 like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, put your hope in the Lord
 both now and forevermore.

You may want to put a marker in there. And then in Philippians 4:12, Paul writes: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

In Henry the VI, [Act] 2, there’s a very brief but telling dialogue which ensues as a result of two gamekeepers meeting the king in a country setting. The king is “dressed down,” we might say, and as a result of that, this brief dialogue ensues. The gentlemen say to him upon his introduction of himself,

But, if thou be a king, where is thy crown?

To which the king replies,

My crown is in my heart, not on my head;
Not deck’d with diamonds and Indian stones,
Nor to be seen: my crown is call’d Content;
A crown it is that seldom kings enjoy.[1]

Now, he might equally have said, “A crown it is that seldom anyone enjoys,” and our study this morning, a topical study, largely follows from where some of us were last Sunday evening when we thought about the nature of a thankful heart. A thankful heart will help to rid us of covetousness, and covetousness will inevitably spoil any experience we may have of contentment. And yes, on a day that follows arguably one of the greatest shopping extravaganzas of the year, you have arrived, and I am bold enough to suggest that we do well to give ourselves to this matter of contentment—to address the issue of contentment—on the first day of the week which follows the week which will be a famous week for a little while until the event is superseded: I refer to the sale on eBay of a grilled cheese sandwich for $28,000. Our world, our culture is materialistic to the hilt. Standing in Staples yesterday morning, waiting for my son-in-law, casting my gaze around a small display of books which was there, I fastened on these titles: Think and Grow Rich[2]; Ten Keys to Prosperity[3]; The Instant Millionaire;[4] The Millionaire Next Door[5], all of them addressing the foolish fantasy that a person’s life consists in the abundance of his possessions. A folly which Jesus addressed when, in Matthew 6, he pointed out that God cares for his creatures and, therefore, there is no need for such preoccupation,[6] and a folly which he addressed in the story that he told of the man who had had a tremendously successful year in business, had decided to make use of his profits in the expansion of his barns, but was actually a fool because the decisions that he had made, he made on a purely horizontal plane, and he had forgotten all about eternity, and indeed that night, his soul was required of him.[7]

Contentment in the twenty-first century is a rarity. A rarity. We ought not to be surprised, because we have in common with previous centuries that fact. In the seventeenth century in England, Jeremiah Burroughs, one of the Puritans, wrote a book which he called The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment,[8] and rare it is indeed, and a jewel it most certainly is. And each of us this morning, if we’re honest, is too easily swept along on the tides of covetousness, is too easily bombarded by a spirit of discontentedness that is directly related to our lot in life, to our circumstances—perhaps financial, perhaps social, perhaps physical—but in some way or another, we find ourselves much like tiny children, displeased with what they were given, frustrated about the fact that their friends have more, and determined to do whatever they can in order to rectify their circumstances.

When we consider the matter of contentment, we realize that it is not about what we can do, but rather it is about what we need done to us and what we need done in us.

And while no one was seen at the mall in the last few days wearing a crown, I’m sure, a number were seen wearing baseball hats, some of them bearing testimony to places they had been, golf courses we had played, sports teams with which we were familiar, sports brands that we were happy to endorse (despite the fact that we paid money to endorse them rather than being paid money to endorse them—an interesting strategy, spectacular in its impact), but I bet that you never, any one of you, saw anyone wearing a baseball cap and on the front it said, “contentment,” or on the front it said, “I am contented.” And one of the reasons for that is that contentment cannot be gained in the way in which so many things in life are achieved. There does not exist a program entitled, “Five Steps to Contentment,” or, “The Ten Keys to Contentment.” Indeed, if you think about it, you will immediately recognize that you probably have never read a book on the subject of contentment, and that you will have difficulty even in our own excellent bookstore in finding material on this subject. It is a rare subject, and we do not do well in our pragmatic culture with things that aren’t programs or packages. We have grown used to the fact that we open up our new AOL 9.0 as a result of inserting a disk and allowing it to do what is necessary. There are all kinds of programs and packages which, once we put them in motion, then we can benefit from them. But contentment isn’t like that. It’s not a package. It’s not a program. It’s actually part of a process; it is part of the process of sanctification. It is part of the process of becoming like the Lord Jesus Christ, and the reason that it is daunting for us is because so much of our approach to Christian living is focused on our doing and on our achieving, but this is all about being. This is not about doing. This is not about achieving, and so the pragmatists among us are at sea immediately because we are used to somebody saying, “Now, if you do A, B, C, D, and E, then here are the five steps to this.” When we consider the matter of contentment, we realize that it is not about what we can do, but rather it is about what we need done to us and what we need done in us.

Now what I want to do is think with you generally for a moment or two about this issue, sketch it on the perimeter, and then say three things, and we’ll be through. First of all, when we come to the issue of contentment, and not least of all as it relates to money and wealth, we could have read in 1 Timothy 6 or in Hebrews chapter 5, where there are very striking statements made concerning how we should handle the issue of wealth. Extremism is an easy option. Extremism is an easy option. The revulsion in the ’60s on the part of a generation to the materialism of the previous generation produced sandals and togas and joss sticks and all kinds of jazz which was apparently to do with the fact that we had all rejected this crass materialism of the generation that went before, despite the fact that we spent significant amounts of money making sure that the things that expressed our, you know, vow of poverty, came from the right kind of closet, were expressed in the right kind of way, and that the sandals just were the right kind of sandals. No, materialism is a hard habit to kick, and the idea that you can reject hedonism—the pursuit of pleasure—by endorsing asceticism or monasticism or just saying that, “I have got no interest in cashmere sweaters; I only like horribly hairy, scratchy sweaters that make you break out in a rash, and you will know the Christian by his horrible, hairy, nasty, scratchy sweater, and the person who is wearing the nice cashmere sweater clearly cannot be a maturing Christian,” that kind of false antithesis is alive and well, and it’s wrong. Calvin, in his Institutes, in a classic chapter entitled, “How We Should Use This Present Life and Its Helps,” warns against what he refers to as an overdone austerity and, on the other hand, an overdone indulgence. And in warning against an overdone austerity, he points out that that which God has given us to use for pleasure, if we do not use it for pleasure, is an expression of our ingratitude to God.[9] In the same way that, if our father were to give us a gift of a bicycle or a gift of a kite, and we took the kite and we wrapped it up and we stashed it, or we took the bicycle and we propped it against the wall and we said, “Now I’m going to show how grateful I am to my father for what he’s given me by never using it at all,” the father would say, “Well if I gave this to you for your pleasure, why don’t you ride your bicycle and just have a fantastic time?”

Turn to 1 Timothy chapter 6 and look at how Paul expresses it there: “Command those,” verse 17, “who are rich in this present world to give away all their riches.” No, you know it doesn’t say that, but you’re going to turn it up even faster now to make sure! “Command all those who have investment portfolios to give away their investment portfolios; command all those who have savings accounts to turn them out and give them away.” No! “Command those who are rich in the present world,” number one, “not to be arrogant.” Not to be arrogant, because after all, how did anybody get money? How did anybody get rich, whatever the level of richness? As a result of the providence of God. Therefore, don’t be arrogant, and don’t see your wealth as security; don’t put your hope in wealth. You don’t lie in your bed at night and say, “Well, I’m okay because I’ve got six months’ income behind me, and therefore there is my confidence.” Don’t do that, he says. “Command them not to—” but instead, “command them,” notice, “to put their hope in God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” You see that? See how the phrase builds? “Who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”

Now, you see how Christianity has ebbed and flowed throughout the years and continues to. The reaction to an overindulgent environment produces an austerity that is long-faced and grim, and you could tell presumably who was having the most “Christian” Thanksgiving dinner by the frugality of it, the austerity of it, and the almost palpable lack of enjoyment in it. So that over here, we have someone who had a gigantic turkey and who were having a wonderful time in singing and rejoicing. And then, we went over to Mr. and Mrs. Christian, who were having two small pieces of toast, three green beans, and a big bucket of water, and we realize, here are some people now who understand the nature of contentment. No. Absolutely not. “Command those who are rich, who are wealthy in the present age, not to be arrogant, not to find their security in it, but to put their hope in God. He is the God who has given them all things richly to enjoy.” So, the idea of an extreme reaction to materialism that produces asceticism, or whatever it else might be, is an easy journey. That’s why—I know I’ll get in trouble for saying this, but—when Sue and I went to see the cave in which St. Francis of Assisi lived, I said to myself, “Well, this is easy. I’ve figured this out. I can do that if this is where I live. You know, you live in here with a couple of sparrows, looking out the window at nothing, and you just trap yourself in there. But let him try and do it in Cleveland, in suburban Cleveland. Let him do it in an environment like this, where all of these pressures are on him, and all the challenges are on him, and all the advertisements are on him, and all the bright lights are shining on him, and everybody’s saying, “You’ve gotta have one of these, and two of those, and two of the next thing.” No, going in a cave would be an easy enough journey—a bowl of porridge, the same view out the window every day—kinda cuts your options down, you know. But we don’t live there.

The last thing I want to say generally of this is that when we look at what the Bible says concerning contentment, it is not talking about contentment in terms of temperament. It’s talking about spiritual contentment. Some of us are more even keeled. Some of us have tolerance levels that are better than others. Some of us can cope with order better. Some of us can cope with disorder better, and so on. And some of our children seem to be cantankerous. Some of them seem more contented. Some of them slept easily. Some of them were biddable. Others, others were like, “Wooo!” and you’d say, “Well, she just seems to be a more contented child.” That natural temperamental bent is not what Paul is addressing here. What Paul is addressing is not a contentment that was related to our upbringing or our background or our personality or our temperament, but this is, “I got contentment the old-fashioned way—I learned it.” Now, I know Smith-Barney is “I earned it,” but it is, “I learned it,” and what Paul says in Philippians 4, as you noticed, was, “My circumstances have ebbed and flowed, I’ve been in coach, I’ve flown in coach in the back of a DC-9 right by the jolly engine with no window, and I’ve flown in first—“and I’ve learned”— whether I’m in first or I’m in the back row of the DC-9—“to be content.” That’s a pretty significant statement. That is! I haven’t learned that. I want to, but I haven’t. It says, “If I have a really nice donkey or a lousy donkey, I have learned contentment. If I stay in a really nice big house like Lydia’s or if I stay in some little tiny place where there’s not much by way of resource, ‘I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, there[in] to be content.’”[10] Okay, so now this is school. This is school. This is something that is learned, and when we think about it, it would appear that we know very few graduates from this particular course. Right? Set aside natural propensity for a contented spirit now and think in terms of people whose lives are marked by contentment, a contentment which has to do with their character—not to do with their doing, but with their being.

I came across this poem, some of you will perhaps have seen it, a simple little poem, but it expresses the discontentedness that is prevalent in our culture:

It was spring, But it was summer I wanted,
The warm days, And the great outdoors.
It was summer, But it was fall I wanted,
The colorful leaves, And the cool dry air.
It was fall, But it was winter I wanted,
The beautiful snow, And the joy of the holiday season.
It was winter, But it was spring I wanted,
The warmth, And the blossoming of nature.
I was a child, But it was adulthood I wanted,
The freedom, And the respect.
I was 20, But it was 30 I wanted,
To be mature, And sophisticated.
I was middle-aged, But it was 20 I wanted,
The youth, And the free spirit.
I was retired, But it was middle age I wanted,
The presence of mind, Without limitations.
And finally my life was over.
[And] I never got what I wanted.[11]

“Finally my life was over, [and] I never got what I wanted.” Do you know how many people’s lives are hastening to a conclusion, and that is an apt epitaph? “My life is almost over, and I have never got what I wanted,” or “I’ve never got what I deserve,” or “I never got what is my right,” or “I’ve never got what …” You know, you can finish it any way you choose, and all it is expressive of is an endemic spirit of discontent.


Now I have three words for you, and they’re these: perspective, preoccupation, and peace. The key—I think, I hope, I’m learning—is in distinguishing between external circumstances, which come and go, and an internal relationship with the living God that is unchanging in its stabilizing import.  In Philippians chapter 4—you may want just to look at it again—but in Philippians 4, you will notice that Paul distinguishes between being content with something and being content in something. He is learning not to be content with the world; he is learning to be content in the world: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need. I’ve learned the secret of being content not with any and every situation, but in any and every situation.”[12] There will always be circumstances that are less than perfect, but what is the point? It is this: the circumstances of each of our lives are always changing, and so if we seek to find contentment in changing circumstances, then it will constantly be a roller coaster ride. Instead, we learn from Paul that he finds contentment, not in the external circumstances which ebb and flow, but in an internal relationship with the living God, who himself does not change. See? So that, at the core of his being, he is constantly, as it were, recalibrating his thinking. He’s saying things to himself, he’s schooling himself, he’s reminding himself, he’s teaching himself, he’s presumably taken the psalmist’s words, and he’s saying, “Now let me just remind myself of what is true here.”

You can start anywhere you like. Psalm 139: “Here are the circumstances of my life: I’ve just been diagnosed with a very difficult illness; I have just been removed from my position as a fairly young man, thinking that I had a career in front of me and it has now been swallowed up; I have just found that this girl that I thought I was about to marry and spend the rest of my life with has gone off and has determined never to spend time with me again.” Whatever those circumstances may be—and we could go through a whole variety of them now—those circumstances, which are inevitably changing, are to be viewed in light of what is true of God. What is true of God? “He made me,” Psalm 139. “He knows me. He hems me in behind and before.”[13] My times are in his hands. He is always with me. And he is favorably disposed to those who are his children.

This is where we were so forcibly struck last Sunday evening, weren’t we? When we rehearsed again the way in which that young lady, the Swedish lady Lina Sandell—Carolina, actually, or Carolina Sandell Berg—but anyway, Lina Sandell (I’ve already become very familiar with her just over the course of a week; I’ve reduced her name to less than a name.) But we said last Sunday evening what a remarkable thing it was that there she went with her father on that journey in the Swedish waters, and as they made their journey, he falls overboard and drowns before her eyes. And at the age of 26, she starts to write poetry, and she starts to write hymns, and she writes:

Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.


He whose heart is kind beyond all measure—

Fact. In the revelation of God, set your feeling aside for the moment—

He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Gives unto each day what He deems best,
Lovingly it’s part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.[14]

I think that just as with childhood, so as spiritual children, it’s important for us to recognize that we don’t know what’s best for us. That we don’t know what’s best for us. Isn’t that part of the journey of our physical experience as children, raging against our parents? “Oh, give me the keys, give me the keys! This is the best thing!” “No, you’re not having the keys.” “Why not?” “Because of this …” and the parent always says, “Listen. You may not understand now, but one day when you’re a parent, you’ll say the exact same thing and you’ll understand. Honey, you don’t know what’s best for you. Trust me.” And it’s a hard journey to maturity, and some of us get ourselves in deep pain, and in dark alleys, and in dreadful uncertainties, and manifold chaos because we are too proud to admit that we don’t know what’s best.

Now turn back to Psalm 131 for a minute, and let me just point this out to you: verse 2—we’ll leave verse 1 for a moment—verse 2, “I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.” Now, the weaning of children is almost out of common parlance, isn’t it, in the English language? There are a number of reasons for that, and not all of them good. We’ll set that aside as a dreadful tangent of an alley up which we shouldn’t go, but what the Psalmist is referring to here is the transition in childhood which in Hebrew children could take place as late as the age of four or five. Weaning takes place a lot earlier in Western culture today—“Mercifully so,” say the mothers, and “Understandably so,” say the fathers—but if you can imagine weaning your child from your breast, mothers, at the age of four or five, after this little guy, this little girl has developed their own personality, is able to run around, is able to defy you, and has already, at the age of four and a half, determined that they know everything that they need to know about everything and that they know best, and particularly when it comes to the issue of food: “This is what I want, this is what I like, this is what makes me feel good, this is what me feel cozy,” and so on, and in the weaning process, the mother says, “I understand all of that, but let me tell you: you’re going to have to lose the milk you so desperately want so that you might receive the solid food you so desperately require.” In other words, there is, preceding the declaration of verse 2, a painful process involved, and part of that painful process is being weaned away from that which has been a necessary sustaining factor to that which now is our vital future.

Contentment is found in reaching the place that says, “Even when I cannot understand, still I can trust.”

Now, do you see how that works? The child, if he or she were to remain in that position, would be one of the weirdest kids in the neighborhood—I mean, really weird. You got this nine year old coming down, hanging on his mother like this, you’d say, “What’s wrong with that child? He should have been weaned long ago. He’s a big baby!” Yes, he is. What’s wrong with this Christian? He’s a big baby! He thinks he knows best. He refuses to be weaned away from X in order that he might live on Y, and his Father knows what’s best!” Do you see what I’m telling you? Contentment is found in reaching the place that says, “Even when I cannot understand, still I can trust.”


Stay in Psalm 131 and let me just give you the second word because our time is hastening to a conclusion. The second word was “preoccupation.” Contentment—and this is the sketchiest outline of a journey that we’ll pursue for some time, at least as individuals, if not from the pulpit—but notice how the psalm begins in Psalm 131: “My heart is not proud … my eyes are not haughty.” Stop there for a moment. We want to get to verse 2a, don’t we? “I have stilled and quieted my soul,” but we can’t get to 2a without going through 1a and b. Number one, “My heart is not proud.” What is the problem that most of us face? We have proud hearts. We think we know best. “Why am I experiencing this? Why is this taking place? Why did that happen in my life? I need an explanation for this.” God is in the dock, we now become the prosecuting counsel. That is an expression of arrogance. Our eyes are haughty. They’re scanning things that they have no real need to scan. The will of God, the ways of God, are mysterious, but the mystery of what God is doing has to be set beside the fact that God is doing all things for the good of those who love him.[15] What he’s saying in verse 1, the second half—“I do not concern myself with great matters”—is “I’m not concerning myself with questions that I know I will not get an answer to.”

Now, think about this for a minute in relationship to contentment and the nature of discontentment. That is not to say that we don’t wrestle with questions that are difficult, but we have to finally fall on Deuteronomy 29:29 sooner or later: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things [that he has] revealed” are for us and for our children. In other words, that God has his secrets, and it is an expression of ultimate arrogance on the part of man when, in our pride and in the haughtiness of our eyes, we the clay demand of the potter an explanation as to why he made the pot in this way. “Why did you make me like this?” “Why am I in this circumstance?” “Why am I not as bright as my sister?” “Why is this, why is that, why is the next thing?” They’re all inevitable questions; they’re part and parcel of our journey, but I think contentment is in learning how to harness that. Learning to be able to understand, as Jesus says to his disciples, “You do not realize what I’m doing, but later you will understand.”[16] Facing the fact in 1 Corinthians 13 that, “Now we see through a glass, darkly.”[17] We don’t get the whole picture.

I have to train my mind to remember that all of these things have not come haphazardly across my path, but have come as a result of my Father’s wise bestowment.

Now listen, loved ones, let me tell you what’s so crucial here: this is the back-to-the-school thing again. This is back to training. This is circuit training, if you like, to mix the metaphors. In order to get here, it seems it calls for a commitment of my mind. It calls for building tracks, as it were, in my mind, which is what Paul is asking for in Romans 12:2, isn’t it? He says, “Don’t be conformed to this world”—that is a discontented world, incidentally—“but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” And the way we’re gonna transform our minds is, instead of allowing my mind to dwell upon my disappointment, to dwell upon my pain, on my loss, on my circumstances, I have to train my mind to remember that all of these things have not come haphazardly across my path, but have come as a result of my Father’s wise bestowment. That he sweeps even our evils and our badnesses into the unfolding drama of his will. And when I begin to focus on that and remind myself that these circumstances are temporary and they’re passing and that they cannot rob me of the joy and glory that is ultimately mine in Christ, then with that perspective, and setting aside a wrong kind of preoccupation, I have the opportunity of discovering the peace that is mentioned back in verse 2, “but I have stilled and quieted my soul”—"I have stilled and quieted my soul.”

You know when children have been crying desperately, and if you haven’t been there to see all that has led up it, if you come in a room and you find a little one in a chair, you’ve perhaps come in a room and she’s so small or he’s so small, that you don’t even know they’re in the chair, and it’s quiet in the room. You get this, don’t you? And you go over and you look, and if you look over their heads, there they are, faces all bulbous, and their eyes all bloodshot, getting it under control. “What’s wrong? Are you okay?” “Yes.” “Do you want to talk about it?” “No.” And here in this little moment, through all the storm and the tide that has gone before, somehow or another, this little creature is getting to the place where they’re able to say, “I have stilled and I have quieted my soul.” But it hasn’t come about as a result of “I have stilled and quieted my soul! Oh, Ho! What a …” No! It’s been through pain, it’s been through sadness, it’s been through all of these things, and this is the journey of the Christian life. We’re silly if we don’t face this! We’re not even true to human experience, let alone true to our Bibles. And we want to learn contentment? Yes, well learn it we may, but receive it on a CD we won’t, in a package with “Five Easy Steps.” Can’t be gained. Who are the people that teach us contentment? “Well,” you say, “there are many that I can think of,” and I can think of many, too, and I’ll tell you three, and then I’m done.

Number one, William Cowper. (Despite the fact that in one of my friend’s books, he says parenthetically, “pronounced ‘Cooper,’” C-O-O-P-E-R. Wrong. Pronounced “Cow-per” in England. We understand that C-O-W makes the sound “cow.” It’s not pronounced “Cooper” at all, so if you want to be accurate, it’s “William Cowper.” Some of you have to call him Cooper so you can look for him, because you don’t understand, but anyway, that’s by the way.) William Cowper, friend of Newton, experienced black depression that was a steady companion all of his life. It inhibited him, it debilitated him, and it made him suicidal, and he was put in places routinely because of what he faced. And out of that he writes:

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright design
And works His sovereign will …
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence,
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And [try God’s] work[s] in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And He will make [things] plain.[18]

And, somehow or another, the learning process of contentment is there in Cowper’s story.

It’s there in the story of David Brainerd, somebody that we wouldn’t even know about were it not for the fact that he stayed for a wee while in the home of Jonathan Edwards, and Jonathan Edwards took his diary and turned it into “The Diary of David Brainerd,” and it’s been out in print ever since. On Sunday, March the Tenth, in 1744, after a time where he was buffeted by tuberculosis, by loneliness, by danger and deprivation, he wrote in his diary: “My soul was sweetly resigned to God’s disposal of me [in every regard]; and I saw, there had nothing happened to me but what was best for me.”[19] Now this is spiritual geography that I need to learn about; maybe you do, too. And it’s not so much that I don’t know this information; I don’t think it is with you either. It’s whether this information has captivated our minds sufficiently to embrace the totality of the decision-making processes of our lives—relationships and finances and our future and our retirement and all of those things.

I received a letter this week from a lady who teaches fourth-grade children, and she gave me a quote from a book by E. L. Konigsburg, that lady with whom I’m not familiar, entitled, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. When I saw that, I was hooked immediately—I just loved the title—and it was the story of two children who live in Greenwich, Connecticut, choose to run away, and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and as a result of these adventures, they have the opportunity to interact with a rich elderly lady who is called, “Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.” And the exchange between Claudia, one of the runaways, and Mrs. Frankweiler is as follows:

Claudia said, ‘But Mrs. Frankweiler, you should want to learn one new thing every day. We did, even at the museum.’ ‘No,’ [Mrs. Frankweiler] answered, ‘I don’t agree with that. I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything and you can feel it inside you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them. It’s hollow.’[20]

Isn’t that a great danger in a Bible-teaching church? The accumulation of facts that rattle inside that we can make noise with, but we’ve never allowed them to swell up inside of us until they touch everything.

Final quote, from Amy Carmichael :

And shall I pray You change Your will, my Father,
Until it be according unto mine?
But no, Lord, no, that never shall be; rather,
I ask You, blend my human will with Thine.
I pray You, hush the hurrying, eager longing;
I pray You, soothe the pangs of keen desire;
See in my quiet places wishes thronging;
Forbid them, Lord; purge, though it be with fire.
And work in me to will and do Your pleasure;
Let all within me, peaceful, reconciled,
Rest all content in my … beloved’s leisure—
At last, at last, even as a weaned child.[21]
Help us to realize that our circumstances, which ebb and flow, do not come to us in isolation, but are part of your all-embracing plan and purpose for your children.

Father, forgive us for our discontentedness. Forgive us for thinking that if only this were to be changed and that were to be a little higher or a little lower or a little longer or a little fuller, then therein would we find contentment. When we do this, Lord, we’re just like the pagans because they run after all these things. Enroll us, if not before then certainly today, in the school of contentment, we pray. Help us to realize that our circumstances, which ebb and flow, do not come to us in isolation, but are part of your all-embracing plan and purpose for your children. Remind us that eventually we will be gathered to you, and that which now is so dark and so difficult will be a thing of the past, and even that which offends against our conscience and calls us to rummage in the garbage of sin that’s forgiven will be seen to have been part of the unfolding drama of your design. Forgive us for thinking that we know best, for wanting “Milk! Milk! Milk!” because it’s cozy and it’s easy and we like how we get it, instead of sitting down at the table and taking our place and learning to use our knife and fork and our spoon and eating that which contains balance and vegetables. Forgive us, Lord, for “chocolate sundae” Christianity, for ice cream sundae specials, for a view of Christian contentment which is nothing other than a thinly disguised form of secular hedonism. And as we walk out into the remainder of this day and into the balance of this year, we pray that that which we know, that which is of yourself, that it may swell up inside of us, as it were, and touch everything that is within us, and may the grace of the Lord Jesus and the love of God, our Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be the abiding portion of all who believe, today and forevermore. Amen.

[1] William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 3, 3.1.

[2] Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich ( New York: Fawcett Books), 1987.

[3]  Gudrun Kretschmann, Ten Keys to Prosperity (Ten Keys to Living Series) ([unknown]:Angus & Robertson), 1994.

[4] Mark Fisher, The Instant Millionaire: A Tale of Wisdom and Wealth, (Novato, CA: New World Library), 1990.

[5] Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko, The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy, (United Kingdom: Longstreet Press), 1996.

[6] Matthew 6:25–26 (paraphrased).

[7] Luke 12:16–20 (paraphrased).

[8] Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, (London: John Sheater), 1670.

[9] John Calvin, “Chapter X.” Institutes of Christian Religion, edited by John T. McNeill, compiled by W. L. Jenkins, Vol. XX, Books I.i to III.xix (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1960), 719–725.

[10] Philippians 4:11 (KJV).

[11] Jason Lehmann, “Present Tense.” Dear Abby, Abigail Van Buren (February 14, 1989).

[12] Ibid (paraphrased).

[13] Psalm 139 (paraphrased).

[14] Carolina Sandell Berg, “Day by Day” (1865).

[15] Romans 8:28 (paraphrased).

[16] John 13:7 (paraphrased).

[17] 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NIV 1984).

[18] Willliam Cowper, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (1774).

[19] David Brainerd and Jonathan Edwards, The Life of David Brainerd, Missionary to the Indians: Chiefly Taken from His Own Diary and Other Private Writings, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2007), 154.

[20] E. L. Konigsburg, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, (New York: Athenum Books for Young Readers, 1967. Reprint, 2013), 153.

[21] Amy Carmichael, “Even as a Weaned Child,” Mountain Breezes: The Collected Poems of Amy Carmichael, (Fort Washington, PA: CLC Publications, 1999) (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.