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Wide Open Spaces: Beyond Paint-by-Number Christianity by Jim Palmer



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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Written by Jim Palmer

Friday, November 12

I have learned the secret of being content.
—Philippians 4:12


I recently finished Wendell Berry's novel, Jayber Crow. Essentially the novel is the story of a young man who first thought he was called to be a minister and then discovered instead his lot was to be a barber, which he spent the better part of his life doing in a little town named Port William.

One theme of the story that spoke deeply to me is the challenge of accepting oneself and owning the reality of your life. This self-acceptance was difficult for Jayber Crow, but eventually yielded great freedom. At the beginning of the novel, it is said of him,

He was a dreamer. He could not imagine himself as he was or where he was. And so he dreamed of himself as he would never be.

Nearing the end of the story Jayber had come to a new place,

Now, finally, I really had lost all desire for change, every last twinge of the notion that I ought to get somewhere or make something of myself. I was what I was. "I will stand like a tree,” I thought, "and be in myself as I am.” And the things of Port William seemed to stand around me, in themselves as they were.

As this theme of the book emerged, I grew discomforted by it. I often live my life in chronic dissatisfaction of who I am, what I am doing, and the significance of my existence. Face it, this is a world where we are constantly reminded we could always be just a little thinner, just a little more successful, just a little further down the road from where we are. 

Religion at times adds fuel to the fire by implying that God is never quite satisfied with our progress. We could always be just a little more spiritual, just a little more holy, just a little more committed, and just a little more involved.

Too often, my “relationship” with God revolves around imploring God to fix my circumstances. When things works out, I give God thanks, but when they don’t, I accuse God of not caring. There always seems to be yet another situation needing God’s intervention.

Maybe it’s not my circumstances that need fixing, but my chronic dissatisfaction inside. In Philippians 4, Paul wrote, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” That’s a pretty impressive statement coming from a guy who was imprisoned, tortured, starved, defamed, and tossed over the side of a ship. Paul said his “secret” was the living Christ within him. Through Paul’s union with the indwelling Christ, he found he could live in peace, joy, and freedom whatever may come.

I am often guilty of thinking an improved set of life circumstances would make everything better. God cares about our circumstances, and I’m quite sure I am largely unaware of all the ways he is involved in them, but the Spirit is showing me that God is seeking my welfare on a deeper level. 

I am prone to depend on circumstances to supply something that only God himself within me can give. When it all falls apart and I’m left sifting though the rubble of life’s disappointments, difficulties, and disasters, God whispers, “I AM what you’re looking for.”

There’s always something that could go “better,” but the peace and joy God provides goes with you…even if you’re thrown overboard.

God, show me how to depend on your life within as my source of life fulfillment.

These Signposts originally appeared on explorefaith in 2006.