Blogs (Faith), Life-Ecstatic (Faith)

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.

Blogs (Faith), Life-Ecstatic (Faith)

Work (Pt 1): A New Approach

work and grapesThis is the first part in a little series of posts I’m going to do about WORK, the thing we do every day and spend most of our lives actually doing.

I hope it’s edifying. As far as I’m concerned the way we view work can really affect the joy in our lives. Work can bring us anxiety, fear, paranoia about our life going nowhere, foolish pride, and a whole host of things that hopefully I’ll cover effectively. Meanwhile, God intends for work to be a joy in our lives. That’s right, a joy. Regardless of what we’re doing.

That doesn’t mean work is meant to replace the joy in our lives — in other words, become our one and only joy. In fact, when it does, then the joy that it can bring us disappears under a layer of selfish ambitions, anxiety about what others think of our work, anxiety about our career, and anxiety whether our lives carry any meaning whatsoever.

Let’s start at the beginning: where work comes from.

God Said It Was Good

God began creation by working. He is the first worker, the first one who worked. And it looks like He took great joy in what He did. Genesis 1 and 2 shows a joyful God who takes pleasure in His work – creation. He calls creation ‘good’ a number of times. Then he creates man and takes pleasure in man as well. He rests on the ‘seventh day’ to indicate that work, too, is not all there is. There is also rest and just enjoying the fruits of labour. The seventh day obviously points towards many other things as well, but for the purpose of this blog we’ll stick to this for now.

On the sixth day, when man was created, God tells man to work.

Genesis 1: 28 – 31
And God blessed them [man]. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Genesis 2: 5 – 8
When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground… then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.

Man was created to work the earth – to take care of it, nurture it, and subdue it. It’s only after the Fall of Man (Gen 3) that work becomes a curse, when it now becomes something of a toil. Gen 3:17 says the ground is cursed and in painful toil we will eat of it, all the days of our lives.

Work was never meant to be a toil, but it is now. However, there is hope. We were created to work and it was a blessing only when we were in fellowship with God. In Jesus Christ, God has restored our fellowship to Himself, meaning that there is a restoration (a salvation) of what we were originally intended to be. Part of this is a restoration of work, where work itself is redeemed in a way. What God gives us is His joy within the work, so that we can undergo the toil and labour of it with a joy still in our hearts.

This has a number of implications, which we’ll look into deeper as we go along.

(1) If God created work, it must be good. If we were created to work, we must work, and in doing so we do one of the things we were made to do – regardless of what we are doing. So menial jobs carry a greater meaning. Also, the point of life is not to try and do whatever we can to stop working. We must work, despite our bank balance.
(2) Work will always be a toil – regardless of what we’re doing. The idea that work can bring us the ultimate joy, purpose and adventure we seek in life is a myth. Work is unable to do that for us.
(3) We needn’t be anxious because God is the one who supplies our needs. He is the redeemer, redeeming our work from its futility and making something out of it.

Work is not our primary purpose and it never was our primary purpose. Knowing God is. But yet we were created to work, so work is a natural thing, it’s part of what man is about, and we don’t work to stop working – we work for many other reasons, which we’ll cover in this series.

Some of these points above may seem contradictory but we’ll iron out the contradictions as we go along. Hopefully, future posts will be shorter too!