How This Affects Us as Parents and Educators —Delana H Stewart
Why did you accept this job or this teaching assignment? Why are you home-schooling? Why aren’t you home-schooling? Why did you put your son in national school? Why didn’t you put your kids in national school? Why did you choose that curriculum?
This morning’s reading brought her to Philippians 4:11-13—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. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (NIV)
She mulled this over in her head confessing that she lacked the joy and contentment that she knew should be hers. “Why?” she asked God. “Why does contentment flee so often?”
Flipping to a marked place in the Word, she read: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (I Pet 5:8-9) NIV.
Many of us struggle with the joy, peace, and contentment that we know should be ours in Christ Jesus. The enemy is not able to take away our salvation, but he can tempt us to sin and he can steal our joy. When we recognize the areas in which we are vulnerable and arm ourselves with Scripture for those occasions, then we will be able to stand in the face of his attacks. We will also be enabled to see how we can encourage our sisters and brothers around us who are “undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” Three areas that the enemy likes to attack us and steal our joy are: accepting who God has made us to be, accepting what God has given us or withheld from us, and in knowing how to make good decisions and not second guess ourselves.
1. Who has God made you to be? For years this was a personal struggle for me. In recent years, I have found joy and contentment in being who God has made me to be, though at times Satan still tries to attack me in this area. Rick Warren in his book The Purpose Driven Life discussed the acronym SHAPE: Spiritual Gifts, Heart, Ability, Personality, and Experiences. These things make up who we are, and our shape is unlike anyone else’s in the whole world. Even if the–‘s,’ ‘h,’ ‘a,’ and ‘p’ are the same or very similar to someone else, your experiences are not the same, thus your shape is not the same. It is often easy to look at other co-workers or other parents and see how God has gifted them and shaped them, and it is easy to see how they are seemingly perfect to be where they are, doing whatever they are doing. Simultaneously the enemy likes to whisper in our ear—if you were only good at that like Sheila is, then…” Or, “If you had Steve’s spiritual gift then you could do that better, but because you don’t have it then you shouldn’t be doing this task or that project.
Stop Trying to Be a Hammer and Be the Pliers I made you to be
In a sermon I heard several years ago, the speaker talked about us being tools in God’s tool belt and God being the Master Carpenter. I left thinking about my own lack of contentment with my shape. I wondered why I kept trying to be a hammer. I looked at other hammers and thought that they were doing a great job and that I couldn’t do a good job because I couldn’t be a hammer. All the while, God is looking at me saying something like “Silly tool, I crafted you to be pliers. I need a good pair of pliers. Stop trying to be a hammer and start being the pliers that I made you to be.” Can you imagine cooking in the kitchen and your spatula is complaining that it cannot open cans! It really wants to and tries really hard, but doesn’t succeed. An ice pick in the same drawer rises to the occasion and opens the can, but the result is rather messy. You probably get the picture.
The enemy succeeds in stealing our joy and contentment when he gets us thinking about what we are not instead of what we are in Christ. If you do not know your spiritual gift or personality type, try to find out what they are. Ask others how they see you. Think about what you are passionate about and what your abilities are. Seek to serve God through your shape. Sometimes we have to do things in which we are not especially gifted. Maybe you find home-schooling extremely challenging, but there are no other options. Perhaps language learning does not come easy, yet you know that it is necessary to accomplish your tasks or even to survive. Perhaps those circumstances are when we need to focus on v. 13 and remember Who gives us the strength and ability to accomplish those things. Even within tasks that do not come easily for us, we can find contentment in working with all our hearts and not comparing ourselves to someone else’s progress or ability.
2. What has God given you? The second area that Satan succeeds in stealing our joy is in the area of our possessions. Interestingly, it isn’t always about what we wish we had. Sometimes we become discontent and think we should not be blessed with so much. Sometimes, the enemy whispers to us that if we truly were denying ourselves then we would sell everything and go live in a hut somewhere. Maybe there is someone you know who lives with a lot less than you. It is okay if they do so, as long as they are doing so out of conviction from the Spirit and not out of a desire to earn God’s pleasure. Likewise, if God convicts you to give something up, you should do so; however, we must learn the difference between conviction and guilt. The Spirit moves us to make changes in our lives. The enemy condemns us and makes us feel guilty. That is why it is so important to remember Romans 8:1. If we are feeling guilty or condemned, then we can know it is not of the Spirit. Paul was content in the having and in the not having. So, if the enemy cannot get us to feel guilty about what we have, he tempts us to be dissatisfied with what we have or what we are lacking. Sometimes this dissatisfaction is with things like our house, car, or location. Sometimes it is being discontent with people: our co-workers, supervisor, or company. And, it can even be with abilities or gifts we don’t have…..or even unanswered prayer.
Two things that I have found successful in defeating the enemy in this area are praise and counting my blessings. These definitely take determination (thus the part of the verse that says self-control). When I begin to feel discontented about something, I either turn on praise music or sit down and write a list of all the things I am thankful for…or all the ways in which God has blessed me or my family. The enemy is not picky. It doesn’t matter if you have or don’t have, and it doesn’t matter if you think you have or don’t have; he is still able to tempt you to be discontent.
3. What decisions are at hand? Finally, the enemy tries to make us second guess decisions we have made. Why did you accept this job or this teaching assignment? Why are you home schooling? Why aren’t you home schooling? Why did you put your son in national school? Why didn’t you put your kids in national school? Why did you choose that curriculum? Why did you choose not to answer the door? Why did you give the man money? Why didn’t you give that old lady some food? The list is endless.
The enemy even likes to tempt us to second guess other people’s decisions that affect us. For example, you may find yourself needing to submit (but not liking it) to a decision made by a husband, supervisor, or other authority figure in your life. The enemy will want you to be bitter, hurt, or even angry with that person. How can we keep our joy in times like these? First, we need to learn to deal with what is the decision at hand. So often we think about what we have already done and how we shoulda-coulda-woulda done it differently or better. Stop! Past is past. Look at the decisions that you are able to make today. Pray about them, and move forward knowing that God will work all things together for your good (Romans 8:28). Concerning schooling, consider carefully each child’s needs every year (including also your own personality, gifting, and availability). Do you feel like last year didn’t go so well? Do something different about the way you teach this year. Since school has already begun, there are some things you can’t change about this school year. Don’t worry yourself thinking that perhaps you made a wrong choice. When a choice can be made, seek to make changes that God lays on your heart (and are within your ability to change). Sometimes (or maybe often) God allows us to make certain choices—or allows others to do something—in an effort to shape or grow or prepare us for what He has down the road for us.
Even in the area of our health, we can be tempted to be discontent about a decision we have made or about a situation God has allowed us to experience. However, God wants us to give thanks in all circumstances. He has a plan and purpose. Recently, I received a letter from a lady whose name fittingly is Joy. She is faced with a current health situation that none of us would want to be walking through, yet she writes, “So, this is where we are and we are to be content. The Father DOES have us in the palm of his hand and he often shows us that in clear ways and we are amazed.” Understanding these three areas of attack for ourselves is only part of the decisions and actions we need to take. We also need to help our children understand when the enemy is attacking them in the area of who God made them, what God has given them (or not allowed them to have), and regarding decisions they have made or to which they have had to submit.
Enemy Territory– In more ways than one, we are in enemy territory. The enemy is unable to have joy and contentment and would like to take it away from us as well. He is prowling around and will attack us at the core of our being, disabling our view of who God has made us to be. The enemy does not want us to be joyful in our abundance or in our shortages. He does not want us to be joyful in our strength or in our weakness. He does not want us to be content about decisions we have made or about decisions others have made on our behalf. Knowing that when our feelings of discontent overwhelm us that it is a direct attack from the enemy– is half the battle! The other half is being armed to stand.
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Eph 6:13 (NIV).
See also: Content