Sinclair Ferguson on Learning Contentment

It is not uncommon for one chapter to be worth the price of a book. I said that to myself when I finished reading “Learning Contentment,” the tenth chapter in Sinclair Ferguson’s Deserted by God? But then, right after I said that, I realized I had said it several times before—while reading the same book. Pastor Ferguson’s walk through several of the Psalms is a treasure for any believer who is enduring times of affliction and wondering where God is in all of it.

In Chapter 10, “Learning Contentment,” we are led through Psalm 131 in order to learn how and why God sent David to the school of contentment. One point in particular meditates on the first verse, “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high.” Here, Ferguson concludes, David reveals that “he no longer assumes that he knows what is best for himself. This is not to say that his ambitions were necessarily wrong. Many of them were excellent in themselves. There is nothing wrong in aiming high. But David is now concerned that his heart should be set only on what pleases God, and on the purposes which God has for him. He had begun to appreciate a divine logic, which Paul would later underscore: since everything we have, are, or accomplish is because of God’s grace, and leaves us nothing to boast about in ourselves, why do we still go on boasting as though these were our own unaided achievements (see 1 Cor. 4:7)? It is not only illogical, but ugly to do so.”

Ferguson continues illustrating from the life of David, but then touches briefly on Moses and Joseph, too. This is really good stuff, so good that I will continue by quoting a larger portion than I usually would quote from a book.

“David’s life provides a perfect example of what he is talking about here. No doubt, from the moment Samuel had anointed him to be the future king, the seed of godly ambition had been sown in young David’s heart. He had been given an intimation of future greatness. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him and his heart was set on gaining the throne (see 1 Sam. 16:12-13). If it is a noble thing to set one’s heart on being an overseer (1 Tim 3:1), it is surely at least as noble to desire to be a king when God has called to that service. But it is ignoble if that desire puffs us up with self-importance rather than humbles us with a deep sense of privilege. Sadly, that is all too common, even in those God eventually uses.

Joseph seems to be have been guilty of pride and discontent when as a teenager he received prophetic intimations of his own future greatness. Instead of being humbled and asking God to keep him for such service, he boasted insensitively to his brothers (see Gen 37:5-11). It was only after many years of discipline, loss, and specific disappointments that Joseph could be trusted with greatness.

Even Moses’ usefulness seems to have been crippled at first by similar proud impatience. Stephen explains that when Moses killed an Egyptian who was mistreating an Israelite, he ‘supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand’ (Acts 7:25). Moses, too, would face many years of patient discipline until he learned to be content as a humble shepherd in the desert. That made him the meek man who was fit for the greatness God gave him (see Num. 12:3). Certainly in earlier years he could not have said, ‘My heart is not lifted up.’ In fact, his ‘heart’ was ‘raised too high.’ It took great loss and disappointment to empty Moses of Moses.”

And so it is with us. Contentment is a hard lesson to learn, but God’s grace and patience endure as He sends us to the school of contentment so that we become more useful to Him, less filled with ourselves and more filled with Him.

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