Contentment in a World of Want

Greed is one of the many vices we grapple with as human beings. It seems a modern dilemma, but it is as old as time. We are blessed to be alive in the 21st Century in the developed world. With amazing medical advances, prosperity and technological advantages, we live longer and more comfortable lives than any other era. Despite all that we have, we continue to crave more, with many people living beyond their means.

A fool’s endeavour

There was a man who planted a tree. The rain nourished the tree and the man waited patiently as it grew.

Then, he chopped it down for wood. Half of it, he burned on a fire and it warmed his house. He baked bread over the fire, he ate and was satisfied. The other half, the man turned into an idol. He bowed down to the idol – the thing he had made with his own hands; from the same trunk that he had used to warm himself and cook.

What a fool! Isaiah 44 tells us that the man is utterly deluded – a man whose eyes are blind and who has no understanding.

But, are we so different today?

1 Corinthians 6 and Ephesians 5 tell us that to God, the greedy person is an idolater, just the same as if they worshipped a lump of wood. Their worship of material possessions is just as futile and foolish. Greed violates not only the last commandment – “You shall not covet”, but also the first – “You shall have no gods before me”.

Caring too much about things

The problem is that most of us are trained for greed.  From our earliest days, we are taught to want more, better, bigger, faster.

We are bombarded daily with the message that we do not have enough – that we need more. We fall into the trap of wanting more, despite feeling increasingly empty when we get the next new thing.

The solution is contentment

Paul tells us in Philippians 4 that he has learned the secret of contentment, whether in plenty or in want. In any situation, Jesus is enough. When Paul adds up the value of what he has, or could have, on one side of the ledger is Jesus. And Jesus is infinitely more valuable than anything you could possess. Paul already had the most valuable thing that he could imagine, he lacked nothing.

The solution to the problem of greed is contentment that in Jesus we have everything that we could ever need; more precious than any earthly thing.

This idea is as radically countercultural in the 21st Century as it was when Paul introduced it in the first century. To the world, it is foolishness. But as Jim Eliott puts it, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” 

Contentment and trust

We are called to be content with what we have in the present, and to trust God for the future. I think the richer and older we are, the harder it can be to find contentment.  We need to learn this early. The more money we have, the more we are tempted to think that we have almost discovered the secret of how much will make us content – just a little bit more.

We become ever more attached to the comforts and things of this world, rather than the glories of the next. The problem is, the more we chase self-sufficiency, the more futile it becomes. Only in Christ will we find our ‘enough’, and then, once we have found that, Christ alone is enough.

Jesus came that we might have life abundantly. Abundance is simply having everything that we need. With Jesus, we lack nothing. How blessed we are – not because of what the Lord has provided for us materially – but because we know and serve the Lord of the universe.

Learning to be content

I grew up in a loving Christian home. We had little and I learned the importance and value of saving early. Now, saving is a good and godly discipline, but I also learned to feel secure because of my savings, not because of Jesus. I thought that my money – after I had given an embarrassingly small portion to God’s work – was mine. I thought I was generous at that time, but I had missed contentment and generosity completely.

Learning to be content has been challenging. Learning to be generous, and to trust God as my provider even more so. It was only after I got married, to a woman with the wonderful gift of generosity and with a spirit of service and love of others, that I began to learn what real generosity looked like.

I wrote my Master’s thesis on the idea of contentment in the New Testament and how we can understand and pursue it, and I have spent years trying to understand how God’s word teaches us how we steward over $1 billion in savings for Christian Super’s members. And there are many days when I can honestly say I am content. But the secret of contentment is not yet nearly as deeply in my heart as I would like.

I’m often shocked that my heart is still so attached to worldly things. I know the Lord of the universe. The one who holds everything – everything – in the palm of his hand. The one who has promised me an eternal inheritance that will not fade, spoil or perish. And yet I confess, as others have, that I am scared that some day God might call me to give it all away.

Works in progress

I’m disappointed by the capacity that my heart has for coveting things that others have, rather than rejoicing with them. I’m still confronted by my tendency to fall back into thinking that things will be OK because I have some emergency savings, rather than trusting that God is my provider. I think I am at my most generous when I am at my most content; I’m at my least generous when I am most anxious and failing to trust God.

But God is working on me. I believe that a life of contentment and generosity is one of the most amazing witnesses that we have to the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus in a world that is never satisfied.

My goal is to pursue this countercultural contentment that I know will ultimately satisfy me. Ultimately, the battle for contentment in Christ is a battle that takes place in our hearts. Only God can change our hearts as we strive to honour, serve and follow Him. God doesn’t promise me a comfortable life; he doesn’t promise me earthly riches – he promises that if I am faithful, he will by grace welcome me into eternity with Him.

– By Tim Macready (Chief Investment Officer, Christian Super)