Our summer vacation was interrupted slightly as Hurricane Arthur blew its way up the coast, hitting the seaside town of Beaufort, NC directly. All the reports indicated that the Category 2 hurricane coming our way was no cause for evacuation, so we stayed and, as my children like to say, “survived the hurricane!” The storm began in the early evening and then formed into a constant pounding. The rain didn’t fall in typical fashion, but it swirled wildly, pushed forward by the raging wind. Suddenly, close to midnight, all was eerily silent. In the eye of the storm, there was peace and calm.
I sat in the stillness considering how all of nature reflects and reveals the truths of God. The eye of the storm was a picture of contentment in a world that rages and circumstances that press hard. Our contentment comes in the midst of storms, not in spite of them.
In various places, the Bible uses nature to reflect spiritual truths. One picture of contentment that is repeated is the image of a tree, planted by steams of water. Psalm 1 tells us:
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
Jeremiah 17:7-8 uses a similar image:
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
A contented soul is one who trusts in the LORD and delights in His word, meditating on it day and night. The seasons of life and droughts that come do not affect the leaf or the fruit because the tree has an outside source that continually provides refreshment. In the midst of difficulties, the tree is situated in such a way to still bear fruit.
At the Last Supper, Jesus used a similar image, telling his disciples, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5 Jesus is the source of our refreshment and our refuge in the midst of the storm. Abiding in Him on a daily basis through the word and prayer allows our souls to continually bear the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Galatians 5:22 The contented heart bears these attributes in the midst of loneliness, longing, hardship, and persecution. True contentment shines all the brighter in the midst of circumstances that are dark.
Contentment is not a lack of emotions, nor is it the absence of desires. Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus (John 11:35) and grew sorrowful and troubled on the eve of His crucifixion (Matthew 26:37-38). Paul desperately longed for his Jewish brothers to come to faith (Romans 9:2-3, Romans 10:1) and encouraged the church to earnestly desire spiritual gifts (1Corinthians 12:31). The Psalms reveal that the contented heart is both worshiping and weeping, secure and struggling, full of faith and full of fears.
A contented Christian is not free from the weight of desires, heartaches and trials, but one who experiences adversity in a paradoxical way, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” 2 Corinthians 6:10 We have much sorrow, but because of our redemption we are always rejoicing. In our poverty, we possess the treasure of the gospel to make others rich. We may own nothing that the world values, but if we have faith in Christ, we have the only possession that matters.
Perfect circumstances are unable to yield perfect contentment. As Thomas a Kempis aptly states, “You cannot find complete satisfaction in any temporal gift, because you were not created to find your delight in them. Even if you possessed all the good things God has created, you could not feel happy and glad; all your gladness and happiness rest in the God who created those things.” Temporal pleasures are only able to provide temporary happiness. The spiritual realities of our lives secure our joy and peace. Daily time spent abiding in Jesus plants us like a tree by the stream, bearing fruit in all seasons and circumstances. Without Him, we can do nothing. With Him, our soul prospers in everything.