Assumptions are funny things.
They influence so much, from the way you make small decisions throughout the day to the way you view the universe as a whole. Your fears and your faith, your sorrow and your excitement – all are affected by your assumptions, by what you believe to be true. And if you’re like me, you hold some assumptions that reveal a contradiction in your beliefs.
For example, I believe that God is good, that his grace is enough for whatever he calls me to do, that he is sovereign over every season and wise beyond my understanding. More often than I’ve cared to admit, however, I’ve caught myself looking forward to the next thing more than I look to him. I’d guess that’s fairly common. It’s easy to fidget in the present season, especially if the season is particularly arduous, and look forward to the break in the clouds, to the day when present hardships will give way to fulfilled hopes. And while this desire may not necessarily be wrong, a subtle assumption often reveals itself in these moments of longing. I assume that the next thing will satisfy me in a way that God will not. I assume that whatever I’m hoping for, waiting for, longing for, will save me from whatever I’m presently facing.
I’m beginning to recognize the naivety of such assumptions. As I talk to others who now possess what I hope for, I realize that they aren’t satisfied, that trials still occur. Those who got married found different difficulties in marriage. Those who graduated with a degree found different hardships outside of school. Those who changed jobs encountered new challenges in their new positions. Those who were given whatever it is I’m still waiting for haven’t escaped pain, confusion, disappointment, frustration, sorrow, or loss. They found them again in new forms.
As I learn of the ways my friends still struggle, I begin to see that I’ve been expecting the Lord’s gifts to do what only he himself can do. The disillusionment I experience when I see those who have the next thing (whatever it may be) still being disciplined and pruned and refined reveals that my subtle assumption is idolatrous in nature, warping how I view the grace of God. The truth of the matter? The next thing won’t solve our problems. We may find some joy and rest in the next season, some relief from the difficulties of today, but new problems will inevitably arise to shake our souls. To my knowledge, Christians don’t graduate out of seasons of testing and discipline. There’s always another lesson to learn, a deeper understanding to gain, a further stretching of faith to endure.
We can become downcast at this, cold and bitter in the face of the continuing seasons of life. Or we can recognize that our inability to escape difficulty, our inability to rest fully in God’s gifts, is a great mercy. The transience and frailty of this life point us back to the only certain hope for our souls, the LORD himself. The subtle assumption is indeed idolatrous, but its presence may point to the solution: contentment.
I know, contentment can be a cliche in some Christian circles. We’ve heard it taught for years, encountering it as a constant refrain of the faith. It’s easy to tune out when we hear the word, assuming (there it is again) we’ve heard it all before, that there’s nothing new under the sun to be learned. I feel that way too sometimes. But then I see afresh my tendency toward idolatry and realize that, in spite of my knowledge of contentment and affirmation of the theology behind it, I regularly fail to live contentedly. Maybe contentment is cliche, or maybe it’s just uncomfortable, too close to home.
As I reflect on the subtle assumption that God isn’t enough, that the right idol will satisfy me or provide for me, I’m reminded of Paul’s words to Timothy that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). Paul warns against allowing a love of money to derail one’s journey of faith, calling instead for the pursuit of “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness,” for believers to “fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6:10, 11, 12). Those without are to look not to what they lack but to what they, in Christ, already possess, and those who have are to set their hope not on their earthly gifts but on their eternal hope (1 Timothy 6:9-19). Though Paul speaks of money in this passage, I think his point applies to all forms of idolatry and discontentment. God is enough. His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Godliness with contentment is great gain. We already have eternal life, and we have the promise of Jesus that the Father will provide all that is needed for the journey as we follow him (Matthew 6:33). I confess that I find contentment difficult. I don’t like what God does sometimes, and I struggle to walk by faith. The assumption that his gifts will satisfy me is strong in my heart, and I have to work to overcome it, to remind myself of his sufficiency. I’m not always good at it, but I think I’m learning, slowly, to hope not in the gifts but in the Giver, to trust not in the circumstances but in the Savior, and to rest not in my strength or wisdom but in his. When assumptions contradict, I pray to always remind myself of the truth and to trust in his faithfulness, to walk by faith and not by sight. And may we be a people who heed well the words of John: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).