Warning: in_array() [function.in-array]: Wrong datatype for second argument in /home/content/04/6821604/html/wp-content/plugins/wordpress-mobile-pack/frontend/sections/show-rel.php on line 65

Archive for Contentment

Jun
10

The Profession of Contented People

Posted by: | Comments (0)

Contentment

Over the past four weeks I have been teaching a series on contentment. Up to this point, the texts we’ve used have commended contentment as a desirable trait to possess. The text in Hebrews, however, takes a more direct line and commands that we be content. Here it is.

Don’t love money; be satisfied (content, NIV) with what you have. For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The LORD is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6, NLT)

The writer of Hebrews is straightforward and plain spoken. We can be free from the love of money and be content with what we have in light of the surpassing greatness of the power and presence of God. When God becomes the all surpassing value of our lives, that value subordinates all other values and allows us to confess three things.

1. The Lord is My Helper. There is a somewhat obscure story in the book of Genesis that illustrates this perfectly. In the 14th chapter, Abram’s nephew Lot and the citizens of Sodom had been captured by a coalition of five invading kings and their armies. One of Lot’s servants escaped and reported the news to Abram, who gathered his 318 elite warriors and set off to retrieve the captives. Abram’s venture is successful, and the citizens of Sodom are rescued along with their possessions which had been taken as the spoils of war. Wishing to show his gratitude, the king of Sodom offered the salvaged plunder to Abram as a reward for his daring rescue operation. Abram’s response is quotable. “I solemnly swear to the Lord, God most high, creator of heaven and earth, that I will not take so much as a single thread or sandal thong from what belongs to you. Otherwise, you might say, ‘I am the one who made Abram rich’.” (Genesis 14:22-23, NLT) Contented people have a high view of God and recognize that he is the source of their lives.

2. I will have no fear. Proverbs 1:7 says, “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge.” When the fear of the Lord is absent from our lives, we become slaves to lesser fears. Contented people become free from fear, not through courage or bravery, but by elevating their estimation of God.

3. What can mere people do to me? I like the use of the word “mere.” It’s a superlative of British origin. Jesus taught his disciples not to fear people who can destroy our bodies, but to fear the one who can destroy both the body and soul in hell (Matthew 10:28).

As you’ve already recognized, the common theme through these confessions is a high value of God. When we have elevated God to his rightful place and esteem him above all in greatness, the exaltation of Christ in our minds subordinates all other things including our fears and the things that are threatening. Finding contentment in your life will only come when we estimate God in that regard. On the surface, our discontentment appears to be a problem we have with material things. But peeling back the layers to the root of the matter reveals that its not a matter of valuing things too highly. Its a matter of not valuing God highly enough.

Categories : Contentment
Comments (0)
Jun
04

Dump and Chase

Posted by: | Comments (0)

Contentment

When we lived in St. Louis I followed the St. Louis Blues hockey team. I had never been exposed to hockey and was trying to learn the rules to the game and the offensive and defensive strategies the teams employed. The local sports talking heads described the Blues offensive attack as “dump and chase,” which I understood to mean the players shot the puck deep into the offensive zone and chased it. I’m sure it was a little more complicated than that.

I thought about the Blues and their dump and chase offense as I prepared last week’s sermon. In the context of contentment, Paul instructed Timothy that there were things he needed to flee from (dump) and things he needed to pursue (chase).

But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness (1 Timothy 6:9-11, NLT).

Contentment is not singularly a material problem. Its a spiritual one. The desires that captivate us are to be resisted, but resistance alone will not help us develop contentment. We have to pursue the right stuff in order to obtain the goal.

Categories : Contentment
Comments (0)
Jun
03

The Benefit of of Being Content

Posted by: | Comments (0)

Contentment

The first century Stoics viewed contentment as the state of being freely independent; self sustained and self contained without any external influences. Paul Christianized that thought, asserting that contentment was those same things in the context of a relationship with Jesus Christ. In Christ we find the strength to do what we need to do (Philippians 4:13) and we have the resources to have what we need to have (Philippians 4:19). So what is the value of finding contentment?

Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content (1 Timothy 6:6-8, NLT).

Paul’s words to Timothy are straight forward. Godliness + contentment = great wealth, or in the NIV, “great gain.” I understand godliness as a person’s desire to please Christ, glorify Christ, and obey all of the words that he commanded. When that is added to contentment, a person is indeed wealthy. There are two reasons why this is genuinely profitable.

The first reason is that we will take nothing material with us from the world at the time of death. The reality of death clarifies much for us. Death reminds us that material gain is irrelevant, and greed is irrational. It has been said that life is a journey lived between two states of nakedness. Job articulated that truth first, when he said “naked I came from the womb, and naked I will return” (Job 1:21).

I came across an anecdotal story about a minister who officiated the funeral service of an elderly woman. After the funeral a person approached the minister and asked, “How much did she leave behind?” The minister wisely replied, “She left it all.” So will we.

The second reason Paul offered to Timothy is that we should and can be content with the basic necessities of life. The phrase “food and clothing” was intense to be inclusive of all of life’s necessities. His words echo the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:25-34). If we have what we need, we are complete. That verse is special to me, because it is the verse from Scripture that encouraged me to pursue graduate work. I didn’t go to seminary until I was 33 years old. I was in a large full time position in St. Louis, and was financially stable. I had a wife and two small children. The financial security of that position made it hard for me to take that step of obedience, but God assured me that he would take care of me, and that I could be content with my basic needs because He would be with me and my family.

My friend Cliff always says, “Not everything that can be counted counts.” It’s true. Godliness mixed with contentment is great wealth.

Categories : Contentment
Comments (0)

Contentment

How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty. As you know, you Philippians were the only ones who gave me financial help when I first brought you the Good News and then traveled on from Macedonia. No other church did this. Even when I was in Thessalonica you sent help more than once. I don’t say this because I want a gift from you. Rather, I want you to receive a reward for your kindness. At the moment I have all I need—and more! I am generously supplied with the gifts you sent me with Epaphroditus. They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God. And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Now all glory to God our Father forever and ever! Amen. (Philippians 4:10-20, NLT)

Paul not only claimed to be content, he argued in this passage that he learned how to be content. And it would stand to reason that if he could learn it, so can we. It has been said that experience is the best teacher. Contentment isn’t learned in the lecture hall, but in the laboratory of life. Our youth director calls them, “perspective driven experiences.” So what did Paul’s experiences reveal to him?

First, his experiences taught him that contentment does not come from external circumstances. For example, Paul penned the letter to the Philippian congregation from prison. Even though he is incarcerated, he referenced joy and rejoicing some 14 times in this very epistle.

Second, Paul’s experiences taught him that contentment does not come from material things. Everyone loves a good “rags to riches” story. Paul’s experience was in the reverse. In Philippians 3 he talks about his stellar beginning in life as a Pharisee. His resume was quite impressive. He had the right pedigree, the best education, and even went so far as to claim that he never violated the Old Testament law. Then he met Christ. His experience with Christ led him through shipwrecks, beatings, privation and poverty, as well as prison. Through all of that he learned that what he possessed was not his source of contentment. If that was true, those who have the most should be the most content. And I think we can agree, that simply isn’t true.

Finally, Paul’s experiences taught him that contentment cannot be based upon human relationships. First century prison was not like our modern day prison systems, where prisoners are provided clothing, medical care, recreation, and three square meals. Prison in the first century was simply confinement. If a prisoner was to eat, someone from the outside had to provide the food. If a prisoner needed clothing, again, someone on the outside would have to deliver the clothes. The book of Philippians is a thank you note that Paul wrote to the Church for their provision for his personal needs. But he didn’t base his contentment on their gift or their reliable support. In fact, he refused to even give them credit for their gifts. He encouraged them by telling them that their support was a critical part of their Christian growth and maturity.

Like Paul, we find contentment in and through the experiences of everyday life. May we have the grace to see it as clearly as Paul did!

Categories : Contentment
Comments (0)
May
28

The Pathway to Contentment

Posted by: | Comments (0)

Contentment

Are you content?

Before you answer that question, you have to interpret the meaning of contentment. Generally that question falls on our ears as “Are you happy?” or “Are you satisfied?” Any dictionary from your bookshelf will confirm that hunch, affirming that contentment is “the state of being happy or satisfied.” But in my opinion, the Bible takes a different approach to the meaning of the word content.

When the Bible speaks of being content, its referring to being “self contained, self sustained, and freely independent.” The clearest example is God himself. In Exodus 3 we read of Moses’ familiar conversation with God at the burning bush. During the course of the talk, Moses asked God to reveal his name, to which God replied, “I AM THAT I AM.” When God referenced himself as the “I AM,” he was explaining that he existed in and of himself; that he needed nothing outside of himself to exist. God is the ultimate contented being. He is self contained, self sustained, and freely independent. He is who he is within himself.

So let me ask again, are you content?

In the book of Philippians, the apostle Paul claimed that he had found contentment. The most helpful thing he offers in that confession is that he had learned to be content. Being content, for Paul and all of us for that matter, doesn’t just magically happen to us. It’s not a gift nor is it a personality trait. If we are going to find contentment in life, we have to learn it.

Tomorrow I’ll share some specific things that Paul learned about how he learned to be content.

Categories : Contentment
Comments (0)

Contentment

Before we can get a grip on managing our desires we have to first understand how desire works. The reformers gave some consideration to this and proposed the following helpful framework.

First, we become aware of a desire. I won’t spend any time on discussing where the desire originates because I’m not sure its cut and dried. The desire may come from an external place, or it may be something that has been aroused from some deep seeded place in our hearts. Whether its one or the other or a combination of both, we become aware of a desire.

Second, you nurture the desire by adding value to it. The problem is not the look, its the second look. When we become aware of a desire, we either add value to it or devalue it.

Third, after you add value to the desire your will becomes engaged and becomes surrendered to the desire. Instead of managing your desires, your desire begins to manage you.

Fourth, you begin to develop a plan to gratify the desire. You look for opportunities that will fulfill the desire. In addition to this, you justify the desire in your own mind, and maybe to those around you.

Finally, you act on the plan. Your desire is fulfilled in deed.

This pattern is seen over and over in the Bible. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; Achan who stole the plunder following the battle of Jericho; David’s adulterous sin with Bathsehba; Judas betrayal of Jesus…the examples are numerous.

So how do we get a handle on our desires?

1. Fill your life with God. Any emptiness we have longs to be filled, and that emptiness sees significance and security. When the empty place in our life is filled with God, unhealthy desire is pushed aside because we have found satisfaction in Christ.

2. Cultivate thankfulness for what you have and for the people around you. The discontented heart believes that God isn’t good and that God isn’t fair. The discontented heart believes that God is withholding blessings and benefits. Thankfulness humbly acknowledges that what we have comes from another source. And you’ll know that you’re truly thankful when you can sincerely rejoice when others are blessed.

3. Keep an eternal perspective.
An eternal perspective is convinced that God is owner and we are mere stewards or managers of all that has been entrusted to us. Alongside this basic stewardship principle is the conviction that all things are transient. Nothing we possess is permanent.

4. Nothing will help keep desire in check like serving and sharing.
When we serve others and share our possessions with others, we loosen our grip. Its not possible to have clenched fists and contented hearts.

Categories : Contentment
Comments (0)
May
14

The Problem with Contentment

Posted by: | Comments (0)

Contentment

Why is it that we have more of everything than we’ve ever had, yet are relatively less content than former generations? Why is it that we are more bored with life and all of its accessories than children in third world countries who only have rocks and sticks to play with? We know that the grass is not really greener on the other side of the fence, yet our behaviors betray that confession. I believe we all want to be content, but why is it so elusive?

Advertising is an easy target for blame. After all, its the job of marketing and advertising directors to create desire that will lead to a sale. Advertising has become seductive, leading us to believe that the things we may want are actually needs that we have, and if we don’t have our needs met through the item that is offered, our lives will be incomplete. We won’t be able to keep up with the Jones family and our grass will lack that deep emerald hue.

Our inability to find contentment lies in our inability to understand and govern our desires. And that’s an age old problem that was addressed all the way back to the tenth commandment in Exodus. “You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17, NLT).

The essence of this commandment is not to prohibit desire. We have been created to desire and its a God given part of our nature. In fact, the word translated covet in this verse is neutral and is translated as the word desire in other parts of the Old Testament. For example, Psalm 37:4 states, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.”
In the Hebrew language, covet and desire are the exact same word. So the issue isn’t desire, per se. The tenth commandment has to do with desire that becomes obsession. It has to do with too much desire. When you’re hungry you desire to eat food. But if that desire is not managed, the desire for food can lead you to obesity.

But its not just desire for objects. The tenth commandment has a relational component. If you think about it, the people of Israel who heard these words didn’t have malls or car lots to see things that would foster desire. All they had to look at was their stuff and their neighbor’s stuff. So we may not be as prone to want our neighbor’s car or boat, because we can go get one exactly like it if we have the means. What seems to be the issue today is wanting our neighbor’s lifestyle. We compare ourselves to those around us as a point of reference and that becomes the standard of measurement to determine if we’re “winning” or “losing.”

Ultimately, the concern with desire is this: unchecked desire will be acted upon. If we do not govern our desires, we will, sooner or later, align our behaviors with our desires, whatever they are. Our appetites only know two things, more and now. That’s why we need to learn how to manage them. If we don’t, we’ll never find contentment.

Tomorrow I’ll post how desire works in our lives and will offer some helpful advice on what to do about it.

Categories : Contentment
Comments (0)
May
08

Jesus on Worry

Posted by: | Comments (0)

Contentment

On Sunday I tried a pulpit experiment. I asked our congregation to take out their cell phones and to text me in one or two words what they were worried about. Within one minute my phone “blew up,” and I received about 50 texts from our members. Their list of worries could be categorized as follows: retirement, money, health, and family.

What we see we desire and those desires shape our hearts. Our hearts become inclined to treasures that we in turn serve. And when we have treasures to serve, it stands to reason that we will worry about how to please our treasure and we worry if our exalted treasures will be there for us in our time of need. No wonder Jesus addressed worry in the next paragraph of the Sermon on the Mount.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is! No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs” (Matthew 6:25-32, NLT).

Jesus described the futility of worry in the verses you just read. His counsel is that we can be free from worry by trusting God who already knows our needs.

Years ago I went to my dentist for my six month check up. During the check up he swabbed “cavity indicator” on my teeth. He explained that the cavity indicator would reveal tooth decay that was not visible to the naked eye. This cavity indicator is called a reagent. A reagent is a chemical compound applied to a system to determine whether or not something is present. Worry, according to Jesus, is a reagent. It indicates when I lack trust in God. When I worry, I am not just worrying about my needs, I am, how ever unintentional it may be, confessing that I do not trust God to care for me.

Jesus concludes this thought with this challenge. “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matthew 6:33-34, NLT).

Jesus said that its God’s job to care for me and my needs. My job is to focus on the Kingdom of God and to live righteously. Believe it or not, God cares about our lives more than we do. Whatever you are worried about today, God cares about it more than you do. Will you have enough money to retire? Will you have enough income to meet your monthly obligations? Will your marriage survive? Will you kids turn out ok? Are you going to have to face a major health issue? God cares about those things more than you do. And if you can trust him to do it, he’ll provide for your needs. Our job is to seek the Kingdom and to live righteously.

Categories : Contentment
Comments (0)

Contentment

I think Jesus’ most helpful words concerning contentment are found in the Sermon on the Mount. Upon examination of these verses, it would appear that Jesus is giving three independent thoughts. But something larger is at work. I want to break down the three thoughts and then help synthesize them into Jesus’ point.

1. Your heart will follow your treasures.
“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be”. (Matthew 6:19-21, NLT)

We can easily understand that treasures are things of great value. The word conjures up images like jewelry, gems or gold that people pursue like pirates with a treasure map. But there’s something deeper going on than valuables. We value treasures, but then make them our identity and find security in them. Your heart will follow your treasure, whatever it is.

2. Your desires and wants will influence your heart.
“Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!” (Matthew 6:22-23, NLT)

Jesus understood culture then and he understands it now. We want what we see. As I think about it, I don’t ever think about buying new clothes until I go to the mall. Then I want all kinds of shirts, slacks and shoes. I don’t ever think about buying a new car, but if I start hanging around car lots, look out! Whatever we take in through our eyes informs our hearts and shapes our wants and desires.

3. You will serve your treasures.
“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24, NLT)

Whatever we treasure will become the object of our worship and service. While we think we can have it both ways, serving God and serving our treasures, Jesus plainly said its just not possible. He didn’t say we shouldn’t serve both. He said we can’t.

So how does all of this fit together? Whatever we give our attention to will shape the desires of our hearts, which will establish the treasures that we value and will ultimately serve. And when our treasures are established as the object of our worship and service, we will worry. That’s tomorrow’s post.

Categories : Contentment
Comments (1)
May
06

The Man Who Needed Nothing

Posted by: | Comments (0)

Contentment

Half of my overseas travel has been to third world countries for some kind of missions project. One thing I’ve noticed about the people we served was the sense of contentment they enjoyed, especially among the children. Seeing children play with rocks and sticks, flat soccer balls, and whatever else they could pick up off the ground was amazing. They giggled, squealed, laughed and squealed like any well adjusted child. They just didn’t need stuff to have a good time. Such is the composition of the Kingdom of God. I read last week that a four year old laughs 26.6 times per day more than adults. No wonder Jesus preferred children to adults.

Last Sunday I began a new series of sermons on the subject of contentment. The goal of this series is to aid in understanding contentment so we can learn to be content. But contentment is not the end game. The end game is the peace, joy, and freedom that comes alongside contentment. That’s where the money is. Over the course of the next few weeks I’ll work toward a definition of contentment, but here in the beginning I want to clarify what contentment is not. Contentment is not complacency in the face of things that should be changed. Neither is contentment mediocrity, acquiescence or passive resignation. Contentment comes from God, and is convinced that his provision is enough for my physical and material needs. It affirms that God’s presence is enough for my emotional needs. It believes that his providence is perfect for all of my future needs. And we find it in Jesus.

Jesus is our clearest and best example of contentment. He also happens to be our best resource for finding contentment. He was unusual in that he needed nothing. Jesus, for example, never asked anyone for advice, nor did he take advice. Jesus did not need shelter, living his three year ministry as a functional homeless man. He did not have a need for money or material possessions. He did not own private transportation. Jesus did not need to have respectable parents or a respectable hometown. He did not need a prestigious education. Jesus did need food and clothing. Other than that, he lived free of the encumbrance of material possessions. Needing things or owning things were not a high priority for Jesus. We cannot omit that feature of his life as we look to him as an example for living.

So how did Jesus accomplish this? The secret is not just in his relationship to material things. The secret is his perspective and understanding of things. And the best information he offers is found in the Sermon on the Mount. Check back tomorrow and I’ll explain how Jesus unpacked his perspective so we can better understand contentment.

Categories : Contentment
Comments (0)