Are you content?
- Larry Burkett Co-CEO of Crown Financial Ministries
- 1999 16 Jul
(1 Timothy 6:6).
One of the great mysteries of Christianity is contentment. At least one must presume it is a mystery, because so few people have found it. Actually, contentment is an attitude.
There are many people who seemingly have little or no regard for material possessions. They accept poverty as a normal living condition, and their major concern is in which doorway to sleep. Are they living lives of contentment? Hardly so, because that description aptly fits the winos found in the bowery of New York. In contrast are the affluent who have the best our society has to offer at their disposal. Their homes are the community showplaces, their summer "cottages" are actually small hotels, and their automobiles cost more than most families' houses. Does their abundance guarantee contentment? Considering the amount of alcohol they consume and the tranquilizers they take, it's hard to imagine this group is any more "content" than the previous one.
If money can't buy it and poverty doesn't provide it, what is contentment? Contentment, contrary to popular opinion, is not being satisfied with what you have. It is knowing God's plan for your life, having the conviction to live it, and believing that God's peace is greater than the world's problems.
The difficulty is that we get so involved in the day-to-day activities of earning a living and raising a family that we forget our real purpose: to serve God. Consequently, the trivial problems, such as buying a new car or attaining a higher position, begin to crowd our conscious minds and God's plan becomes an abstract goal rather than our focus. "Others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, and the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful" (Mark 4:18-19).
Christians get trapped into a discontented life by adopting worldly goals. These goals always boil down to more...bigger...best. Scripture defines them as indulgence, greed, and pride. Often successful Christians come to the Lord out of desperation when they realize that their lives are characterized by fear and anxiety and the accumulation of assets has not alleviated the fear. For a while after accepting Christ as Savior, there is peace and a real desire to commit everything to God. Unfortunately, since most other Christians are living "natural" lives, the tendency is to fall back into the same old routine, only now rationalizing that it is "serving the Lord." The evidence to the contrary is a lack of peace, the absence of spiritual growth, and a growing doubt about God. Satan's ploy is to use the riches of the world to keep people away from God's salvation. If that fails, he simply uses it to steer them away from God's path.
In our society it is not normal to "step down." Once a certain level of income (or spending) has been attained, it is considered a failure to step down. Even in the face of certain disaster, the image must be maintained. Families that suffer a job loss will continue to maintain their style of living through debt rather than risk the stigma of failure. Others who have felt God's leading to reduce their lifestyle fail to respond because of social status pressure.
Is the concept of conservation and moderation really a loser's attitude? Not according to biblical standards. Contentment cannot be achieved without personal discipline. "No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things, and they were scoffing at Him" (Luke 16:13-14). "And He said to them, 'Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions' " (Luke 12:15).
THE DANGER OF ABUNDANCE
The majority of warnings in Christ's messages were to the wealthy, not to the poor. In poverty, the issue is usually black or white, honesty or dishonesty. In affluence, it is much more subtle. In America I believe nearly everyone would be graded as wealthy by any biblical standard. Our anxieties and worries are not related to the lack of things but rather to the loss of things. Many, if not most, Christians inwardly fear they might lose what they have acquired (materially). Therefore, they compromise God's best in their lives to hang on to the very way of life that brought so much worry and turmoil before they met the Lord. This does not necessarily mean surrendering the assets; it means being willing to.
GOD'S PLAN FOR CONTENTMENT
Although many Scriptures teach about the dangers of material riches, God's Word does not teach that poverty is the alternative. God wants us to understand that money is a tool to use in accomplishing His plan through us. For Christians ever to find true contentment, some basic guidelines must be established.
- Establish a reasonable standard of living. Just having the surplus does not mean that it's all right to use it as we want. "So is the man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:21). It is important to develop a lifestyle based on conviction, not circumstance. "Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness" (2 Peter 3:11). Since there is no universal plan that is suitable for everyone, this must be a standard established among husband, wife, and God. Obviously, God will assign Christians at every economic tier. If God's plan is at the upper tier, there will be a purpose for the abundance and a ministry through it. Just having an abundance is not a sign of God's blessings. Satan can easily duplicate any worldly riches. God's riches are without sorrow and for bringing others to salvation. A disciplined lifestyle with an abundance is more of a witness than the abundance could ever be.
- Establish a habit of giving. Above the tithe God wants Christians to be involved with the needs of others. "The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me' " (Matthew 25:40). There is no better way to appreciate what we have than to observe those who truly have needs. Every Christian family should be directly involved with the needs of another family. There are many Christian organizations that act as a funnel for such funds. If you can't be personally involved, this is the best alternative. With millions of people literally starving in the world today, the rewards are saved lives as well as souls. "At this present time your abundance being a supply for their want, that their abundance also may become a supply for your want, that there may be equality; as it is written, 'He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack' " (2 Corinthians 8: 14-15).
- Establish priorities. Many Christians are discontented, not because they aren't doing well but because others are doing better. "Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, 'I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you' " (Hebrews 13:5). Too often we let the urgent things take priority over the important things. Virtually every get-rich-quick scheme is directed at those who have not established firm priorities. They imply that more money is the way to glorify God, and it is a failure not to have every desire met. This is the same attitude that Paul admonished in 1 Corinthians 4:7-21. Paul's priorities were established according to God's plan for his life, and it didn't happen to include the accumulation of money. If spiritual and family priorities were considered before financial desires, few Christians would get involved with "free time" money schemes. Most of the "free time" is actually robbed from the Lord and the family. It is interesting that most of these promotion plans try to involve both husband and wife; it is not because they think she will add appreciably to sales but because she won't complain as much. Only the kids get slighted, and they don't know how to complain (until they get to be about 15).
- Develop a thankful attitude.It is remarkable that in America we could ever think that God has failed us materially. It is only possible by comparison, which is one of Satan's primary tools. "If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic" (James 3:14-15). The primary defense against this attitude is praise to God. Satan uses lavishness and waste to create discontent and selfish ambition. Why else would we drive ourselves to acquire more than we need or can logically use and, in the process, destroy our health, families, and usefulness to God? Thankfulness is a state of mind, not an accumulation of assets. Until we can truly thank God for what we have and be willing to accept that as God's provision for our lives, contentment never will be possible.
- Reject a fearful spirit. Another tool of Satan is the question "What if?" Dedicated Christians get trapped into hoarding because they fear the "What if?" of retirement, disability, unemployment, or economic collapse. Obviously, God wants us to consider these things and even plan for them, within reason. But when fear dictates to the point that giving to God's work is hindered, foolish risks are assumed and worry becomes the norm rather than the exception. Contentment is impossible. A Christian must consciously reject this attitude of fear. It may be necessary to face the fear to claim God's victory. If the fear is a lack of surplus, it may be necessary to live without it in order to conquer it.
Seek God's will for you. "More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ" (Philippians 3:8).
Stand up to the fear. "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13).
Trust God's promise. "The peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7).