Our pastor shared an excellent message about contentment last Sunday. It tied into some things I was already thinking about, so I thought I’d explore the subject a little myself.
The Bible has quite a lot to say about it. It’s talked about directly in Philippians and other places. It’s the object of the tenth commandment against covetousness. And yet it’s something our Western culture is particularly bad at.
We like change, especially here in America (my native English culture is a little less enamoured of change for its own sake). We always want things to be getting better. We’ll vote in droves for anyone promising to make our situation better.
A lot of this is good and right. The idea of the possibility of progress is one of the great contributions of Western civilisation. Things don’t have to continue the way they’ve always been. We can improve things.
The flip-side of this is that we tend to focus on how bad things are now. If only we could pass this law, everything would get better.
Personally, too, we definitely suffer from the “if only”s. If only my job paid better… If only I had that big pickup truck I want… If only I had that house… If only…
The entire advertising industry is predicated on discontent. Their whole modus operandi is to make you dissatistied with what you have in order to induce you to buy their product.
This is why I’m more personally sceptical about the idea of believers working in advertising than I am about believers working in a brewery. Their whole job is to foist discontent on people.
Any believers actually working in advertising are welcome to offer a defence here.
Biblical contentment is not that we should put up with any and all maltreatment, poor wages and unsafe conditions in the name of being content with what we have, but it is putting a stop to the avaricious impulse to seat the source of our happiness in our money or our stuff.
There’s a sarcastic line from a Steve Taylor song: “I was poor, and all I wanted was money… I had money, and all I wanted was a little more money… I was filthy rich, and all I wanted was love – and a little more money”. Money (and the stuff it buys) is one of the few things that can get a hold of you before you get a hold of it.
One of my friends has a blog in which she touched on this under the imprint of modesty. The idea of modesty is not to excess. Without being exorbitant. Being content to have clothes, even if they aren’t brand labels. It’s a similar idea. Our stuff should not be what defines us and makes us happy. God has promised to see to it that we have enough. Discontent reveals a mistrust of His promises and an underlying unbelief in His goodness.
Part of our problem is that we persist in seeing “enough” in terms of stuff. I don’t have enough… Money. Clothes. Shoes. Designer-label T-shirts. Whatever.
But here’s a question. If you never had more than you currently do, would God still be good? Would He still be enough?
Sometimes I think we’re prisoners of our stuff more than we’re free in Jesus.
The one thing in Scripture we’re expressly told not to rest on what we have already about is becoming more like Jesus.
Materially, Jesus didn’t have a lot. He was a homeless person. No bank accounts, no gold or jewels.
But who could deny that really, He had everything. He knew the Father. He knew who He was and what He was there for.
As the Apostle Paul said about his own ministry and that of the other apostles: “poor, yet making many rich.”