Which are you?
What in the world do you mean Josh? Aren't they kind of the same thing? Well, yes and no. I admit I kind of thought so when I first began thinking through them. However, while they are both forms of waiting on the Lord, they are actually quite juxtaposed to each other in their nature. I heard reference to this general idea once recently and I began thinking about how it applied to me and how many others may have similar experiences. Which one is more biblical? While I am getting better at being "intentionally content", I have certainly spent a significant amount of time being "patiently frustrated". What's the difference?, you might ask. Let me explain.
Imagine you are on a subway headed to work. You are running a little behind and you are frustrated because you cannot get there any faster. Yet you know that you have no control over the situation so you sit in the back of the car, as far away from the door as possible, with an air of frustration and try to be as patient as possible, knowing it is out of your hands.
This is a flawed analogy I am sure, but I think it paints a descent picture of being "patiently frustrated" on a spiritual level. Often times we find ourselves desiring to grow in our relationship with God and yet it feels like we are spinning our wheels. Perhaps you know in your heart of hearts that God is beginning to reveal a plan for the next step in your life or He has brought a conviction about something that needs to be changed in your family, but you know that you must be careful in shepherding them through the process of that change. Maybe you are burdened for a prayer to be answered regarding a need or the salvation of a loved one.
Our tendency is to get frustrated. We know what needs to happen but we cannot make it happen as fast as we would like without potentially messing something up. Or in the case of someone's healing or salvation, we cannot do anything at all beyond prayer and sharing the gospel. So we sit and we wait, knowing that God will work it out, but frustrated that it is not happening as fast as we want it to. That is being "patiently frustrated".
The danger here is that we can make the mistake of sitting on our hands and "waiting on God" when their are things that we should be doing along the way that God has already given us permission to move on in His word.
Imagine again the above scenario. Only with a more optimistic and contended slant. This time, you don't sit at the back of the train, on your hands, and in a frustrated funk. Instead, you position yourself by the door at the part of the subway car that you know will be closest to the stairs. You anticipate the next move. You are content to wait, knowing that the next move is coming soon enough rather than sitting by idly when there are things you can do to position yourself for what is next.
Being content is not the same thing as being complacent. Complacency indicates a lack of care about the situation. You care deeply. Otherwise you would not have been frustrated in the other scenario. No, I would define being biblically "intentionally content" as worry-free, yet purposeful, action.
Paul As Our Example
A good biblical example of this would be the Apostle Paul. In Philippians 4:11-13 he says this, "Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me."
Unfortunately, that last verse is often used improperly to suggest that there is nothing we cannot do whether we are gifted for it or not or if we have enough faith. Or, it can be used to push forward in action without thought and without prayer. Sometimes a misunderstanding of this scripture and others like it can bring a feeling of guilt or condemnation because if we do not experience the success we expect through prayer we begin to question our faith. As if God not moving when we think He should or how we think He should is an indication of whether we have faith or not. This is a mistake. Faith is exhibited in doing everything that we are responsible to do and then trusting God to do the rest when He sees fit and how He sees fit.
No, these are NOT what Paul is trying to convey. His contentment is the focal point of this passage. I would say that Paul was "intentionally content". Here is a man that faced resistance, physical abuse, and threat of death continually throughout his ministry yet he learned to be content in the face of it all.
He did not sit around feeling sorry for himself or questioning His faith nor did he go places or do things that the Holy Spirit had not directed. In fact, in Acts it is told that he intended to go places that the Holy Spirit definitively said no to in order that he would end up where God wanted Him. Paul did not sit around waiting for God to say go or do. Paul went and did until God said, "not here, not now". He continually did what he knew to do until God revealed what he did not know to do.
Even as believers, we have a tendency to get frustrated with God's timetable. We often find ourselves sitting around saying, "when O Lord", and doing very little when there is so much that we know we should be doing. "Patient frustration" can cause us to wait with desperation, rather than hope. Often times hope and contentment is what we are so desperately waiting for.
"Intentional contentment" must be purposeful. If we are not intentional in our thought and prayer life and our meditation on God's word, while sharing the gospel and living lives worthy of that gospel, then we will lapse into despair and loose hope. These actions are things that we do not need special instructions for. The bible is clear on these things and we can do them anytime and anywhere. When God wants to give us special instruction, He will. In fact, we will often find that it is in the midst of obediently doing these other things that God will reveal the next step that we have been waiting for regarding something more specific. It is also in doing these things that faith is built and hope is found. His timing is perfect, so trust it.
I want to encourage you. When you find yourself "patiently frustrated", check yourself. Evaluate the other aspects of your spiritual walk and see what you are neglecting while waiting for that other thing to happen. Be "intentionally content". Do what you know to do until He shows you what you don't know to do. It is a much more pleasant and productive way to live and serve God effectively.
Being "intentionally content" does not mean that you feel nothing about your concern. It means that you have prayed fervently about the concern(James 5:16). It is biblical to pray with emotion and passion about our concerns. Now that you have done that, you must rest in God's faithfulness, obediently trusting God with every circumstance. In that place you will find great joy, peace, and contentment(Philippians 4:4-7).
I confess to you that I struggle with this. I do not want to suggest that this process is easy. I believe it is a lifestyle of habit-forming practices that you grow in over time, yet never getting it perfect. I think as long as we are in this body of flesh this struggle will always exist. So please pray for me and I will pray for you. Together, perhaps we can prayerfully encourage each other to victory more often than not.