Negative Nathan

When I consider upcoming events in my life, I am prone to think of the worst-case scenario (that’s plausible and possible at least). I tend to have a negative approach to new relationships, job circumstances, etc. If there’s even a chance of something bad happening, I’m there mentally.

Recently, my wife Jamie called me on it. She called me out on the way that I had a negative outlook on life. I don’t blame her for calling me out. There had been a lot of grumbling and complaining coming from me recently.

That being said, I’ve noticed that my heart and mind have not been full of that grumbling and complaining spirit as of late. And I think I know why. 

I’ve been saturating my brain with the Word and with prayer.

Last week, I talked with one of my best friends over the phone, and we prayed together (for each other, our families, our ministries, our futures). We were both in a disgruntled place and had allowed the world to get us down. That prayer time together lifted us up immediately. To the point where I said “You know, it’s almost like the Bible knows what it’s talking about when it tells us to go to the Lord in prayer”.

We grow up hearing about the spiritual disciplines, and that’s not horrible language, but it sounds rigid and harsh. Really, prayer, Word, silence and solitude, memorization, etc. are the way to commune with the giver of life!

Anyway, I share that because it’s hard for me to pursue certain disciplines that deeply impact my soul.

Studying Scripture is easy for me though (applying, not so much). I’ve been listening to Philippians nearly every day. I have subconsciously memorized parts of it. And I’ve seen it changing my life.

Here’s what I mean. Look at this passage.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. – Philippians 2:14-16

I’ve heard this and read this so many times the last month or two. And slowly, oh so slowly, I’m seeing it change my outlook and mindset.

Unfortunately, we live in an extremely cynical and critical age. And church culture is not immune to this. If the worship style isn’t right up our alley, we grumble. If a committee makes a decision we don’t like, we grumble. If a pastor teaches on something that steps on our toes, we grumble. If a ministry isn’t running at it’s total potential, we grumble. I’m saying we for a reason. I’ve been there.

This passage should destroy that critical and cynical spirit in our hearts.

Let’s look at the command first.

Do all things without grumbling and complaining. – Philippians 2:14 

Period.

There’s no caveat here.

Paul is commanding the church at Philippi to live in a way that is devoid of grumbling and complaining. That is all-encompassing.

Let’s look at the why and how.

WHY ARE WE COMMANDED TO LIVE A LIFE FREE OF GRUMBLING AND COMPLAINING?

The why immediately follows the command. When we live in a way that is not critical or complainy (is that a word?), we show ourselves to be distinct from the world around us. The culture around the Philippian church was crooked and twistedI don’t believe it’s a stretch to consider our culture to be similar.

I’ll tell you, if you were to cut that mentality, that mindset, out of your life, you would truly shine as (a light) in the worldThere is clearly something counter-cultural about this attitude and behavior.

We are to live this way to shine bright for Christ. We are to live this way to show ourselves to be ‘saints’ in the midst of a dark world.

So, yeah, maybe you agree that this is good reasoning.

But HOW are we able to do this?

HOW ARE WE ABLE TO LIVE A LIFE FREE OF GRUMBLING AND COMPLAINING?

The key is the context. If you back up to earlier in this chapter you see the passage of where Christ modeled perfect humility and others-first love (vv. 3-8).

We are able to do this by reflecting on and imitating the humility of Christ, and by pursuing unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

If I’m being honest with myself, 99% of the things that cause me to grumble and complain find their genesis in my own self-centeredness. I grumble because things aren’t my way. I complain and dispute because my life isn’t the center of others’ universes.

I can’t sit here and say that the reasons I complain are that God’s glory isn’t being pursued or that Jesus isn’t being followed as Lord. Nope, I complain about what doesn’t align with my version of the perfect cosmos.

Once we humble ourselves, we must strive to put the unity of the body of Christ above ourselves. Philippians has an inescapable message of joy being found in Christian unity. As I’ve reflected on this, I’ve seen it to be true. When I view everyone, even those who may not be easy to be around (Toxic Relationships), as my brothers and sisters in Christ, joy is quick to follow.

WHAT SHOULD WE DO INSTEAD OF GRUMBLING AND COMPLAINING? 

  1. Hold Fast To The Word Of Life 

Verse sixteen teaches us to hold fast to the word of life. Pray. Get into God’s Word. Meditate on His promises. When I am actively and intentionally doing these things, my spirit of frustration and disunity disappears.

2. Do Something

God convicted me in Phoenix that if there was something I was complaining about that I was able to effectually impact, I needed to do my part (Love The Church).

Do something. If you are frustrated with someone, confront them. If you are nervous about the outcome of a future event, prepare. If a decision bothers you, go to the decision maker and have a gentle conversation. If a ministry needs help in your opinion, get involved. Do something. If a family member or friend is on your nerves, say something.

Before you grumble or complain, act.

Be the change.

3. Pray 

These aren’t necessarily in any particular order. But prayer is obviously the key response to that which causes us to grumble and complain. Take what you are frustrated about straight to the Lord. Let me tell you, this doesn’t typically fix circumstances (although our God is obviously big enough to do so), but it does change attitudes. Paul’s prayer for the church in Philippi at the start of the letter is my favorite.

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment – Philippians 1:9

He prays that their love will grow. He prays that their knowledge of God and discernment will grow. Pray the same things for yourself and others!

It’s easy to be critical.

But the way of Christ is service, action, humility, and prayer.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

I Am Nothing

“You’re not cool, Nathan! You’re not cool!” 403H

In college I played intramural basketball with some of my best friends. One of these guys would yell that at me every single time that I made a basket (which was rare). If there was even the teeny-tiniest hint of pride or arrogance on my face, he would scream from the sideline to remind me that I was in fact not very cool. At the time, this annoyed the snot out of me. It got to the point where I would dread seeing the ball go in the basket because I knew his scream would soon be filling the court.

While I did not enjoy that refrain ringing in my ears, there are some statements that I intend to tell myself daily:

“I am nothing. I deserve nothing. I can do nothing.”

In a world of self-help praise and positive thinking vibes, this proclamation does not sit well. I do want to clarify from the onset though that I am a wholehearted believer in reminding ourselves daily of our blessed identity in Jesus Christ, and I strive to teach myself the implications of the gospel onto my identity each day.

But for the purpose of this blog, I am focusing on the idea of contentment and how these phrases help us to reorient our hearts and minds on thankfulness and gratitude in light of our present circumstances.

We are called by God to deny ourselves. This is one of the main mandates of Jesus’ call to discipleship.

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23

Discontentment is a litmus test for how well we are walking after Christ in our day-to-day lives, how well we are practicing the spiritual discipline of self-denial.

But how do we deny ourselves daily? How do we remind ourselves that we are not the center of our world? In his book, Chasing Contentment, Erik Raymond offers up these three short proclamations as one of a myriad of means through which we can find true and lasting contentment in Jesus Christ through denying ourselves.

I Am Nothing

This is not to be in conflict with the biblical truth about the dignity of every human life.

Rather it is putting ourselves against the majesty of God and realizing how small and insignificant we all truly are. All throughout Scripture I see men and women of God who had an understanding of their nothingness so to speak in light of the wonderful majesty of God. One of the most stark and surprising instances of this comes from Genesis chapter eighteen. In this chapter, Abraham is conversing with God, making his requests known to God in regards to Sodom and Gomorrah. Look at verse twenty-seven with me.

Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, – Genesis 18:27

Let me remind us that this proclamation comes after Genesis 15, when God proclaims his covenant blessings to Abraham. So Abraham knows the good news of God’s covenant faithfulness, yet he still proclaims that he is but dust and ashes.

Erik Raymond encourages us to find joy in being able to say that we are nothing:

Isn’t this what makes God’s pursuit of us in the gospel so refreshing? He pursues and arrests us by his grace. Though it may seem severe to think you are nothing, in the gospel you have Christ to be your everything!

I Deserve Nothing

The gospel shines incredibly bright into our lives because without Christ what we deserve is death. This may be a well-worn verse but it is no more striking in its verdict:

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:23

This couldn’t be any more clear. What we deserve for our sin against God is physical and spiritual and eternal death; eternal separation from God. The wonderful news of the gospel could not shine any brighter either in this passage, as we see that the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus is available for us!

Contentment is found in denying ourselves. Denying ourselves comes from remembering not only that we are nothing apart from Christ, but that we also deserve nothing. Pastor and theologian Mark Dever is known to quip “Anything less than hell is dancing time for Christians!” How true this is. When we truly understand that what we deserve is hell, anything less than that in our lives is a time for rejoicing. Lecrae, in his song Boasting makes the statement:

If we fought for our rights, we’d be in hell tonight. 

This is truly the case. You and I deserve nothing.

I Can Do Nothing

This is a hard one for me to remember as I am striving to live for God in vocational ministry. Yet its implications are profound on every one of us who professes Christ. Apart from Jesus, you and I can do nothing. We don’t have the power to say no to temptation, we don’t have the power to say yes to the Spirit, we don’t have the power to save souls. In all things we are unable to do what is necessary for bringing God glory in our own strength or ability.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit: apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15:5

This is the reality about me that I seek to cling to:

I am nothing. I deserve nothing. I can do nothing.

With this, I can strive to deny myself daily. With this, I can see the beautiful message of the gospel shining through as it is truly a gracious gift of God. With this, I can practice Biblical and gospel-centered contentment.

While I often despised the refrain of my lack of coolness coming from the sidelines during a basketball game, I am already growing to love this method of self-denial.

Remember that you are nothing.

You deserve nothing.

You can do nothing.

Meditate on this and you will find the joys of the gospel message.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

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