Are you content? Pause before you answer that question.
Long-time actress and comedienne Gracie Allen once received a small, live alligator as a gag gift. Not knowing what to do with it (just what do you do with an alligator?), Gracie placed it in the bathtub with some water and left for an engagement. When she returned home, she found this note from her maid:
Dear Miss Allen:
Sorry, but I have quit. I don’t work in houses where there is an alligator. I’d have told you this when I was taken on, but I never thought it would come up.
When you work in a zoo, you expect alligators. When you work in a home, you expect cobwebs. And when alligators become cobwebs, the urge to run becomes dominant!
Our problem is that life is frequently invaded by alligators where we anticipate cobwebs. Illness when we’re 82? Yes. Cancer at 22? No. Rebellion by someone else’s teen? Yes. But from my children? No — not in my home. Conflict in the work place? Yes. But in my church? No. Rejection from my unbelieving neighbor? Yes. But from my family? No. Yet these are the alligators of life, and they are real. And they have always existed (it has something to do with our sin nature).
Paul knew the power of alligators. That’s what 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 is about. Notice three things about his response to the alligator that he called a thorn in the flesh (which very likely was a continual, bitter, personal attack on his character by someone in the Corinthian church).
He wasn’t afraid to ask for the difficulty to be removed. He prayed. It stayed. He prayed. It stayed. He prayed. It stayed. He not only went to God to seek its removal, but he was persistent in his prayer. One reason that we sometimes live with alligators is that we never ask God to remove them — we “do not have because [we] do not ask” (Js. 4:2b).
Yet Paul was content to have the difficulty remain. He asked for what seemed best, but when God said “No,” he was content with the answer. That’s what it means to pray according to God’s will. When God answers prayer with something different than our desires, we are still at peace with the situation and with God. [Aside: The real test of contentment is not what your attitude is when things are good, but whether you are inwardly at peace and satisfied with God and life when you are weak instead of strong, insulted instead of complimented and encouraged, in trouble and under pressure instead of at peace and in tranquility, persecuted instead of loved and blessed, and in difficulty instead of at ease.]
Paul was delighted to have the opportunity to demonstrate the surpassing power of Christ’s sufficiency. His peace flowed from an awareness that there was a bigger issue at stake than his personal comfort. In his discomfort, God was creating in him a greater strength than he could have ever known otherwise. Without the troubles, he would have never known the extent of God’s gracious provision of sustaining strength nor the extensiveness of that strength.
Would Paul have liked his alligator/thorn removed? Certainly. Yet he was “well content with weaknesses.”
Sir Isaac Newton summarized this truth well when he said, “Trials are medicines which our gracious and wise Physician prescribes because we need them; and he proportions the frequency and weight of them to what the case requires. Let us trust His skill and thank Him for His prescription.”
So now answer the question: are you content?