484) On Being Content (part three of three)

From Holy Living by Jeremy Taylor (1613-67) (paraphrased)

    9.  Let us often call to mind what it would be like to be without such blessings as we now possess.  Consider how desirable health is to a sick man or liberty to a prisoner.  If even a toothache seizes you with violence, all of your other troubles instantly disappear and seem inconsiderable.  He who is troubled that he is in debt, and spends sleepless nights, and refuses to eat because of his anxiety, let him get a kidney stone, and he will forget to be concerned about anything else.  So remember to value all those blessings that God is allowing you at the present moment, and be thankful and contented.  If God should send a cancer upon your face, what would you all be willing to give then to be as you now are?  Would you not then choose your present loss or affliction as to be preferred to that greater affliction?  You are right now free of a thousand calamities, every one of which, if it were upon you, would make you forget all your present sorrow.

    10.  If you want to have a contented spirit, be governed by your needs, not by your fancy; by nature, not by artificial customs and ambitious principles.  He that would hunt a hare with an elephant, is not unlucky for not being able to catch his prey; but foolish for choosing the wrong method.  Such is he that searches for contentment with appetites not springing from natural needs, but from false necessities.  These cannot to be satisfied, for God did not intend rest to a man by the filling of such desires.  When we create needs that God or nature never made, we have erected to ourselves an infinite stock of trouble that can have no end.  Sam complained of lack of clothes, and was very anxious to get a new suit, being ashamed to appear in the theater with his old suit.  When he got it, he gave his old clothes to poor Tom; and the poor man was filled with joy, and went and gave God thanks for it.  Tom was made cheerfully warm by that which Sam was ashamed to wear; and yet, their natural needs are the same.  The only difference was that Sam had some artificial necessities, which Tom did not have, and so Sam was harder to be relieved and could not have joy at so cheap a rate.  Tom lived only according to nature; and Sam by pride, ill customs, and measures taken by other men’s opinions.  He that believes he needs such fancy things, and is discontent and troubled when he is not able to make such purchases, ought not to complain to God, or blame his fortune; but the blame rests on his own folly.

    11.  In all our troubles let us take sanctuary in our faith, and by innocence cast out anchors for our souls to keep them from shipwreck, even though they may not be kept from storm.  When a man suffers in a good cause or is afflicted, and yet walks with God, then he may be killed, but he cannot be harmed; as St. Paul said, ‘We are troubled on every side, but not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.’  For indeed, God is the fountain of our greatest good, and when things look sad all around us, only then shall we find how excellent a fortune it is to have God to our friend.  Let us, therefore, not be governed by how things appear in the present, judging by the usual understanding; but let faith and hope be the measure of our judgment, and rest content on God’s promises.

    12.  Consider how many excellent persons in all ages have suffered greater calamities than this which now tempts you to impatience.  Our Lord Himself was the King of sufferings, suffering all the sorrows which we deserved.  We therefore have reason enough to be content; for it is a strange pride to expect to be more gently treated than the best and wisest men, than apostles and saints, and even the Son of the eternal God.  When your little misfortune troubles you, remember that Jesus, the best of men, was put to death publicly by His own people.

    13.  Consider that afflictions are oftentimes the occasions of great temporal advantages; and we must not look upon them only as they bear down heavily upon us, but as they might very well be serving God’s greater purpose.  If one could have at the beginning explained to Joseph the future results of his being sold into slavery, he might have dried up the young man’s lonely tears.  When God’s purposes were later seen in the unfolding of events, as when Joseph became lord of Egypt and prevented a great famine and saved many people, then we see what wrongful judgment we make of things.  For God esteems it one of his glories to bring good out of evil, and therefore that should be reason enough to trust God to govern his own world as he pleases, and we should patiently wait until the change comes or the reason is discovered.

    14.  If you will not otherwise be cured, remember that time will at last relieve you.  Be content to bear your calamity, because you can be sure that it will end, for to a Christian no evil is without end.  The worst that can happen is for it to end in death, and we know that to be near enough anyway; and then we inherit eternal peace.

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Romans 8:35… 36-39  —  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…   No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
II Corinthians 4:8-9  —  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
II Corinthians 4:16-18  —  Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 
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        O Lord, let me not desire health or life, except to spend them for Thee, with Thee, and in Thee.  Thou alone knowest what is good for me; do, therefore, what seems best to Thee.  Give to me, or take from me; conform my will to Thine; and grant that, with humble and perfect submission, and in holy confidence, I may receive the orders of Thine eternal providence; and may equally adore all that comes to me from Thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.                  

–Blaise Pascal  (17th century)

483) On Being Content (part two of three)

From Holy Living by Jeremy Taylor (1613-67)  (paraphrased)

        4.  Never compare your condition with those who have more than you; but to secure your contentment, look upon those many with whom you would not want to exchange your fortune and condition.  There are but a few kings in the world, but countless are those who are very miserable compared to you.  It is a huge folly to grieve that some have more, rather than to rejoice for the many good things which God has placed in your hands.

        5.  We will be more content if in times of trouble, we recall what is pleasing and prosperous, so that by the remembrance of the better, the worse may be blotted out.  And even at the worst, you have enough to keep you alive and to improve your hopes of heaven.  If I be defeated in my lawsuit, yet my house is left me still and my land; or I may still have a virtuous wife, or hopeful children, or kind friends, or good hopes.  Reckon the blessings which already you have received, and therefore be pleased in the changes and chances of life, to receive evil from the hand of God as well as good.  Or else please yourself with hopes of the future.  A change brings you into a sadness, and a change will bring you out again… 

        Suppose you were in as great a sadness as ever did load your spirit, would you not bear it cheerfully and nobly if you were sure that within a certain space of time a surprising and excellent fortune would relieve, enrich, and recompense you, so as to overflow all your hopes and desires?  So then, when a sadness lies heavy upon you, remember that you are a Christian, created for the inheritance of Jesus, and that great fortune gives you a place in eternity.  Now, if you are not a Christian and do not believe in eternity, then I cannot blame you for being sad, but even at that, would it be the loss of money that saddens you?  What should a condemned man do with money, which in so great a sadness it is impossible for him to enjoy anyway?  Does anyone despair over the particulars of a purchase when upon the gallows?  If you really believe you are condemned, I do not say that would cure the sadness of your poverty, but that greater despair will swallow it up.  But if you believe that you shall be saved, consider how great is that joy, how infinite is that change, how unspeakable is that glory, how excellent is the compensation, for all the sufferings in the world, even if they were all at once loaded upon your spirit!  So let your present condition be what it will, if you compare it to your future condition, the present pain of a misfortune will be eased by the hope of that far bigger joy.  

     Here you are but a stranger, traveling to a country where the glories of a kingdom are prepared for you.  It is, therefore, a huge folly to be much afflicted because you have a less convenient inn to lodge in by the way.  This way of looking forwards and backwards is more than enough to support the spirit of a Christian…  

     Everyone has blessings enough in present possession to outweigh the evils of a great affliction.   I may have all my possessions taken away, but even then I can still look about and see all that I have left.   I still have the sun and moon, fire and water, a loving wife, and many friends to pity me and some to relieve me, and I can still enjoy a conversation; and, unless I give in to despair, I will still have my cheerful spirit, and a good conscience.   And I can still have hope in the providence of God, and all the promises of the gospel, and my hopes of heaven; and still I sleep and eat and drink and read and meditate; I can walk in my neighbor’s pleasant fields, and see the variety of natural beauties, and delight in all that in which God delights, that is, in virtue and wisdom and in the whole creation.   He that has so many causes of joy is very much in love with sorrow and peevishness if he can ignore all these pleasures, and choose only to sit down upon his little handful of thorns.

        6.  Enjoy the present, whatsoever it be, and be not anxious for the future.  If it is well for you today, it is madness to make the present miserable by fearing that it may be ill tomorrow.  If tomorrow you shall suffer want, your sorrow will come soon enough, but do not hasten it.  Let the trouble come when it comes.  And if it is bad today, do not increase it by worry about tomorrow.  He, therefore, that enjoys the present if it be good, enjoys as much as is possible.  Christ said, ‘Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof;’ sufficient but not intolerable.  But if we look abroad, and bring into one day’s thoughts the evil of many days, certain and uncertain, our load will be as intolerable as it is unreasonable.

        7.  Let us prepare our minds against changes by always expecting them, so that we are not surprised when they come.  Nothing is so great an enemy to tranquility and a contented spirit as the amazement and confusions that come when our fortunes are violently changed in a way we thought could never happen.  ‘O death, how bitter art thou to a man that is at rest in his possessions!’  The rich man who had promised himself ease and enjoyment for many years, had a sad shock when his soul was surprised on the very first night by death.  But the apostles, who faced death every day, went to their martyrdom in peace.

        8.  Consider that a state of affliction is a school of virtue.  It reduces our spirits to soberness and interrupts the confidence of sinning.  ‘It is good for me,’ said David, ‘that I have been afflicted, for thereby I have learned thy law.’

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Psalm 103:2  —  Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. 
 
Psalm 119:71  —   It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.  
 
Proverbs 19:23  —  The fear of the Lord leads to life:  Then one rests content, untouched by trouble. 
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        Lord, teach me the art of patience while I am well, and give me the use of it when I am sick.  In that day, either lighten my burden or strengthen my back.  Make me, who so often in my health have discovered my weakness in presuming on my own strength, to be strong in my sickness when I solely rely on your assistance.  Amen.  

–Thomas Fuller

482) On Being Content (part one of three)

From Holy Living by Jeremy Taylor (1613-67) (paraphrased).  Taylor was an English clergyman, author, and chaplain to King Charles I.  He was called “the Shakespeare of the pulpit.”

    God has appointed a simple remedy for many of the evils in the world and that is a spirit of contentment.  For since much of the evil in life consists in there being a difference between the way things are and the way one wants them to be, he that adjusts his spirit to his situation will not be as often troubled, because his desires will not go beyond his present fortune.  For no matter what troubles one finds himself in, there is in the trouble some virtue or another to be learned or exercised, be it patience, thanksgiving, love, fear, moderation, humility, charity, or contentedness; and all of them can serve the purpose of his overall happiness.  After all, beauty is not made by blue eyes and a round face and a perfect body and smooth skin; but by how it fits with what we fancy to be beauty.  Our happiness and contentment is created in our minds, and by the grace of God we can be reconciled to even poverty.  For no man is poor that does not think himself so; and even if he is very rich, if with impatience he desires even more, he will even then think himself poor.

    1.  Contentment in all situations consists in the good sense of complying with the Divine Providence which governs all the world, and has so ordered us in the administration of his great family.  All gifts come from God, and therefore it is fit He should dispense them as he pleases.  God is the master of the scenes, and we do not get to choose which part we shall act.  It concerns us only to be careful that we do our part well, always saying, ‘If this please God, let it be as it is.’  We who pray that God’s will may be done in earth as it is in heaven, must remember that even the angels do whatever is commanded them and go wherever they are sent and refuse no circumstances.  You should do likewise, keeping to the station where God has placed you, not longing for something else, but simply accepting God’s providence.  For are not we his creatures?  Are we not as clay in the hand of the potter?  Do we not live upon his provision and move by his strength?  Are we anything but what we have from him?  God, who can do what he pleases, is wise to choose safely for us.  Here, therefore, is the wisdom of the contented man– to let God choose for him; for when we have given up our wills to him, and stand in that station of the battle where our great general has placed us, our spirits can rest while we have for our security the power, the wisdom, and the love of God.

    2.  Contentment in all afflictions brings great peace of spirit and is the only way to happiness in this life.  It removes the sting from the situation, and makes a man not dependent upon chance, but only upon God.  Our place in life is what we make of it; and when God lets loose a tyrant upon us, or a sickness, or scorn, or a lessened fortune, if we then fear to die, or know not how to be patient, or are proud, or covetous, then the calamity brings us to despair.  But if we know how to be faithful and noble, and fear not death so much as a dishonest action, and think impatience a worse evil than a fever, and pride to be the biggest disgrace, and poverty to be infinitely desirable before the torments of covetousness; then we shall find that we can bear all things and be content.  But no man can be happy that has great expectations and hopes and great fears of things outside of himself that depend upon other men or upon the chances of fortune.  The rewards of virtue are certain, but he that has all his hope in things that are within the power of others will certainly be disappointed.  My fear can make me miserable, and possessions can be enjoyed only by those who are not afraid to lose them.  Fear of the future takes off all the pleasure of the present possession.  Therefore, if you have lost your land, do not also lose your contentment, and if you must die a little sooner, yet do not die impatiently.  For no chance circumstances are evil to him that is content.  No man can make another man to be his slave unless be has first enslaved himself to life and death, to pleasure or pain, to hope or fear.  Command these passions, and you will be freer than any king.

    3.  When anything happens to our displeasure, let us endeavor to take off its trouble by turning it into spiritual advantage.  When an enemy reproaches you, look on him as an impartial revealer of your faults, for he will be more truthful with you than your fondest friend; so make use of his words.  That is better than to be flattered into pride and carelessness.  When a storm of a sad misfortune beats upon our spirits, turn it into some advantage by observing where it can serve a godly purpose.  If nothing else, it may make us weary of the world’s vanity, take off our confidence from uncertain riches, and make our spirits content.  And if it does any good to our souls, it has made more than sufficient recompense for any temporal affliction.

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Philippians 4:11b-12  —  I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  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. 
1 Timothy 6:6-8  —  But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 
Hebrews 13:5  —  Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
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        Almighty God, have mercy upon us, forgive us all our sins, and deliver us from all evil; confirm and strengthen us in all goodness, and bring us to life everlasting.  Amen.     

Book of Common Prayer, Scotland

 

175) Martin Luther on Contentment

     The fact that no one is satisfied with what he has is a very common plague.  Consequently, everyone says:  Why is it that the crops are always better in another’s field than in our own, and that the neighbor’s cows give more milk than ours?  And why is it that no one is satisfied with his station in life and that everybody imagines the other man’s station to be better than his own?  The merchant envies the laborer for sitting in undisturbed peace at his job, while he must travel madly about the country.  On the other hand, the laborer envies the merchant for being rich and for being among people and so forth.  Everybody is disgusted with his station in life and sighs for that of another.  If he is married, he envies him who has no wife; if he has no wife, he envies the married man.  So God cannot deal with men in such a way that they are satisfied.  If they served Him in that station into which He has placed them, the work would not be so bitter or burdensome to them.  But now, since they are sick of it, they are burdened by no one but themselves.  They make their lives bitter for themselves without any need or reason.

     If God permitted a man to change his station according to his every desire in order to rid himself of his disgust, he would nonetheless become just as disgusted, if not more so, in all other stations, and would finally wish to get back to his own.  So put away and change your disgust and your discontent!  Then one station will be as another to you, and all stations will be of equal value to you, no matter which one came to be yours; then you will require no change nor desire any.  

     If the troubles of all men were heaped together and were then to be equally distributed, it would come to pass that everybody would much rather keep his own.  So very equitably God governs this world that every advantage has connected to it a corresponding disadvantage.

     Everyone only sees how snugly the shoe fits his neighbor, but does not see where it pinches.  On the other hand, he who is wearing the shoe does not note how snugly it fits but how badly it pinches him.  The world lives on in the folly that everybody has eyes only for his own evil and his neighbor’s good fortune.  But if he saw only his own good fortune and his neighbor’s evil besides, he would thank God and be satisfied in all quietness, no matter how lowly and bad his station might be.

     If we are to avoid such restlessness, disquiet, and disgust, we must have faith.  Faith is firmly convinced that God governs equitably and places every man into that station which is best and most fitting for him.                              

Anthology of Luther, volume one, #1009.

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     …A person who wants to change and improve everything and who refuses to put up with any inadequacies, but insists on having everything clean and comfortable, will usually get in exchange something twice as uncomfortable, or even ten times as uncomfortable.  This is a general rule, not only in this matter (marriage), but in all others as well.

     So it must be on earth.  Daily there will be many troubles and trials in every house, city, and country.  No station in life is free of suffering and pain; not only from your own spouse or children or employees; but also from the outside, from your neighbors and all sorts of accidental trouble.  When a person sees and feels all this, he quickly becomes dissatisfied, and he tires of his way of life, or it makes him impatient, irritated, and profane.  If he cannot avoid this trouble or get rid of it, he wants to change his station in life, supposing that everyone else’s station and condition are better than his own.  After changing around for a long time, he discovers that his situation has progressively deteriorated.  A change is a fast and easy thing, but an improvement is a rare and doubtful thing.

Luther’s Works, volume 21; “The Sermon on the Mount,” page 95.

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     We Germans (only Germans?) are the kind of people who pounce upon anything new and cling to it like fools.  If anyone restrains us, he only makes us more crazy for it.  But if no one restrains us, we will soon, on our own, become fed up and bored with it, and soon chase after something else that is new.

Luther’s Works, volume 37, page 19.

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Ecclesiastes 1:8 — All things are wearisome, more than one can say.  The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.

Proverbs 27:20 — Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are the eyes of man.

Job 3:20 — Surely he will have no respite from his craving… 

I Timothy 6:6-8 — But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 

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“For what God gives I thank indeed; 
What he withholds I do not need.” 
This is my motto: to be able to be satisfied.   –Martin Luther 

133) Comparisons or Contentment?

From Telling Yourself the Truth, by William Backus and Marie Chapian, 1980, pages 31-33 

     Are you comparing yourself and your life with someone else who seems better in some way, or are you looking at yourself in the light of God’s Word?  D. L. Moody once said that the best way to show that a stick is crooked is not to argue about it or to spend time denouncing it, but to lay a straight stick alongside it.

     The straight stick in the lives of Christians is the lovely and indestructible love of Christ.  When our eyes lose sight of this dazzling truth, there remains only shadows to stare at; shadows such as envy, jealousy, or comparing ourselves with others.  Unhappiness or a state of discontent often is the result of longing to be different or to be in different circumstances, especially someone else’s.

     Not long ago, a poll was taken of 5,000 middle-class single and married men and women of average and above average intelligence.  The poll revealed that the single people were no more or less happy than the married people and the married people no more or less happy than the single.  Common, however, was the finding that single people envied married people.  Married people, on the other hand, reported envying single people…

     A single woman said, “I envy my friend, Jane.  She’s really happy.  She has a husband, kids and a home.  She has everything.”

     A married woman said, “I envy Connie.  She has it made.  She’s free to come and go when and where she wants.  Her time is her own; her money is her own.  She’s out in the world doing things.  She’s single and she’s the really happy one.”

     What do you recognize in the words these two people are saying?  Envy is usually not realistic.  It does not have all the facts.  The words “I’m miserable and someone else is the happy one” are basically untrue.  Everyone has some unhappiness in his life somewhere and sometime.  Everyone has difficulties to face and problems to solve.  Both Connie and Jane may have good lives, but they also have trials to overcome.

     Picture a little boy jumping with delight as he tightly clutches a nickel in his fist.  His mother gave him the nickel and told him to go outside and play.  The little boy feels light and happy.  But then he meets a playmate who has a quarter.  His nickel suddenly loses its luster.  He’s not feeling so light anymore.  He goes home and asks his mother for a quarter, and his mother gives him one.  Now the little boy jumps happily once again until he meets another playmate, and this time the playmate has fifty cents in his hand.  The little boy is crestfallen.  His quarter looks pitiful next to two quarters.  So back home he goes to get fifty cents from his mother.  When he does, he runs into a playmate with a dollar bill… and on it goes.

     If we do not find worth in what we are and what we have now, we will tell ourselves we are less important than others or we have less than others.  When we tell ourselves these things, we create unrest within ourselves and in striving to be or have what we think others have, we are always seeking after an invisible and unattainable state of happiness which is always out of our grasp.  Somebody, somewhere will always be or have more than we.

     Carol is a soft-spoken grandmother who lives in a modest home which is usually in need of repair.  Her sons are successful businessmen and own homes twice the value of hers.  Their wives are smartly dressed and have every convenience at their disposal.  Carol cannot afford expensive clothes.  She drives a second-hand car and takes her laundry to the laundromat.  She is happy, outgoing and content with her life.  “Grandma is my bestest person!” her small grandchildren exclaim.  Carol is not only adored by her family, but by her friends, neighbors and acquaintances.  There is a peaceful, loving and unselfish quality about her which draws people to her.  Her son marvels at how his mother avoids complaining.  Carol knows the value of the words of the Apostle Paul, “I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content,” and she lives by them.  Envy has no place in her life.

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Philippians 4:11-12 — I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  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.

Psalm 103:2 — Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

I Timothy 6:6-8 — But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

Hebrews 13:5-6 — Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me?” 

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O Lord, you know what is best for me.  Let this or that be done as you please.  Give what you will, how much you will, and when you will.  Amen.
–Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471)

63) On Wanting to Be Somewhere Else

TWO PICTURES  

–By Annie Douglas Robinson  (1842-1913)

An old farmhouse with meadows wide,
And sweet with clover on each side;
A bright-eyed boy, who looks from out
The door with woodbine wreathed about,
And wishes his one thought all day:
”Oh, if I could only fly away
From this dull spot, the world to see,
How happy, happy, happy,
How happy I should be!”

Amid the city’s constant din,
A man who round the world has been,
Who, mid the tumult and the throng,
Is thinking, thinking all day long:
“Oh! could I only tread once more
The field-path to the farmhouse door,
The old, green meadow could I see,
How happy, happy, happy,
How happy I should be!”

–From Harper’s Fourth Reader, page 365, Copyright 1888, Harper & Brothers

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“A man travels the world over in search of what he
needs, and he returns home to find it.”  –George Moore

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Jeremiah 50:6  —  They have wandered over mountain and hill and forgot their own resting place.

Philippians 4:11b-12b  —  I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  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 every situation.  

I Timothy 6:6-8  —  …Godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

Hebrews 13:5-6a  —  Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid…”

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THE SERENITY PRAYER

(original version, later adapted and popularized by AA)

God,
Give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Living one day at a time, 
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, 
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is, 
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.  Amen.

–Reinhold Niebuhr, American theologian, (1892-1971)

37) Troubles, Whether One is Married or Single

By Martin Luther (1483-1546; married in 1525), recorded in Table Talk (#3508),                                   from a conversation in 1536. 

     He who takes a wife is not idle, for marriage keeps him busy.  To remain content in celibacy confronts one with many temptations that are not trivial, as the experienced know.  On the other hand, the annoyances of marriage are almost unbearable to men.  Accordingly, Socrates is reported to have given a good answer to a man who was contemplating marriage.  He told him, “Whatever you may do, you will regret it.”  In paradise, where there was no such ardor and raging passion, marriage must have been very pleasant.  Flesh and blood were different then.  But we have become so infected with original sin that there’s no kind of life which, once undertaken, isn’t a matter of regret at times.  This is the fault of our original sin, which has defiled and deformed all human nature.  Dear God, how art thou to arrange things so as to please us?

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Proverbs 19:23 — The fear of the Lord leads to life:  Then one rests content, untouched by trouble.

Philippians 4:11b-13 — …I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  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.

I Timothy 6:6-8 — But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 

Hebrews 13:4-6 — Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.  Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid…”

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Almighty God, who knows our necessities before we ask, and our ignorance in asking: Set free your servants from all anxious thoughts about tomorrow; make us content with your good gifts; and confirm our faith that as we seek your kingdom, you will not allow us to lack any good thing; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  –St. Augustine