Tag Archives: Jeremiah Burroughs

The Cure for Discontentment

 

As I continue to be laid open and bare by conviction of the Spirit through the pastoral pen of Jeremiah Burroughs, I was reminded of the grace-filled medicine for the believer against the malady of murmuring and discontentment, namely thankfulness.

If discontentment is expressing dissatisfaction with the providential lot that the Lord has ordained through various circumstances, be they financial, marital, physical, and vocational, etc., then thankfulness would be the opposite expression, i.e. satisfaction and acceptance through the embrace of the providential lot that the Lord has laid upon us.

The Word of God expresses this most clearly in the primary thesis passage of Burroughs’s work, Philippians 4:11. Expanding our view of this passage to include the surrounding verses of the chapter, we find the following commendation from the Apostle Paul,

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

It would appear that these verses provide the backdrop for Paul’s statement in verse 11 concerning his own expression of contentment in every situation. Working briefly through the passage, we note first that joy, a believer’s joy in Christ, is the first exhortation. In whatever situation or lot that may come our way, we are to be joyful. We simply cannot let our external situations determine our joy. How often are we guilty of allowing our moods or attitudes to be so swiftly turned like the tide of the sea when a particular circumstance comes our way? Here the frame of contentment is marked by the joyful fruit of the Spirit. Summarily, rejoicing in the Lord is to be a continual, external expression brought about by the internal reality of joy in Christ.

Next, we read in verse 5 of letting our “reasonableness be known to everyone.” This actually seems to be a poor translation choice by the ESV. The NASB translates this phrase, “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men.” Here, the Apostle is calling us to a public display of the joyful condition of our hearts. This comes from the overflow of a joyful heart. Gentleness is a mark of a settled spirit that has its focus set on things above such that it is not easily rattled nor shaken by the things of this world.

In verse 6 we read of the third exhortation, though from the negative side, one against a believer’s anxiety. As the flow of this argument develops, it would appear that anxiety occurs from a failure to maintain a joyful disposition and to rejoice in the Lord. Because anxiety most often presents itself as an outward display of internal turbulence (the opposite of rejoicing), it follows that the gentleness of spirit the Apostle discussed in the previous verse is also not visible for all to see. At its root, anxiety is discontentedness.

Progressing out of the negative side of this exhortation, we enter once again into the positive side with the charge “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God”. It’s evident that this imperative is meant to be the elixir for anxiety, “prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving” and it seems reasonable that it likewise forms the backbone for the Apostle’s contentment in every situation. Bitter and sweet water cannot flow from the same stream; thankfulness and anxiety, or discontentedness, cannot simultaneously exist. A prayerful heart is a thankful heart and a thankful heart prevents any notion of discontentment and its rotten fruits, anxiety, joylessness, murmuring, covetousness, etc. This brings us to our focus from the passage, namely that thankfulness to God undermines anxiety and is the bedrock out of which contentment flows, the direction toward which the Apostles turns his attention in verse 11.

For the Apostle Paul, thankfulness is a great theme in his writing. It is not limited to the Church at Philippi, but is expressed in his letters to Ephesus (5:20), Corinth (1 Co. 10:30), Colossae (3:15-16), and most notably Rome (1:8; 1:21; 14:6). In fact, he mentions thankfulness or its derivatives some 57 times in his epistles and in all except Galatians and Titus. Is it then any wonder how he can state the possession of contentment in every situation? He is governed by a thank-filled heart. What ought we to be thankful for? Believer in Christ, there are endless mercies of God for which to be thankful. Turning to Burroughs again we read “There is not one of you in the lowest condition but you have an abundance of mercies to bless God for, but discontentedness makes them nothing.”[1]

In the face of our discontentment, which lurks around every corner with a net to ensnare us, let us remember to be thankful and give ourselves unto prayer with thanksgiving in an expression of our gratitude to the Almighty God.

 

 

 

[1] Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. Banner of Truth, 2013. P. 155.

Forgetting The Paternoster

 

In his classic Puritan work, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Jeremiah Burroughs devotes several chapters to the evils of a murmuring spirit. In speaking of this, he references the Apostle Peter’s denial of Christ and states that he had forgotten the Paternoster. The Paternoster is the Latin name given to the Lord’s Prayer (it begins “Our Father”), in citing Peter’s forgetfulness in this matter, namely the portion of the prayer “Hallowed be your name….Your Kingdom come”, Burroughs relates this to our own forgetfulness of the Paternoster when we murmur. He writes,

“When you have a murmuring and discontented hearts, you forget your prayers, you forget what you have prayed for. What do you pray, but, Give us this day our daily bread?” Now God does not teach any of you to pray, Lord, give me so much a year, or let me have this kind of cloth, and so many dishes at my table. Christ does not teach you to pray so, but he teaches us to pray, ‘Lord, give us our bread,’ showing that you should be content with a little.”[1]

In reading through Burroughs’s example and application to our own condition, the thought occurred to me, how often are we likened to Peter and forget The Paternoster? It would seem this most often occurs as a failure to recognize the attributes of God’s character that are revealed in our model prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13. Though many more could be added, below are some practical examples of forgetting The Paternoster:

  • When we forget Fatherhood of God
  • When we forget the holiness of God
  • When we forget the providence of God
  • When we forget the sovereignty of God
  • When we forget the mercy of God
  • When we forget the grace of God
  • When we forget the justice of God
  • When we forget the authority of God

Each of these have a practical outworking in our daily lives and are most reflected in our attitudes such as

  • When we murmur and complain
  • When we are anxious
  • When we are discontent
  • When we are jealous or covetous
  • When we think too highly of ourselves
  • When we think too lowly of ourselves
  • When we are quicker to condemn than to forgive
  • When we are self-reliant, self-sufficient, self-exalting
  • When we succumb to our temptations

The Lord’s Prayer, as it is so called, was Christ’s response to the disciples petition to teach them to pray. In His instructive model, He has taught us, among other things, a remedy against murmuring, namely that from Him and to Him and through Him are all things; said succinctly that God is a sovereign God. However, we far too easily forget the one to Whom we’ve prayed, because our hearts become so quickly disoriented by our selfish desires. As Burroughs adds,

“Where did Christ teach us provision for so long a time? No, but if we have bread for this day, Christ would have us content. Therefore when we murmur because we have no so much variety as others have, we do, as it were, forget our Paternoster. It is against our prayers; we do not in our lives hold forth the acknowledgement of the sovereignty of God over us as we seem to acknowledge in our prayers. Therefore when at any time you find your hearts murmuring, then do but reflect upon yourselves and think thus: Is this according to my prayers, in which I held forth the sovereign power and authority that God has over me?”[2]

Christian, let us be vigilant to set our minds on the sovereign, providential God Who deserves our gratitude and praise, not our murmuring and discontentment, lest we find ourselves alongside Peter in forgetting the Paternoster.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive our trespasses. As we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, the glory forever.

[1] Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentenment. Banner of Truth, pp. 152-153.

[2] Pg. 153

Discontentment and Temptation

 

One of the strategies for an effective battle against sin is to recognize how sin operates; first in general and then in particular within and around you. In military terms, this is akin to knowing your enemy. A particular highway through which sin will attempt to march its troops is the highway of discontentment. Perhaps there is no greater avenue for sin to enter the heart than through a person’s distorted desires, which have at their root, discontentment. The Apostle James writes, “but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” James 1:14-15 I’ve written elsewhere that my understanding of this passage is that desire conceives with temptation to give birth sin. I will argue here that the bedroom for that conception is discontentment.

In his masterful treatise on contentment, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Jeremiah Burroughs builds the substance of his exposition on Philippians 4:11 which reads, “…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content”. While his book is commendable on many levels, there is one particular area that I would like to highlight, namely the relationship between contentment and temptation, particularly as it relates to avoiding sin.

After many excellent and noteworthy comments on describing contentment, its mystery and how Christ teaches contentment, Burroughs arrives at his discussion on “The Excellence of Contentment.” In this chapter, one particular quality of contentment caught my attention and went along way in expressing some thoughts concerning temptation and contentment that had been churning in my mind. Here he writes,

“Contentment delivers us from an abundance of temptations. Oh, the temptations that men of discontented spirits are subject to!”[1]

There is much to contemplate in this statement not the least of which is the avenue that discontentment paves into the heart, upon which temptation may freely travel.

A survey of biblical examples of sin would lead one to see that every instance of sin has as its root, discontentment. Adam and Eve were discontent with the position in the Garden that God had given them. They fell for the lie that Satan presented, showing the bait, yet hiding the hook, because they were discontent. David was discontent with all that God had blessed him with; prosperity, a kingdom, a wife, yet as he walked around on his rooftop discontentment joined with temptation and the rest is the sad history of a great king and man after God’s own heart. Solomon was discontent with just one wife. Israel was discontent with worshiping God alone and adopted the practices of the surrounding nations. Scripture is replete with examples and we cannot forget our own experiences.

Discontentment at its heart is idolatry. It resists the Lordship and Authority of Almighty God and seeks to set self on the throne in place of the King. Covetousness, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, stealing, material gain, pride, indulgence, power grabbing, etc. are all a product of discontentment with the provision and circumstances that God has sovereignly ordained.

Similarly, discontentment accuses God of withholding better gifts. Despite James 1:17 establishing the contrary, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights”, discontentment says that what God has provided is insufficient (see also John 3:27; Matthew 7:7-11). In a sense, discontentment makes us little gods, again idolatry, who think we know better and deserve better. It takes, demands more, is ungrateful, and is never satisfied. It is not hard to see the wickedness of discontentment and how it is a spring from which all streams of sin find their source.

The Apostle Paul says, ‘Godliness with contentment is great gain’ (1 Timothy 6:6). May that be the goal of our hearts. As one author has said, “All the wealth and prestige in the world with discontentment results in poverty of spirit. But contentment arising in our souls from living by grace –that is, from realizing we have not received what we actually deserve, but daily receive what we don’t deserve-brings great wealth of spirit, even if we are living in poverty and obscurity.”[2]

Christians, let us not be discontent and allow temptation an unguarded route into our hearts. Let us say with the Apostle Paul, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” Phil. 4:11. May we be content with our lot; with where the Lord has us at this particular moment, lest we provide an avenue for temptation leading to sin. Burroughs adds, “Temptations will no more prevail over a contented man, than a dart is thrown against a brazen wall.”[3] May our contentment be found in Christ. May our every desire be satisfied in Him. Satisfaction pursued in anything other than Christ will ultimately lead to discontentment, creating a pathway for temptation that leads to sin. “Contentment is more than focusing on what we have. It is focusing on the fact that all we do have, we have by the grace of God. We do not deserve anything we have, materially or spiritually. It is all by His grace.”[4]

 

 

[1] Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. Banner of Truth, pg 126

[2] Jerry Bridges, Transforming Grace. NavPress, 1991, pg. 200

[3] Burroughs, 128.

[4] Bridges, 199.