The Contented Life*
Flying on a plane is one of my favorite things to do. I realize it would get old after a while, but I fly just enough to keep it exciting. That’s why I was excited about my up-coming flight to Phoenix. The suitcases, the ticket counters, the take off, the view, the airports…are all exciting to me.
On a recent trip, as my husband and I boarded our plane I couldn’t help but notice the large, leather-covered seats near the front of the plane I passed on the way to my seat. Finding my seat I snuggled down for the long flight. We were airborne and in no time the stewards began passing out complimentary drink and boxed lunches. Aren’t these little boxes cute? And all the free pop I want! These kinds of thoughts fluttered blissfully through my mind until I noticed up ahead, through open curtains, the people in “First Class” with linen napkins and china plates. All of a sudden my little box lost its novelty. The ecstasy was gone. Suddenly it looked, well, cheap. And how come they get coffee in a” real” cup? It’s probably gourmet.
Noticing my straining glance, an attentive steward stepped forward and with his hand on the curtain remarked, “If you’d worked a little harder, I wouldn’t have to do this.” And…wisk…flung the curtain shut. (Just kidding, he didn’t say that. But he was thinking it! And he did fling the churtian closed.)
Nonchalantly, I sat back against my seat. Pouting over my dire straights, I sat staring out the tiny window. How could I, just a few minutes ago, be so excited, even thankful, and now, so disgruntled and unthankful? What secret truth did the airlines understand as the reason they installed that curtain? Simple. How easily we humans become discontented.
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Paul contends contentment is not about having or nor having…I think it has to do with more than that, but often that’s what we look to for contentment.
Often the source of our discontent is comparing ourselves with others. I am content with my home until I go to someone else’s.
We ladies are especially vulnerable to this. Be honest…how many of you compared your clothes with mine? We do it all the time! Our homes, our children, our husbands, our weight…the list goes on and on.
Two problems arise when we compare ourselves to others. Pride and envy. When we compare ourselves to those who have more, we can become envious. As in my case with those in First Class, I become not only envious with what they had but discontent with what I did have.
When we compare ourselves to those who have less than we do, we can become prideful. Rest of the story – On the way home, the airlines canceled our flight; in exchange they booked us on another flight….in first class. I found myself gloating!
The fact is, there will always be someone who has more than you, and someone who has less. Comparing ourselves to others is not only unrealistic, it is self-destructive.
CONTENTMENT – “Understanding that if I am not satisfied with what I have, I will never be satisfied with what I want.
CONTENTMENT – “Realizing that God has already given me everything I need for my present happiness
Have you found this to be true: The more we own the more we are possessed by what we own. Cleaning, maintaining, protecting, insuring, etc.
In Hebrews 13:5, the author says, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have….”
Coveting is a violation of one of the 10 Commandments. Many today aren’t aware it is sin, yet it’s one of the Big 10. Why is God so concerned with covetousness?
Because anything, not just our stuff…a relationship, a position, a title, a 401k…anything that we desire more than we desire God, becomes an idol to us. Covetousness is idolatry. The problem is in our culture everyone does it and is seen, applauded, and promoted as “ambitious.”
Roman 12:1,2 talks warns us about conforming to the patterns of this world…allowing it to squeeze its into it’s mold. What are some of the patterns of our “world?” Materialism and consumerism.
Have you seen the size of your Sunday paper? It is two inches think with ads and fliers. It is the herald of our culture’s values.
1 Tim. 6:6-10: 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
Marketing is rigged. (You knew that, right?) Years ago (okay, not that long ago…) when the Razor phones were just coming out, I happened to need a new phone so Darrel found a great deal on one and purchased it for me. I was one of the “first on my block” to have a new Razor. I have to admit to my feelings or superiority and “coolness.” I flipped the phone open in a dramatic way hoping people would notice my cutting-edge device. That was until the iphones came out and someone said to me, “You’re still using a Razor?”
Whatever traces of self worth I possessed plunged down the toilet. My identity as “cool” was quickly replaced with “dork.”
Yet when all of us rushed out to buy3G iphone, (and thus buying the “cool” factor), we were plunged once again into disappointment when the 3GS came out. And surely no one wanted to be caught with a 3G after the 4G arrived. (I happen to still have my 3G and it surfs the internet, send and receives texts, e-mails and phones call just fine. Just don’t tell anyone.)
The job of advertisers is to keep us in a state of discontent.
People are being asked to buy a product because it will make them happy or achieve success or give them a new identity.
After buying the particular product, after an initial stage of satisfaction, the consumer is left empty because the promises of the product have not been fulfilled. The cycle becomes one of meaninglessness and disappointment.
McDonalds had a stroke of marketing genius when they launched the “Happy Meal.” Not only did they include a “prize” (What kid ever screams, “I just want the…hamburger!”) they were able to convince children that they have a McDonald’s-shaped vacuum in their souls. It is “the meal of great joy.” You aren’t just buying chicken McNuggets and a tiny plastic Hercules ring. You’re buying happiness.
So, we buy them the Happy Meal. And it makes them happy… for about a minute and a half…tops.
Here’s the deal; If you are discontent, you will not be a good steward.
The average American has four major credit cards with an average total credit card debt of $9,000.00. Now, add to the minimum payment plan scheme and you have a recipe for financial disaster. Did you know that if you have a balance of $3,900 and you pay the 3% minimum it will take you nearly 42 years to pay off the debt, and those monthly payments would total $14,530.44. That’s not being a good steward!
Here’s a question for you. What do you think that the favorite pastime of female teenagers is? In a recent survey, 93% of female teenagers said that shopping was their favorite pastime. One Father said, “If my girls don’t go to the Mall for 3 days, the mall sends them a get well card.”
As I get older….I’m finding the need to simplify to be a wonderful thing…as I truly look at what I have I realize that I need less and there is a hint of freedom beginning to creep through my heart and soul.
Now I am trying now to give away more than I bring in. (Box by the garage door)
Too often it seems our discipleship mirrors this picture of consumerism. Yes we love Jesus, we quickly say, but how often are our affections divided between love for him and our love for the things of the world?
Too many followers of Jesus live as consumers…not contributors.
If the church doesn’t meet MY needs…I’ll go somewhere that will. So instead of staying put and slogging through the painful process of self-examination, and being vulnerable in community…and allowing others to speak into our lives…we run.
Is it any wonder we are a generation with so little staying power? We are epitomized by Jesus’ description of the seeds that fell among thorns – those who hear God’s Word “but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Mark 4).
A life of discipleship doesn’t happen by flitting from one amusement to the next. It is, as Eugene Peterson puts it, “a long obedience in the same direction.” It requires a prioritization of those things which intentionally put us in the presence of Jesus, opening us to his transforming work.
Don’t hear me wrong – entertainment, pleasures, “stuff” – none of it is bad in and of itself. I’m not talking about things that happen TO us…unexpected medical bills, the loss of a job, etc. But we need to ask ourselves honestly: do I let these other things choke out the real, substantive, more deeply fulfilling life that God actually has for me?
Ask yourself these questions: (Some serious self-examination could be in order!)
Am I being spiritually formed by Jesus, or by the culture?
· Do I carve out daily time for prayer and Scripture, or do I allow that time to be squeezed out by late night TV and my subsequent need to wake with only enough time to stagger out the door for work?
· Do I prioritize worshiping with God’s people in song, prayer, and Word or do I treat Sundays as optional, subject to whim and the emergence of any better offers?
· Do I serve in ways that require sacrifice, or only in ways that don’t pinch my lifestyle?
· Do I choose a lifestyle simple enough to allow for generosity, or give from my leftovers?
Story: Two men talking. One says, “I have a home in Martha’s Vineyard and summer home in Maui; I drive a Lexus and a Porsche; I have a membership at the Country Club and spend weekends on my Yacht. What do you have?
Other man: “I have enough.”
Each for us are going to have to decide…what is enough?
Illustration: Ad in our local newspaper this week by a contractor. It advertized that you could buy the “basic” package for a home or for only an additional $38,000 you could include the up-grades. $38,000?! It has a picture of a woman with her arms spread wide saying, “I just want it all!” The problem is…we can’t have it all.
Have you ever stopped to wonder where all this desire to possess comes from?
AW Tozer wrote, “There is within the human heart a tough, fibrous root of fallen life whose nature is to possess, always to possess.”
Why do we want to possess? So we don’t have to live in thirst.
Because to live with thirst is to live with an ache. Every addiction comes from the attempt to get rid of the ache. It sets us out on a chase…that leads us further and further from home.
Longing, I believe, is a good thing. Do you remember as a kid longing for something? I remember longing for alot of things. Most of the time I never received what I longed for. And somehow I survived. In fact, I think I was enlarged in my waiting. The problem with our kids is they don’t experience much longing…or waiting. They want something, we love our kids and legitimately want them to be happy; we can provide it for them, and so we do.
Just because we want something..and we can buy it….doesn’t mean we should.
It is in our longing our souls expand. Something grows in us, a capacity, if you will, for life and love and God.
Rom. 8:24,25 – “That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in waiting. We, of course, don’t see it enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.” ™
There is actually a sweet pain (joy!) in longing if we let it draw our hearts homeward.
Look also at what Paul wrote: “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Cor. 6:10).
It is through our sorrows…we discover true joy; in our poverty we have something to offer others; and being free from the bondage of possession we possess everything.
Finally, to fully embrace and experience a contented life, we are going to have to recognize there is more going on than what we see.
ILL: Brick layers: Three men working laying brick. A man walks up to them and asks, “What are you doing?” First man: “I am making $12.50 an hour.” Second man, “I’m laying bricks.” Third man, “I’m building a cathedral for the glory of God.” There is more going on in our stories. There is a greater purpose at work.
Don’t miss it…or you will settle for a lesser story…a story where they only purpose is to make a name for yourself and make as much money as you can to spend all you can on yourself. A story that comes up empty every time.
Go back to the passage in Hebrews 13:5. Now don’t miss this. Now when it says, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have….” It gives us the reason and way we can do this. “Because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you”
God is weaving a larger story than our own. It is the story of his promise to be with us…whatever our circumstances. We are NEVER alone. We don’t need other things to bring us the security we long for. It’s the story of him never forgetting about us. We don’t have to cling to other things to build the life we’ve always wanted. He has not, and will not, forget us.
But as long as we are fearful that lie will slip through our fingers, we will never let go of our smaller story and embrace the story God is offering.
One of my best friends, Cindy has discovered life has not turned out as she expected. In fact, life has not been fair to Cindy. There is much she could complain about. At age 50 she finds herself divorced, alone, in a small rented room, working a minimum wage job, no health insurance, to retirement. We would say she has a right to be angry and discontent at the cards life has dealt her. But she is THE MOST joyful, content person I’ve ever met. To talk to her, you would think she has life by the tail. (And no, she doesn’t live in denial. ) She is my hero.
When I asked on Facebook for people to post their thoughts about contentment, this is what she wrote:
“Contentment? Life is a journey and within it lies our story…the pretty and ugly…but the story doesn’t define who we are…we are so much more than the story…Contentment? Embracing the journey…truly seeing Jesus in every moment…not just saying it…but really SEEING Jesus!” Cindy is living the contented life, and it has nothing to do with “things.”
To choose contentment, we are going to have to release our expectations of how we think life should go and enter into the larger story of God’s amazing presence to go with us and the fact that we are not forgotten by a loving God.
When this amazing passage on contentment closes I didn’t understand the connection when the writer wrote: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Now I do. To experience his sufficiency, you have to come to the end of yours. But most of us don’t’ even go there. We continue to strive at constructing our smaller stories.
To sum up Pauls’ words in Phil 4 in my own: Whatever the circumstances, I have learned to be content. I’ve quit comparing my story to others. I know there is more going on than what I see. God is weaving together His story, and I delight to be a part of it. I will seek God’s presence, purposes, and power in THIS place.
Bono the lead singer of U2 sings the words, “I have climbed the highest mountains. I have run through the fields. I run, I have crawled, I have scaled city walls. But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
I think that song, describes our culture today. How many people are searching, running, scaling, looking for something but not finding it. I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. And unfortunately many people think they’re going to find it in the accumulation of things…
But it’s found in stepping into God’ story for our lives.
Maybe you realize your possessions own you.
Maybe you’ve realized today, you’ve allowed the culture to squeeze you into its mold instead of allowing your life to be defined by God.
Maybe you’ve never drawn a line and said, “Enough.”
It’s found in realizing the thirst we exp. is a thirst for God and will only be satisfied in living, vital relationship with Him.
Maybe you’ve come to realize there’s more going on than meet the eye…and life is more than about possessions.
The contented life is not out of reach in modern day America. To live into it, however, will require we allow Jesus to define our lives, rather than our culture and step into the story he offers.
*This is the trqnscript of a sermon I preached at Faith Assembly on 4/17/11.