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The Secret of Contentment

The secret of contentment

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.

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Simplicity is sweeter

The world around us constantly drives an attitude of discontent into us. It always insists we should want more and always makes as if someone who lacks the ambition to have more is a loser or not to be praised.

That’s the world. However, the Holy Spirit says something different in 1 Tim 6.

6 Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

Something of this want to have more has also crept into teachings in the church, most visible in something known as the “prosperity gospel”, which I’m not a fan of.

Our lives are very much a seeking for contentment, happiness and joy — and there is nothing wrong with us seeking these things! The problem is that the world says we can find them in what it has to offer: lots of money, lots of property, lots of cars, lots of stuff, lots of girls / guys, lots of sex, lots of fame, even lots of knowledge. And we believe it.

1 Tim 6 is referring specifically to finances, offering something counter-cultural and hardly praised by man: contentment with your lot.

Of course, when one looks at the poor it may be a little unfair to say to them that they must be ‘content’ with their hunger or whatever, but that really is a different story altogether. For those who are not poor, contentment with the basics – simplicity – is better than discontent and the need to always have, and have more.

However, the quest for contentment can actually come to its end pretty easily. Contentment, true contentment, is actually found in Christ Jesus. In Philippians 2 Paul talks about how he now considers everything he gained as ‘rubbish’ so that he may gain Christ. Clearly he knew there was a treasure far greater that everything the world offers us.

Contentment, peace and joy knocks at the door – but will we let Him in? Or will we be too busy gazing (or rather, coveting) out the back window at our neighbour’s house?

Like the scripture says – those who pursue the riches of this world pierce themselves with many pangs. It’s not worth it.

Truth be told, there really is no need for someone who earns two million a year to live much differently to someone who earns, say, R400,000 a year or thereabouts. Those who earn more just have more to give, really, but the pursuit of stuff will get no one anywhere in the quest for contentment and joy.

Simplicity really is sweeter – and a lot less complicated.

Those who pursue Christ will find much more than they even dreamed. Yeah, it’s tough, but finding true treasure takes a lot of digging and a lot of getting dirty – but it’s always worth it!

Ah, it feels so great, so sweet, to be content 🙂

Here is a brilliant comment my wife says with regards to this: “Detox your material system!” Lol, brilliant!