About the Guest
Has a recent disappointment burst your bubble? Dr. William Barcley, pastor of Sovereign Grace Presbyterian Church, recalls one of his recent brushes with disappointment and tells how the Lord lifted him above it when he entrusted himself to God’s sovereignty. Barcley challenges listeners to do as Paul did, and learn contentment by believing the right things about God.
William BarcleyDr. William Barcley is Senior Pastor of Sovereign Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Charlotte, NC and Adjunct Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary. Prior to his move to Charlotte, Dr. Barcley was Academic Dean and Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi. While at RTS Jackson, he also served as pastor of Lebanon Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Learned, Mississippi. Dr. Barcley was Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Gordon C...more
Has a recent disappointment burst your bubble?
Bob: Are you a contented person? William Barcley reminds us that the Bible teaches that contentment is something we can learn.
Bill: Paul says in Philippians, Chapter 4, “I have learned the secret in all circumstances in life, whether in plenty or in want, in good times and bad.” Paul says, “I have learned the secret of being content.” Twice in Philippians he uses the language of learning to be content. So, it’s something that must be learned. It doesn’t come naturally.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, January 2nd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife® Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. How can we train ourselves to be content in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in? How do we teach that to our children? We’ll talk about that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition—our first program in the New Year. Of course, I woke up this morning thinking about the interview we were going to be doing; and a Beatle’s song came to mind. You know which one I’m talking about; right?
Dennis: I don’t.
Dennis: I don’t know your mind! I’ve been working with you for more than 18 years, and I don’t—
Bob: Let’s see if you can pick it up here. Let’s see—it’s from—right here. See if you know what this is—
Do you want to know a secret? [do, dah, do]
Do you want to know a secret?—
Bob: See, right there?
Do you want to know a secret?
Bob: Do you want to know a secret? The reason I am thinking that is because we’re going to unpack a secret today; right?
Dennis: The secret of contentment.
Dennis: We have Bill Barcley with us.
Bob: See, doesn’t that fit perfectly?
Dennis: Of course, it does.
Bob: Thank you very much.
Dennis: I’m really glad for your mind, Bob. I really am. (Laughter) Bill, welcome to the broadcast.
Bill: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Dennis: He has written a book called The Secret of Contentment. Bill is a pastor in Charlotte, North Carolina—Sovereign Grace Presbyterian Church. He and his wife Kristy have been married since 1989, and they have six children.
Bill: That’s correct.
Dennis: So do we, and you’ve learned the art of contentment?
Bill: I’m on my way. (Laughter)
Dennis: You actually say this book was really—well, at least some of the genesis of this book—around a career opportunity that you didn’t get?
Bill: Correct. Yes, a job that I wanted at one point in my life and did not get it. We ended up moving from that particular area and moved to a different part of the country, to a different job that had been offered to me. I really wrestled with contentment during that time. It was—struggled spiritually, struggled emotionally, struggled with some depression, struggled with some anger, struggled with disappointment—but really, at the heart of it all, was struggling with being content with God’s plan.
Dennis: So, you really had your heart set on getting the job.
Bill: That’s correct.
Dennis: Didn’t happen, and—
Bill: Didn’t happen.
Dennis: —it plunged you into some dark days.
Bill: It did. Although, I should say, my heart plunged me into those dark days, not that particular situation in life. I do no t think that our discontent is the result of our circumstances. The discontent is from our heart. Circumstances are the opportunity for our heart to show itself. I think that’s what happened on that particular occasion.
Bob: Was it obvious to everybody at home that Dad was not happy when you didn’t get the job?
Bill: No one ever said that to me, but I think it probably was obvious. To our kids, I snapped a little more. I yelled a little more. I was impatient. I did show significant anger at times. I think it was fairly clear to everybody all around.
Bob: Let’s be honest. It is a lot easier to exhibit Christian graces when the providence is in align with our own desires than it is to show those graces when God’s providence is in a different direction than what we wanted.
Bill: That’s correct. Yes. It’s a lot easier.
Bob: So, the reality is when we go—I mean, I heard you say circumstances don’t really determine contentment or lack of contentment, but the circumstances we face are going to put our contentment quotient to the test; aren’t they?
Bill: They do. They do reveal what is in our heart—the level of our contentment and, really, the level of our sanctification. Am I in control of my life, or is God in control of my life? These difficult times, whatever it might be—disappointing times—are times when we really see how much we are in control of our lives and how much we fail to rest in God’s providence—God’s sovereignty—God’s control over us.
Dennis: I’m thinking, Bob, of an interview you and I did with Dr. Jerry Sittser, who lost his wife of 20 years, his mother, and his four-year-old daughter in a car wreck back in 1990. He made this statement. It’s really in line with what you’re talking about here. He said, “I refuse to allow my circumstances to define me; rather, I had to decide how I was going to respond to this catastrophic loss.”
That’s really what you’re saying here. It’s our heart’s response to the circumstances that come our way that really should define us.
Bill: Absolutely right.
Bob: You said as you were dealing with this job you didn’t get—you had some anger toward God. You wrestled with your faith: “Is God good? Is God there?” I mean, how deep did that go?
Bill: I don’t think I ever consciously expressed that; but I think, at a deeper level, there was a certain amount of anger with God that, “Why didn’t you provide this? Why is our family in disarray?”—you know, all the things that come with moving to a different part of the country and the emotions, the newness, and the adjustments that come along with that.
So, I never expressed anger with God. I don’t think I ever really wrestled with my faith, but I didn’t rest in God’s sovereignty. I certainly was not delighting in God’s sovereignty or His presence at that time.
Dennis: I have a confession to make. Barbara and I, both, are high-expectation people. We approach life, just expecting a lot. In the midst of those high expectations, real life occurs that doesn’t always meet up with the high expectations. That difference between real life and high expectations is called disappointment. What I want you to comment on here—you’re not saying that we shouldn’t ever be disappointed—
Dennis: —you are saying that, as we experience disappointment, we have to process it and, ultimately, give thanks in everything.
Bill: Of course, disappointment comes from a variety of different sources. Sometimes, we create our own disappointment by failing to meet our own expectations and failing to live up to certain responsibilities.
Dennis: No doubt.
Bill: At the same time, disappointment comes in other ways as well—as a result of what others do or sometimes where—well, typically, then—where God leads us. So, disappointment is going to come in life.
I think Jesus faced a certain amount of disappointment, rejection, abandonment. Jesus, ultimately, though, entrusted Himself to God, “Your will be done.” So, I think that’s what we’re called to do in those difficult times—we rest in God’s sovereign control.
Bob: In your period—when you were going through your own wrestling with what had happened, and you’re in a city you’re not all that excited about, and a new job that wasn’t the one you wanted—did that last for weeks? Did that last for longer than weeks? How did you process through it? When did you come to a point where you said, “You know, I’m not in a good place”?
Bill: That’s a good question. I think I struggled for a good two to three years with that. I still—though, I began to be more at home where we were and began to find contentment there. There was still some anger. To be honest with you—certain people who, you know, may have been instrumental, in a human sense, of being—of our not getting that position and moving to where we are—I had to get over that kind of anger that I felt toward them.
At the same time, I began to process it, as you asked, Bob, by reading Scripture and really wrestling with this theme of contentment. I was in a church service once; and I heard the preacher preaching on the tenth commandment, “Do not covet.” Closely tied up to covetousness is discontent.
Bill: That was one of the points that he was making, and that really struck home with me. I said, “I need to”—he made the exhortation, “We need to study contentment—study contentment.” So, I went from that service and began to study contentment, study—
Bob: Well, I bet your wife was nudging you while he was preaching that.
Bill: She wasn’t, no. I think she may have been glancing over at me, but she didn’t make it obvious.
Dennis: Put a star by that.
Bill: That’s right. That’s right.
Dennis: You’re bringing up a good point that you talk about in your book. We really aren’t born being content.
Dennis: So, we have to be trained. We have to learn. We have to become a disciple, out of the Scriptures, and learn the truth about God, and about life, and about faith if we’re going to learn the art of contentment.
What I want you to do is—I want you to seat a young couple across the table from you right now. They’re starting out their marriage. They’re comparing what they have and what their parents have. They may be comparing what they have with their brothers and sisters and their standard of living.
They are going, “Man, we’re on the bottom rung of the ladder. We’re bone poor. We’ve got all this college debt,” perhaps, or maybe even some credit card debt by maybe some poor choices made along the way. What would you begin to help them learn about the art of contentment so that they could truly practice it?
Bill: I would, again, point them to God’s Word and say, “Look, Paul says in Philippians, Chapter 4,” as you pointed out a few minutes ago, “that we need to learn contentment.” Paul says, “I have learned the secret in all circumstances in life, whether in plenty or in want, in good times and bad.” Paul says, “I have learned to be content,” or I have learned the secret of being content. Twice in Philippians 4:11-13, he uses the language of learning to be content.
So, it’s something that must be learned. It doesn’t come naturally. So, we need to study it. We need to pray about it. We need to study God’s Word. We need to study resources of those who have wrestled in the past with contentment.
What I did in my time of struggle was to go back and, not only study Scripture and passages like Philippians, Chapter 4, but some of the great old classics—Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. Actually, I think it’s amazing that Burroughs, writing almost 400 years ago, can talk about contentment as a rare jewel—even in his day.
Sometimes, we think back, “Well, in the old days, when life was simpler, wasn’t contentment easier?”
Bob: People were happier then.
Bill: People were, yes, happier. That is just not the case at all. So, there is great wisdom in some of these classic works. So, that would be more advice. If they are really struggling with happiness and contentment in their current situation, to go back and study some of these great works. Of course, my book, The Secret of Contentment, is really based on—it’s really Burroughs brought into the 21st century.
Bob: I think one of the things we have to keep in mind—and you mention Philippians, Chapter 4, and Paul’s great statement, “I’ve learned the secret of being content.”
Where was he when he wrote that statement? He was in a Roman prison; and if my research is accurate, that was not like we think of a modern-day jail cell. He was basically in a hole in the ground, with a grate over the top. That’s where you lived. He says in one of his letters, “Bring me my coat because it’s getting cold here.”
I mean, it’s not—food and provisions—and here is Paul saying, “I’ve learned how to be content in this situation. It was not circumstantially-driven for the Apostle Paul; was it?
Bill: It was not. Yes, that’s absolutely right. Prisoners would be relying on others to bring them their food. They didn’t serve meals in—when you were in prison in Rome. It was not circumstantially-controlled.
Yes, that is the amazing thing. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, of course—this great letter of joy. Sixteen times in Philippians Paul either says, “Rejoice,” or talks about joy—his joy or encourages the Philippians to rejoice. Also, he can say, “I have learned the secret of being content,” while in prison.
Bob: We read in 2 Corinthians about how many times he was stoned, and how many times he was tossed overboard, and how many times he was left for dead. You get a picture of his life and you go, “This guy has had a hard, hard life.” He says, “I’ve got joy, and I’ve learned the secret of being content.” There’s a lot we can learn just from saying, “He figured something out that a lot of us who are in much better circumstances could benefit from;” right?
Bill: That’s right.
Dennis: I just want to read Philippians, Chapter 4, verses 10-13, because you’ve referenced it a couple of times here. It’s just worth reading and interacting around for a moment.
Paul writes, “I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 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.”
Just a comment about that for a moment—America has been through a recession. We love to abound. Abounding is easy. I mean, “It’s our right as an American;” but when America goes through a time where we’re being brought low, I think it’s testing our contentment quotient. It’s not a human right to always abound.
Let me continue here, “In any and every circumstance,”—now that’s an interesting statement right there. “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.”
Perhaps, the secret to contentment is at the very end of that passage where it focuses on the God of the universe who, indeed, gives us the strength to face whatever circumstance we are facing.
Bill: That’s right. That is a great passage. It’s a great verse. Christians love to quote that all the time.
Bill: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
Bob: —yes, Philippians 4:13. Right.
Bill: What is often missed is the context of that verse that it—Paul is—now, of course, we can apply it to a variety of things, but Paul is using it in the context of contentment, which is an otherwise impossible virtue to attain without God’s strengthening. He does focus our attention on God—God’s great power, God’s great work.
Dennis: So, you’re saying the secret of contentment begins with God and believing the right thing about God.
Dennis: One of the most quoted authors here on FamilyLife Today is A.W. Tozer. He made a statement. He said, “The most important thing about you is what you think about God.” Don’t you think that thinking rightly about who God is when it comes to circumstances we’re facing is really the beginning point—the genesis of how we ultimately find and learn the secret of being content?
Bill: It is. It is. We need to see God for who He is in all His glory, all His power, in Scripture. That is absolutely our starting point.
Bob: Bill, you said that the turning point for you came when you got the wake-up call in church—hearing a message on covetousness and asking the question, “Am I content?” led you into studying what the Scriptures say and reading Jeremiah Burroughs and other writings. Was there a point as you progressed where you could tell, “This is having an impact. My circumstances haven’t changed, but God is doing a work in my own soul”?
Bill: I don’t ever remember saying, “Okay, I’m content now.” I still don’t completely say that. I can’t say that. There’re—I believe I have grown in contentment over the years since that time, but I certainly saw—began to see a change in how I—I think, treated my wife and children and how I approached my job. There was the delight and the joy—came back into life. Joy came back into the worship and various aspects of life.
I don’t know if I would say there was a time where I said, “Okay, I’m content,” or, “I’m growing in contentment;” but I definitely felt those changes coming about within me.
Dennis: I’ve now attempted—and underline the word “attempted”—I’ve now attempted to walk with Christ since 1969, and it has an upward trajectory. Alright; so, I have matured. I know I have matured.
Bob: There have been some dips along the way.
Dennis: No doubt and some downward cycles, undoubtedly, but I can say this. I can’t say what Paul said. I’m going to read what I can’t say. Paul said, “For I have learned for whatever situation I am to be content.” He had to learn that. That’s a stout boast. I’m with you. What you said, Bill, I can’t say that I have learned that, but I’m going to tell you something. I have learned that God can be trusted with what you’re facing.
Now, instead of leaning into my feelings and getting ticked off, allowing my disappointment to sour and turn to anger and bitterness instantly, there’s this little bumper that I bounce off of, where I may go out there for a moment. Then, I go, “Wait a second. Either God is in control, or He is not in control at all. Either I am going to trust Him that He knows what He’s doing and what is coming into my life, or it’s a random bunch of molecules,”—which drives me crazy.
I mean, I may not be able to figure out all of what God is doing; but I’m going to tell you something. To believe that this is a random group of molecules—that everything that’s happening to us is just random—and there is no purpose, no meaning to life, and God isn’t in charge—I can’t go there. Where I can go is—I can go to a God who, in Scriptures, tells us, “I am the Lord God. There is none like me. Will you trust Me? Will you worship Me?”
Bob, I think what has to happen in those moments when we face those difficult times and we fail the test of contentment, we need to go back to school. We need to learn. We need some coaches, and mentors, and professors. Bill has been a mentor, a professor at a seminary; and he’s written a book that allows you to glean from his soul what he has learned about contentment.
Bob: Well, I love the picture on the cover of this book, too. It’s a glass of water. I hesitate to even describe it because it’s either half full or it is half empty; but that’s the point; right? How do you view life? What is your perspective? Are you a contented person? Do you find yourselves content in whatever circumstance you are in? Have you learned that secret? The book helps coach us in that regard.
We have copies of it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Listeners are invited to go online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FL-TODAY; and we can send you a copy of the book, The Secret of Contentment, by William Barcley. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY.
There’s a relationship, really, between contentment and gratitude. Of course, Dennis, your wife Barbara has written a book for families called Growing Together in Gratitude— stories that teaches us how to give thanks in all circumstances. That might be something that families will want to use here as we begin the New Year. You just read these stories aloud around the dinner table or for family devotions and talk about how we can cultivate an attitude, a spirit, of gratitude and contentment.
So, if you’d like information about Barbara’s book, Growing Together in Gratitude, find the info online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
Now, we are still waiting for the mail to come in here at FamilyLife as many of you know during the month of December we had a matching-gift opportunity, a very generous matching-gift opportunity. As we headed out back last week, the final numbers were not in. Mail had still not come in, and it still hasn’t as of today. So, I don’t know if we were able to meet that matching gift or not, but I do know that many of you were very generous. We just want to say, “Thank you,” for your support.
If you want to go online at FamilyLifeToday.com, we’re going to keep you updated there with information about how we did with those matching funds and whether we were able to take full advantage of them. If you missed making a donation in support of the matching gift, just know that any donation you make, even here in the month of January helps us move this ministry forward. It helps us remain on the network of stations that we are on, all across the country. So, “Thanks,” to those of you who gave last month.
If you can make a gift today, we’d love to hear from you. You can make a donation online at FamilyLifeToday.com or call to make a donation at 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Be sure to be back with us tomorrow when we’re going to talk more about contentment and talk about grumbling. What do we do when we find ourselves grumbling or when we find our children grumbling? How do we address that? We’ll talk about it tomorrow, and I hope you can be here.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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