Cars, money, women, men, knowledge, relationships, careers, meaningful jobs, family – all of these things, which are not inherently bad (many of them inherently good, others indifferent) we use and we want so that we can be content, living a life where we feel alive. We look around at those people who have these things in plenty and we get jealous, comparing ourselves with them. This comparing can make us envious or depressed, because we also want to be content.
It may seem random – why is it that they get it all but I don’t? I work just as hard. Why is it that God blesses them but not me? Perhaps he doesn’t care about me. Perhaps he doesn’t love each person the same. Perhaps he doesn’t exist. Perhaps he does exist but couldn’t care less about anybody. Perhaps at the end of the day it’s just luck. Perhaps the best thing to do is tramp on others to get the contentment that I want. These are some of the things we think.
The surprising reality is that people who ‘have it all’ are not usually always happy. At best they are happy at least some of the time. But then the pressures of that career, the pressures of family, the pressures of maintaining wealth, the fears of losing all this stuff that everyone wants so dearly gets to them. Many a rich person has died bitter, angry, and unfulfilled.
If we believe in God at all and think him a tyrant for blessing some but not others, we ought to just take a step back and ask: did God ever promise to fulfill the American Dream? Was that ever in His agenda? Or was that an expectation we put on Him due to our culture and the prevailing philosophy of the world?
We have to be careful we’re not expecting God to do things for us He never promised He would. And we have to step back and think: If God did not promise to fulfill the American Dream, why not? Is it because he doesn’t care for our contentment? Or is it because He knows something we don’t? What if he cares about our contentment and joy so much that He promised something better than the American Dream? What if there is something else we’re supposed to be pursuing in this life? And if so, what is that something else?
In my own struggles with disappointment with God and asking Him these sorts of questions I have stumbled, or rather been led, into what I believe is the secret of contentment: God Himself. That statement might seem absurd or narrow or just plain boring to you. But I assure you it isn’t.
Most of us know that when Jesus died on the cross He took all of His sins upon us so that we would not be judged negatively for those sins; so that if we put our trust in Him then He will take our sins away and cast them into the Sea of Forgetfulness, because justice for those sins has already been carried out on Jesus.
But what does that mean for contentment? What does that mean for my joy? Well, it means two things:
1) I live with a clean conscience. A clean conscience is actually an amazing gift. No longer do I feel guilty about anything. And, best of all, I’m being shaped and formed by His Spirit living in me to stop doing those things that are against my conscience.
2) I now have access to a better gift than cars, women, or even family and relationships – the Presence of God, the source of all joy (Psalm 16:11).
God created joy and pleasure. Where He exists is where joy and pleasure exist to their utmost. Whether I have plenty or don’t, I have joy because I can have His presence. All I’ve got to do is ask for it and wait for Him, and He will come.
This is indeed the greater gift. While many a rich person has died unhappy, many a poor man hasn’t, such as a man like Francis of Assisi or many other such people who cast away the American Dream and sought a better Dream – the ongoing presence of God in their lives, in their heart, in their relationships, and in everything they do. The secret of contentment is this: God. And that is what God came to give us.
Sure, I know there is something called the Prosperity Gospel which has convinced many a Christian that God’s central purpose in everything is to fulfill the American Dream, hand things out to us like a supreme Father Christmas who gives gifts based on our performance and doesn’t know how to make us feel as if we’re truly happy but only knows how to put a temporary smile on our face through so-called blessing after blessing, until one day we die and we can’t take any of that stuff with us.
There is a greater Treasure out there to find, a Pearl of Great Price. That treasure is the secret of contentment and that treasure is the one we are to pursue all our days. (Matt 13: 44-46)
Let’s not look to others in a shade of green. We ought not to compare ourselves with others. We can have our own special relationship with God through Jesus. And I can promise you this: Joy will always come when one seeks God. So finally, we can have joy in our circumstances, which is God’s promise, rather than joy because of our circumstances.