This winter is one for the record books. Repeated snowstorms have pounded much of the US and Canada. Here in Ontario, it’s been decades since we had so much snow on the ground for so long. Early on we had a paralyzing ice storm that knocked out power even in Toronto.
Images of stranded motorists, multi-vehicle pileups, downed power lines, and snow-chocked streets have filled our TV screens. And when forecasters weren’t warning about the latest winter storm they were lamenting the drought and fire danger in California.
How do we react to harsh weather? Well, if you are like most of us, you complain about it. “What terrible weather.” “It’s so cold.” “I can’t wait for spring to come.” “Why don’t we get more sunshine?” This winter scores in the 99 percentile on the “complaint scale”.
But why complain? We can’t change it. Are we letting off steam? Has winter’s icy grip plunged us into very real depression? Or, are we just having fun? Perhaps we’re using comments about the weather to initiate conversations with strangers? Weather is a safe subject that keeps us from making verbal faux pas about politics or religion or women’s apparel.
On a deeper level, however, we need to consider the whole issue of contentment in general. Is our happiness dependent on circumstances such as our health, our bank account, or our status? It takes real maturity to maintain equanimity in less than ideal situations. But that’s exactly what God calls Christians to develop. Paul was able to say, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances”(Phil. 4:11) and this in spite of suffering terrible storms, torture, shipwreck and privation of many kinds. See 2 Corinthians 11:23-29. Contentment didn’t come naturally to Paul. He probably often complained about his circumstances before he learned to be content. His example gives us hope; we’re all on a steep learning curve.
We need to ask God to help us to learn contentment, not only with the weather but with our financial and physical health. In adopting us into his family, our Father obviously cares for us and will provide for us. “Be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'”(Heb. 13:5). (Remember that this does not mean we are to be content to bury our gifts and abilities like the wicked servant in the parable of the talents.)
In general, the picture we glean of Israel in the Old Testament is of a complaining nation. Moses warned them, “You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord”(Ex. 16:8d). Israel’s story warns us that serious complaints uncover dissatisfaction with God’s providential care.
In our day, when there is such an emphasis on wealth and status we need to read often what Scripture teaches about discontent. Jesus asks us not to worry about what to eat, drink or wear, but instead to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you as well”(Matt. 6:33). Paul writes; “Godliness with contentment is great gain”(1 Tim. 6:6).
Charles Spurgeon said it well. “Now, contentment is one of the flowers of heaven, and if we would have it, it must be cultivated; it will not grow in us by nature; it is the new nature alone that can produce it, and even then we must be specially careful and watchful that we maintain and cultivate the grace which God has sown in us.…Do not indulge the notion that you can be contented without learning, or learn without discipline. It is not a power that may be exercised naturally, but a science to be acquired gradually. We know this from experience. Brother, hush that murmur, natural though it be, and continue a diligent pupil in the College of Content.”
And so Lord, help us to learn to be content. We’re not there yet.