When I first began leading women’s Bible studies, I was surprised (and a little unsettled) that almost always, after teaching on a practical topic of Christian living, I would very soon be tested on that very point. If I taught on the sin of worry, something would invariably come up that would be a sore temptation for me to worry about.
I soon learned that God will have no hypocrites. If I’m going to teach women to submit to their own husbands, as to the Lord (Ephesians 5:22), I had better be doing that myself. So, I would often pray ahead of time that I would be ready for the test that was sure to come. And I might steer away from topics I thought I wasn’t quite ready for yet. But then, who is ever ready? Do we ever think we have mastered the material? But the tests are coming, guaranteed.
Since we know God gives us all tests, we should not be the least bit surprised by them. After all, we are all enrolled in his Bible course, and what kind of class has no testing? So, we should expect tests. And we all know how to prepare for tests: we pay attention to the material, we review, we study, and we apply. Thankfully, God’s tests are always open book.
A few months ago, I undertook the job of writing a book on the subject of contentment, something that I have wanted to do for a very long time. Having learned so much from the Puritans Jeremiah Burroughs and Thomas Watson on contentment, I wanted to assemble something simple for women, something to make contentment attainable and understandable and practical. I wanted the title to be Learning Contentment because it is definitely an ongoing study for me.
After many hours at the computer, I turned in the manuscript for my book the end of February. Two weeks later, my son Nate learned that he has a brain tumor. Though not cancerous, it is life-threatening. His brain surgery is scheduled for May 2, and my little book on contentment will be released on the same day.
Do I think this is a coincidence? Not even close. As I said, God will have no hypocrites.
God was obviously preparing me for this trial during those weeks of writing. I thought I was writing a book. But God had enrolled me in a focused study hall to prepare me for a test. A big test. He knew full well that I was going to be applying the material in ways I could not see. So, not only was he going to test me on the material, but he was also kindly preparing me for the test. He could have given me the opportunity to write about contentment any time. But he chose this time. And he chose well.
When Nate was a boy, I remember telling him that someday in the future I would be learning from him. He would be the teacher, and I would be the student. That day came long ago. He is an author and filmmaker, writing fiction for children and nonfiction for adults.
And I continue to learn from him, from his books, his films, his observations about life, his humor, his love of life, and his love of story. Nate understands that God is the great Author, and he loves being the character God has chosen for him to be. He is content. This brain tumor is a new plot point, and we are all waiting to see what comes next. As he has said, he writes his own characters into very hard circumstances that require great courage, so how can he object when God writes him into a tough spot that will require courage of his own?
The Basics of Contentment
So, now what? Do I believe what I wrote about being content in our good God? Absolutely. He will never leave us or forsake us. He wants us to exercise our faith and lean on him, and this happens most when we are in the midst of trial. As God tests us, he wants us to test him, to see if he is as faithful as he promised. And he is. He wants us to have practice knowing that our lives are governed entirely by his wisdom and grace.
God knows what he is about, and he’s told us what to do: we are to cast our cares on him (1 Peter 5:7), set our minds on things above where Christ is (Colossians 3:1–2), and walk by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7). And on top of this, he wants us to rejoice in all things, giving thanks for everything (Philippians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:18). This is not amazing, super-special Christian living. This is basic Christian living.
When my children were small, there were times I wanted their undivided attention. I wanted them to listen carefully to my words and hear me: “No running across the street!” So, I would take a little, fat face into my hands, pull it close to mine, and tell the child to look me in the eye. Then I would speak, and they would listen. I have often thought that in trial, this is what God is doing to us. In this particular moment, he has my undivided attention. I am listening. I hear him.
Are You Ready for Your Test?
Your trials are tests. You know the material. It is your almighty Maker who is giving you this test now, and it is perfectly suited for you. You have gone over this material before. You know what to do. Sharpen your pencil. Get to work. If you do poorly, he provides forgiveness, but you may never get another chance like this one. Don’t squander it. As Pastor John Piper has said before (and I quote him often), “Don’t waste your trials.” There is much profit to be gained through trials. Look for it. Expect it. Be eager for it.
Contentment is a deep satisfaction with the will of God. Contentment enables me and you to rest quietly in his hands, knowing we are safe, even (and especially) in the midst of trouble. Remember that open-book tests are not helpful if the Book isn’t open. And when the Book is open, our hearts must be open too. We follow where God leads, and he will never leave us or forsake us. “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread . . . for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).