Stepping Stones or Crushing Stones

Are you content in your circumstances? If your current circumstance involves smooth sailing and no worries, then you probably are. But you can count on that changing. When we rely on our circumstances for our contentment, we will be disappointed on a regular basis. So, if our circumstances are always changing—sometimes bright and sunny, sometimes dark and gloomy—how can we be content consistently?

Obviously, contentment cannot be founded on things that can change. That would be like building a contentment castle in the sand at low tide. It can’t last. There are tides, an ebb and flow, that will surely wash it away. Tides are something you can count on, twice a day, every day. Contentment must be built on something that never changes. The only thing that never changes is God himself. So, he needs to be our source of contentment.

When we realize that our circumstances are given by God for our good, we can be content in any circumstance. That doesn’t mean we won’t feel sad or angry or confused at times. Having emotions and being content can coexist. Contentment has more to do with trust—trusting God in our circumstances and our emotions. The ladies of our church have been studying contentment. One of them said something brilliant, just off the top of her head. When I say things off the top of my head, they may be  funny or sarcastic but rarely brilliant. So, I told her I would be stealing it. And here it is: our circumstances can either be stepping stones or crushing stones. See, I told you it was brilliant.

Our circumstances should be stepping stones, to move us from one place to another. The circumstance becomes our classroom where we learn something that moves us forward. And each time we allow our circumstance to teach us, we find it easier to be content and trust God even more. But when we focus on the circumstance itself and not on God, it often becomes a crushing stone, our spirits being crushed under its weight until there is no hope.

The apostle Paul was very familiar with difficult circumstances. One of those circumstances was actual stoning, talk about crushing stones! But he allowed his circumstances to be stepping stones, to learn from them and allow them to build in him what was lacking. He tells us in Philippians 4:11b-13 (ESV) “…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 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. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

The “secret” Paul learned is contentment. That is how God strengthened him to be able to do all things, including facing and enduring any circumstance, to be content. Will your next difficult circumstance be a stepping stone or a crushing stone? Be content and trust God to strengthen you for your next step.

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The Red Sea and Ocean Blue Cabinets

I was annoyed. When we moved into our new home in January, my goal was to have a kitchen in our in-law suite by mid-summer. Hope swelled when we ordered the cabinets in April with a two-week lead time for delivery. But then we learned they wouldn’t be ready until the end of June. Okay, they’ll be in by the end of summer. Summer was the goal and was still in play.

June came and went with no cabinets. A few more delays. Finally, on August 19, my beautiful ocean-blue cabinets were delivered. My annoyance grew. The water and drain lines weren’t in yet. My cabinets just sat there mocking me. They were there but unusable. Summer was waning. Pumpkin spice everything was on its way as soon as the calendar flipped to September.

So, when September 1 came around and the cabinets were not yet installed, my hopes were crashing. But before the first day of September ended, an uninvited guest arrived at our house, specifically in our in-law suite. Her name was Ida, Hurricane Ida. She didn’t just arrive—she forced her way inside. As our living space filled with water, Doug grabbed some boards from the garage and hoisted the cabinets onto them. We didn’t know when the deluge would stop, but at least it might help to get them off the floor.

For hours, we scooped, shop-vacced, and soaked up water. It never went deeper than two inches, just reaching the very bottoms of the cabinets. They were saved because they hadn’t been installed yet.

This week, I read the story in Exodus 14 of Israel crossing the Red Sea. It stuck out to me that they were passing by it when God said to Moses, “Come back and encamp there, facing the Sea.” Wait a minute. They could have been long gone, but God put them right where he wanted them so they would see how only he could save them. And he did.

Saving my cabinets was not nearly as miraculous. But all the time I spent being annoyed they hadn’t been installed seems pretty silly now—a lot like the Israelites complaints about being brought to the Red Sea to die. God was just setting the stage to show his timing is perfect in every situation, whether it’s saving his people in the midst of the sea or just a few ocean-blue cabinets in the midst of a hurricane. He is completely trustworthy.

“21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. 31 Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.” Exodus 14: 21, 22, 31 ESV