Even these times God makes beautiful

Have you ever stopped to consider that God has made death beautiful?

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes 3:11 states boldly that God “has made everything beautiful in its time.”

It’s a good sentiment, but have you ever taken time to think about the implications? The author reaches this conclusion after considering a long list of contrasts. You know the passage… or the Pete Seeger song:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted…
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh… (Eccl 3:1-4)

God has made everything beautiful: death, plucking up, breaking down, weeping. They’re all beautiful in their time. This season is a perfect one to consider that truth. Rather than simply letting the leaves brown and wither, God opted to allow them a glorious goodbye. In some ways, the fiery golds and reds of autumn declare the glory of God better than the vibrant reds and golds of spring.

Ecclesiastes tells us we can never have constant growth, constant abundance, constant life. In fact, death is necessary to create the conditions for life to spring up again.

Let’s dig a little deeper. Paul reached a parallel conclusion when he considered another set of contrasts in Philippians 4:11-12:

…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.

I’m challenged on a personal level by Paul’s perspective, but I’m also convicted on an organizational level. There’s been a lot written about organizational life cycles and “S” curves. The intense pressure on public companies for constant growth spills over to non-profits. As a leader, I never want to report on decline, let alone preside over it.

The reality is that organizations will have, must have, times of plenty and times of want. There are times when God’s provisions are abundant, when you’re able to engage in mission in new ways. It’s a fun time of dreaming, expansion and starting up. Likewise, there are lean years, times when vision leaks, when mission is difficult and programs must be contracted and commitments pulled back. Such times require digging deep and persisting.

Even those times God makes beautiful.

I’ve noticed in myself a strong sense of discontent about my organization’s situation. We’ve recently come out of a season of decline and contraction, and things are beginning to turn around. But it seems like we never quite have enough resources to do what we think we need to be doing. It feels like we take one step forward and one step back. Every time a new resource comes that we’ve been waiting on for years—and now we can do this big thing we’ve been waiting on—suddenly another resource evaporates and we’re stretched and waiting again.

Even these times God makes beautiful.

Perhaps it’s God’s way of maintaining dependence. Perhaps it’s God’s way of testing our contentment. Like Paul, I need to ask myself whether my contentment comes from circumstances, from growth and abundance, from the need to preside over “success” or from God Himself.

As the leaves start turning and falling to the ground, remember the fact that God has made death and waiting beautiful. And remember that unless these leaves fall to the ground, life can’t come in the spring.

Turn Turn Turn.

[This post republished from my President’s blog on Wycliffe.ca]

Quieting the desire for more

God has been working on me in the area of contentment recently. As I’ve considered the issue, I’ve begun to appreciate just how counter-cultural it is, flying in the face of every marketing campaign and our own ambitious natures.

When we were in Atlanta this summer, a few family members gave our kids some money. Instead of spending it immediately, their eyes got big as they pooled their new-found wealth and realized they had enough to buy one of the bigger Lego sets. My immediate reaction was, “How much Lego is enough?” They have so much Lego already. Why do they feel they need any more? Can’t they be content with what they have?

Like so many Christians before me, I can weaponize Scripture. I can sharpen 1 Timothy 6:6-10 and thrust it like a dagger:

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

It took a few weeks before I felt my own conviction. I do the same thing, but not with Lego. At some point, my greed transferred to other, more adult fare: ambition, for instance. Ambition lacks contentment with current circumstances. Ambition always wants more.

Picture for a minute a tethered dog, or one contained within a fence. Where will the grass be well-worn? There will always be a well-worn track around the limits. I’m the same way; I always want more, I’m always looking beyond the space God has defined for me.

Psalm 131:1-2 pricks right to the heart:

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
    my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child is my soul within me.

How do we quiet our souls? How do we find contentment? Hebrews 13:5 recommends shifting our desires.

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

In other words, God tells us, “All you need is me.” David agrees, as he closes out Psalm 131:

O Israel, hope in the Lord
    from this time forth and forevermore.

I hear David crying to my soul: “O Roy, hope in the Lord.” Yearn for Him, be content in Him. He never gets rusty, He never breaks down, He never goes out of fashion, He will never let you down, He will never leave you.

[This post republished from my President’s blog on Wycliffe.ca]