There are only two books on my nightstand.
The first book is a Bible that was given to me by one of my brothers.
The second book is a copy of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs – arguably my favorite book outside of the Word of God. In his writings (originally entitled Actes and Monuments before being updated), John Foxe recounts Christian men and women who gave their life for the cause and person of Christ. While many of the entries are unsettling, Foxe does an incredible job recounting the events in a way that glorifies God, not gore. Here is an example [Warning: graphic material]:
“Timothy, a deacon of Mauritania, and Maura his wife, had not been united together by the bands of wedlock above three weeks, when they were separated from each other by the persecution [under Diocletian, beginning AD 303]. Timothy, being apprehended, as a Christian, was carried before Arrianus, the governor of Thebais, who, knowing that he had the keeping of the Holy Scriptures, commanded him to deliver them up to be burnt; to which he answered, “Had I children, I would sooner deliver them up to be sacrificed, than part with the Word of God.” The governor being much incensed at this reply, ordered his eyes to be put out, with red-hot irons, saying, “The books shall at least be useless to you, for you shall not see to read them.” His patience under the operation was so great that the governor grew more exasperated; he, therefore, in order, if possible, to overcome his fortitude, ordered him to be hung up by the feet, with a weight tied about his neck, and a gag in his mouth. In this state, Maura his wife, tenderly urged him for her sake to recant; but, when the gag was taken out of his mouth, instead of consenting to his wife’s entreaties, he greatly blamed her mistaken love, and declared his resolution of dying for the faith. The consequence was, that Maura resolved to imitate his courage and fidelity and either to accompany or follow him to glory. The governor, after trying in vain to alter her resolution, ordered her to be tortured, which was executed with great severity. After this, Timothy and Maura were crucified near each other, A.D. 304.” – Foxes Book of Martyrs (pg. 21)
Why is this book one of my favorites? Because I am a man with a complaining, discontent heart. And reading about men and women who joyfully offered themselves up to unimaginable torture and death has the same effect on my discontentment that a sledgehammer has on a block of ice.
Where Your Treasure Is…
If these stories served as motivation or conviction only, it would not be enough. I can get that from countless history books: feats of greatness and sacrifice spanning from war to athletics, exploration to medicine, and so forth. There is, however, a golden strand running through each of these martyr’s narratives: their ultimate satisfaction was not something that could be taken away… because it was not in anything earthly. No amount of persecution could draw their eyes away from it. No depths of torture could get them to denounce it. No promise of death was sufficient to redirect their affections. They could say with King David:
Preserve me, O God, for in You I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from You.” – Psalm 16:1-2
Were they preserved? Absolutely. Covered in the blood of their Savior and with the Object of their affections for all eternity.
Where is My Heart Looking?
I may face persecutions in my life; I may even face torture and death for my faith in Jesus. But the likelihood of this, especially in America, is rather low. The temptation to redirect my affections comes from other directions in this land of prosperity. Ours is not the ditch of persecution, but complacency.
Included in my daily prayer list is this request:
“Help me to find my ultimate joy, pleasure, and rest in You right now.”
This is both a humble request as well as a litmus test. If I am not asking the Lord to be actively inclining my heart towards Him, I will drift when left to my own devices.
But the litmus test is this: is my ultimate joy in Him, this very moment? Is my deepest pleasure met in Him, this exact second? Is my heart calm and resting, right now?
If the answer is “no” to any one of these questions, guess what? My affections are elsewhere. My heart is discontent and clamoring for something other than Him. The question then becomes: what could I possibly be believing will provide greater joy, pleasure, or rest than the Creator of all three? If Jesus is truly enough (and He is, by His very being), the problem of my discontentment can’t possibly lie with Him. I have placed my hope and affection elsewhere, and it didn’t take a red-hot iron or threat of crucifixion to get me there.
Content in Him
Sometimes I think I will be able to find joy at the end of a trial. It sounds incredibly petty, but I can even be caught up in discontentment believing pleasure will finally arrive once my Amazon order hits my front step. Or that rest is dependent on my current workload or the behavior (or lack thereof) of my children.
In Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, the third verse contains a mystery. When speaking of Satan’s power, the verse closes with this line:
One little word shall fell him…
Do you know what that one little word is? I’ll give you a hint: John 8:44…
- “I’ll finally be joyful when this trial is over…” LIAR!
- “Happiness comes in the box with a blue half-smile…” LIAR!
- “Rest is dependent on my circumstances…” LIAR!
Instead, what is the truth?
- “…in Your presence there is fullness of joy…” – Psalm 16:11b
- “…at Your right hand are pleasures” – Psalm 16:11c
- “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28
Do you see the pattern? Contentment (and all that comes with it) is found in the presence of God. While this will not be realized in its fullest sense until we are finally with Him (Revelation 21:3-4), these passages are no less true and applicable for us on this side of heaven. Contentment is possible for those who are seeking satisfaction in the One who is inexhaustible.
Are you content in Him right now?