That Decompressing Exhale For Which Our Souls Long

Note: The intro to this article is adapted from a sermon I preached on October 30, 2022. You can watch or listen to that sermon here.

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In 2 Thessalonians 1:7, Paul describes the emotion that will flood the hearts of believers the moment Christ returns with his mighty angels.

Before reading the verse, consider this: If you were to pick one emotion to describe what you think believers will feel—what you will feel—the moment Christ returns, which emotion would you choose? Awe? Wonder? Amazement? Fear? Worship? Reverence? Joy? Thankfulness? Contentment? Satisfaction?

Undoubtedly, we will feel all those emotions and more when Christ returns. Yet, curiously, in this verse, Paul doesn’t choose any of those words to describe what believers will feel upon Christ’s appearing. Which emotion does he point to instead?

According to 2 Thessalonians 1:7, the feeling that will flood the hearts of believers the moment Christ returns is…

Relief.

The complete unburdening of a lifetime’s worth of stressors, sorrows, sicknesses, sins, and suffering in a single moment. That decompressing exhale our souls so desperately long for but never quite seem to manage in this life. That unthreatened assurance that everything is going to be okay which constantly evades our felt experience on this side of eternity.

Pure, unmixed, relief. This is the glorious and inseparable destiny of every Christ-follower—a destiny from which only time separates us now.

Why relief?

The surrounding context of this glorious promise of relief is—perhaps surprisingly—the judgment of God:

“This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels…” (2 Thessalonians 1:5-7)

Why will the judgment of God bring relief to believers? Consider three reasons.

1. The final judgment of God confirms that everything we ever did matters—that all our faithful suffering had a purpose and was worth it.

As Tim Keller put it, “[There are] two views of life: Either everything means something or nothing means anything. And what is it that distinguishes those two views? Judgment Day. Judgment Day is very good news. Judgment Day means you will not be forgotten.” 

The moment Christ returns, believers will instantly be flooded with the warming assurance that I am seen. I am known. I am loved. I am valued. My life mattered. My efforts mattered. And not just to anyone—to Christ himself!

We will marvel with joy and relief, knowing that all our sins have been paid for and that every moment of faithfulness is an eternal ingredient in the Divine happiness. We will sing with grateful hearts as we are enveloped with the glorious sensation that every act of obedience, every sacrifice, every painful trial we endured while trusting Jesus—it all had a purpose. And it was all worth it.

2. The final judgment of God inaugurates the righting of all wrongs and the immediate removal of all sin, stress, sorrow, sickness, and suffering.

The Narnian image of the earth greening upon Aslan’s return—everything dead coming to life and everything barren becoming fruitful—is a very appropriate picture of Christ’s return. As we sing, “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground. [Jesus] comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found” (Joy to the World, Isaac Watts, 1719).

This life-exploding, blessing-flooding, thistle-removing image of Narnia and Joy to the World is not a romanticized pipedream; it is a promise of God himself to all his children. Notice the myriad of images of life and flourishing that God gives us in Revelation 22:

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. Also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” (Revelation 22:1-4)

Plain as daylight, God promises abundance of life and fullness of healing at Christ’s return (v. 2). No longer will there be anything accursed (v. 3). No more sin. No more sorrow. No more stress. No more sickness. No more suffering. The complete unburdening, unmixed joy, and perfect healing for which our souls yearn—it’s coming.

So sing it loud, clear, and confidently this Christmas season: Jesus is coming to make his blessings flow, ‘far as the curse is found. Christ’s coming as Judge is, in fact, the greatest news believers could ever dream of.

3. The final judgment of God initiates the unhindered presence of God.

There might not be five words of hope more beautiful in all of Scripture than the first five words of Revelation 22:4: They will see his face. This is, quite simply, the consummate fulfillment of every longing we’ve ever had. As Tim Keller explains,

“The face of God is the source of all love, beauty, and joy. … The reason that you get joy when you listen to a great piece of music is because it reminds you of the face of God. Music is created by God—it’s an image; it’s a mirror of that which is in his face. You feel joy when you put yourself into somebody’s arms, but the reason you feel joy is because you are loving someone in the image of God. The joy and the strength you get in a loving relationship, the joy and the beauty you get by looking at the ocean or hearing a great piece of music—it all comes from the presence [and face] of God.”

The return of Christ will initiate the fulfillment of every dream we’ve grasped at but have never been able to fully obtain. In that moment, we will realize that our longings were, all along, not random but custom-fitted for the very inheritance we will enjoy for all eternity. Not one longing will be left unsatisfied; all will find their fulfillment in the face of Christ. At last, we will say, “Ah, for this my soul has always longed!” Can you imagine the relief of this long-awaited fulfillment?

Rest in God’s promises 

Believer, you can take a deep breath today—even in the midst of your suffering—because God promises you this: I will give you the relief for which your soul longs. And this moment of relief will only flower into the incomparable joy of the unveiled presence of Christ—a pleasure that will satisfy us for all eternity (Psalm 16:11).

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Blake Glosson is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and Crosswalk.com and republished and/or referred by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn)Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (Dawn and Steve Mornings—here and here), The JOY FM (The Morning Cruise with Dave, Bill, and Carmen)ChurchLeaders.comThe Aquila ReportMonergism.com, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Watch or listen to “With Us in the Wilderness” (sermon) here.

Read “Do You Want to be Healed?” here.

Read “Five Habits That Kill Contentment” here.

Read “Three Ways to Glorify God in Worry and Anxiety” here.

Read “An Answer to Prayer Even Better Than Clarity” here.

Five Habits that Kill Contentment

One of the most precious (and curious) statements in all of Scripture is Paul’s words in Philippians 4:12: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.”

It’s hard to read this verse without some degree of intrigue. Content? In any and every situation? And he wrote this while he was unmarried, imprisoned (unjustly), constantly persecuted, actively misrepresented with ill intent, and relentlessly tempted to live in regret for his grievous past? We rightly marvel at Paul’s statement. But one word in this famous verse is often overlooked—the third one. Did you notice it?

Paul says, “I have learned the secret of being content…”

This one word is enough to provide mountains of hope for every reader, reminding us that our past mistakes, present difficulties, and unknown futures do not consign us to a life of discontent. According to this verse, contentment is not something one naturally has (or doesn’t have); it’s something she learns. Yes, contentment is a rare jewel, but it is a rare jewel that any Christian can experience—especially if we rid our lives of known killers of contentment. Consider five “C’s” from the book of Philippians.

Contentment Killer #1: Comparing

Key verses:

Philippians 1:15-18: “Some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry … supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that … Christ is preached. And because of this, I rejoice.”

Likely the number one killer of contentment—and perhaps the most subtle—is comparison. This was true back in Paul’s day and it’s arguably even more the case today in our social media-driven culture. Before you even get out of bed in the morning, you can—with a few effortless scrolls—begin comparing your “boring” life to the best moments of others’ physical appearance, success, marriage, kids, experiences, career, and possessions. Nothing like a cold shot of inadequacy to go with your morning brew.

In one sense, the pressure to measure up has never been higher. Moms can’t just be moms anymore—you must now be a mom with a niche if you want to keep up with all the Instagram moms who are (seemingly) crushing it while also contributing to society. Artists can’t just be artists anymore—if you hope to ever be noticed, you better have a unique and growing platform from an early age. We used to be evaluated against those in our localized social circles (which was enough pressure by itself!). Now we are evaluated against the world’s most gifted YouTubers, funniest TikTokers, best-looking Instagrammers, most inspiring influencers, most eloquent bloggers, most romantic couples, most all-together moms, most creative artists, most successful entrepreneurs, most enviable homeowners, most intelligent pastors, most affluent businessmen and businesswomen. Good luck measuring up to that.

Beyond this, the expected age to “be something” has quickly and drastically plummeted. At a rate unknown to previous generations, middle schoolers and high schoolers are now walking into classrooms with “celebrity peers”—some with followings of hundreds of thousands or even millions. The pressure to create yourself—which in decades past intensified around the age that one had to declare a major in college—is now being placed on the shoulders of kids not even old enough to drive.

One of the net results of all of this is a widespread, suffocating flood of comparison—quickly turning companions into competition and wreaking havoc on our contentment.

How can we escape the trap of comparison?

How did Paul sidestep this contentment-killing “envy and rivalry” (1:15)? According to his letter to the Philippians, he did it by keeping the gospel (1:18)—and Christ himself (1:21)—at the center of his life. He renewed his mind daily in prayer and God’s Word (1:3-4; Romans 12:2; Colossians 3:16) and kept his focus on the mission and prize of Christ (1:21-26; 3:8-11; 3:13-14).

What was the fruit of Paul’s Christ-centered, gospel-driven mindset? It turned the successes of others into fuel for his joy instead of fuel for his jealousy (1:17-18). It multiplied his thankfulness (1:3), hope (1:20a), courage (1:20b), peace (4:7-9), praise (1:4; 1:18; 4:4), affection and love (1:8-9). It assured him that both life and death are gain for the Christian (1:21).

Keeping our minds fixed on the gospel of Christ—and on Christ himself—is the surest remedy to contentment-killing comparison (4:8-9; 4:12-13, especially v. 13).

Contentment Killer #2: Complaining

Key verses:

Philippians 2:14: “Do everything without grumbling or [complaining].” (cf. ESV, NKJV)

Philippians 4:6: “In every situation … with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

There is an important difference between grieving and grumbling. The Bible calls us to grieve. It forbids us to grumble. Both are responses to pain and expressions of dissatisfaction—but one can coincide with (and even produce) contentment, whereas the other destroys it. How can we tell the difference between grieving (healthy) and grumbling (unhealthy)?

Perhaps the quickest way to distinguish the two is with this simple test: Is my expression of hurt and dissatisfaction drawing me closer to God or pushing me away from him? Grief asks (honestly), “God, where are you in this?” Grumbling (functionally) declares, “God has left me,” or, “God is not good.” The grieving person acknowledges the felt gap between her present pain and her belief that God is good, present, and all-powerful. She asks God, “How can these two be reconciled?” Grumbling doesn’t even try to put the two together.

Another distinguishing mark between grumbling and grieving is where it leads. Grumbling culminates in despair (1 Corinthians 10:10); godly grief culminates in hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). The grieving Christian rightly acknowledges that her pain is real and worthy of lament—but she also acknowledges that God will make things right, even if she can’t see how yet. And she longs deeply for this promised redemption (Philippians 1:23; Romans 8:20-24).

One of the biggest misconceptions about contentment is that true contentment is the absence of longing. The book of Philippians blows this idea out of the water. In the same letter that Paul says that he has learned the secret to being content in every situation (4:11-13), he also says that he longs to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far (1:23). As my friend Andrew Micah wisely put it, “Contentment is not the absence of longing; it is trusting God in the midst of our longings and setting them in the context of his larger story.”

What can we do when we’ve fallen into the trap of chronic grumbling? Three of the surest remedies are daily repentance (Romans 2:4; 1 John 1:9); gratitude (4:6), and gazing at Christ and his promises (1:21; 3:8-14; 3:20-21). For more on the topic of grumbling, see chapter 9 of C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce.

Contentment Killer #3: Contorting (or crushing)

Key verses:

Philippians 3:18-20: “Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven—and we eagerly await a Savior from there: The Lord Jesus Christ…”

Contorting happens whenever we put pressure onto an object to be something that it wasn’t designed to be or do something it wasn’t designed to do. Every time we look to a gift of God (a creation) to do something that only God (the Creator) can do, it inevitably ruins the gift and kills our contentment.

We could just as easily refer to this contentment killer as “crushing.” Any time we squeeze onto a gift of God and say, “Be God for me! Save me!” It will always break the gift. It is akin to squeezing an ornament with the amount of pressure that only a baseball could withstand—it will always shatter. No created thing can withstand the pressure of being one’s savior.

Here’s the good news: While everything in this world shatters and breaks when we put pressure on it to be our savior, Jesus does not. You cannot possibly cling to Jesus too tightly or ask too much of him. Hebrews 1:3 says that Jesus sustains the entire universe by his word—meaning he is strong enough to sustain you, save you, and carry the heaviest of your burdens.

Contentment Killer #4: Complacency (and perfectionism)

Key verses:

Philippians 3:12-14: “[Not] that I have already reached perfection, but I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

Someone once said to me, “I will never stop growing—I refuse to be content!” He went on to express his concern that contentment would hinder his growth. While I admired his desire to grow, he was confusing contentment with complacency—and there is a huge difference. Complacency involves stagnancy; contentment does not. (We might say that complacency is stagnancy without fulfillment, whereas contentment is fulfillment without stagnancy.)

When it comes to spiritual growth, we most often fall into one of two ditches: complacency or perfectionism. We either abuse the grace of God through complacency, or we distrust the grace of God through perfectionism. Both are equally dangerous. Complacency whispers to the Christian, “You’re good enough—why even try?” Perfectionism whispers to the Christian, “You’ll never be good enough—why even try?” Both ditches not only prevent us from growth but also destroy our contentment: Complacency strips us of the joy of sanctification (growing in Christ); perfectionism strips us of the joy of justification (being secure in Christ).

What can keep us from falling into these ditches? According to Philippians 3:12-14, we must press on in sanctification while simultaneously clinging on to the perfection of Jesus for our justification. We must never stop working to grow in practical righteousness (1:27; 2:12), but we must also never stop resting in Christ’s righteousness for our salvation (2:13; 3:9).

Contentment Killer #5: Conceit (and entitlement)

Key verses:

Philippians 2:3-11: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves … Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage—rather, he made himself nothing … [and] humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross!”

Similar to grumbling, entitlement is a surefire way to kill contentment. Contentment says, “I have more than I deserve.” Entitlement says, “I deserve more than I have.” You cannot possibly have an entitled heart while also having a contented heart—this is a contradiction in terms.

What relief is available to the person wrestling with entitlement? The Holy Spirit tells us in Philippians 2:3-11: Fix your gaze on the only person who actually deserved to be entitled—Jesus Christ! Jesus was with God—with every right and reason to hold on to the comforts and riches of heaven—but instead of using his riches to his own advantage, Jesus left his Father’s throne above and gave up his riches so that we through his poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Whenever entitlement (or any other contentment killer) threatens to suffocate our spiritual life, Christ is our oxygen (4:13). So let’s breathe in the gospel today and keep our gazed fixed on our Savior—who humbled himself to the point of death, in order that we may have life.

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Blake Glosson is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and Crosswalk.com and republished and/or referred by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn), Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (Dawn and Steve Mornings—here and here), The JOY FM (The Morning Cruise with Dave, Bill, and Carmen), ChurchLeaders.com, The Aquila Report, Monergism.com, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Read “Four Burdens Jesus Never Asked You to Carry” here.

Read “Three Ways to Glorify God in Worry and Anxiety” here.

Read “An Answer to Prayer Even Better Than Clarity” here.

Listen to “And Can It Be?” (Enfield) here.

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