We live in a materialistic society. Everywhere you turn there are people telling you what you need or what you can buy to make you “happy”. It may be a new form of exercise (with three easy payments), a way to cook food that will be more beneficial to your health (more easy payments), a new vehicle (no money down), a pill that will change your life (certain side effects may apply), a new job (with better pay or hours) or a new program of some kind (it will transform your life).
We are so inundated with the material that many of us suffer from the W-A-N-T disease. Our lives are filled with frustration because anytime we are able to secure one thing, it seems that we need another. It is an endless treadmill.
Chuck Swindol says most people suffer from the “If Only” disease
If only I had more money
If only I could make better grades
If only I owned a nicer home
If only we hadn’t made that bad investment
If only I hadn’t come from such a bad background
If only she would have stay married to me
If only our Pastor were a stronger preacher
If only my child were able to walk
If only we could have children
If only we didn’t have children
If only the business could have succeeded
If only my husband hadn’t died so young
If only I would’ve said “No” to drugs
If only they had given me a break
If only I hadn’t had that accident
If only we could get back on our feet
If only he would ask me out
If only my folks hadn’t divorced
If only I had more friends.
There are two ways of looking at the world: as our way to happiness; or as a blessing from God. The way we choose to view the world will determine what we do and how we feel about life. One way leads to greed and frustration, the other leads to gratitude and contentment.
Let me read you a great quote from Bill Hybels,
It is our generation, after all, that has been named the Me Generation. It was the eighties that saw greed elevated to the status of a bug-eyed idol. Fewer and fewer decisions were made on the basis of values, morals, and a sense of justice. Instead, answers came wrapped around appetites. Does this fulfill my needs? Does it satisfy my sexual hunger? Quench my thirst for more? Feed my lust for power? The key adjective was “my.” Our role model switched from Mother Teresa to Madonna. The message was clear: indulge, satiate, pursue pleasures without restraint. Self-interest was not only tolerated, but actively promoted and encouraged. Entire industries, such as advertising and glamour modeling, sprouted in the fertile soil of such unblushing self-centeredness. We have been taught the lesson over and over again: More for me is better for me. The world be damned.
And it has been The Me First mindset has led our society to the verge of internal collapse. Escapism, perversion, AIDS, unwanted pregnancies, violence, political scandal, and family breakups are all symptoms of our modern-day madness, our obsession with Me.
This is what we are going to talk about today. How do we combat the greed of our world and find the contentment that God commends? Soren Kierkegaard, a famous theologian once said,
The trouble with life is that we understand it backward,
But we have to live it forwards.
What that means is that we don’t really understand what is important until we look back on life. As we lay on our deathbed we have a much clearer picture of what was truly important in life. You don’t hear people say: “I wish I had worked more” or “I wish I had spent (or even made) more money”. Instead people say: “I wish I had taken more time with my family”; “I wish I had taken time for a deeper relationship with the Lord” or “I wish I had spent more time helping my children grow in faith”. We need God’s help to see life clearly before it has past us by.
The Causes of Discontentment
Listen to what Proverbs tells us about the reasons we lack contentment.
11:6, 26 6 The godliness of good people rescues them;
the ambition of treacherous people traps them.
People curse those who hoard their grain,
but they bless the one who sells in time of need.
27:20 Just as Death and Destruction are never satisfied,
so human desire is never satisfied.
30:15-16 15 The leech has two suckers that cry out, “More, more!”
There are three things that are never satisfied—
no, four that never say, “Enough!”:
16 the grave, the barren womb, the thirsty desert, the blazing fire.
Ambition can trap us. There is nothing wrong with being motivated in life. However, when ambition becomes your life, you are in trouble. We become driven to gain more and more and we begin to measure our worth on the basis of what we have or the title we achieve, or the awards that are given. I love this familiar story.
A businessman bought popcorn from an old street vendor each day after lunch. He once arrived to find the peddler closing up his stand at noon. “Is something wrong?” he asked.
A smile wrinkled the seller’s leathery face. “By no means. All is well”
“Then why are you closing your popcorn stand?
So I can go to my house, sit on my porch, and sip tea with my wife.”
The man of commerce objected. “The day is still young. You can still see.”
“No need to,” the stand owner replied. “I’ve made enough money for today.”
“Enough? Absurd. You should keep working.”
The spry old man stopped and stared at this well-dressed visitor. “And why should I keep working?’
“To sell more popcorn.”
“And why sell more popcorn?”
“Because the more popcorn you sell, the more money you make. The more money you make, the richer you are. The richer you are, the more popcorn stands you can buy. The more popcorn stands you buy, the more peddlers sell your product, and the richer you become. And when you have enough, you can stop working, sell your popcorn stands, stay home, and sit on the porch with your wife and drink tea.”
The popcorn man smiled. “I can do that today. I guess I’m rich enough.” (Lucado Common Life p. 41)
The question is a good one: “What are you working FOR?” Why are you running fast? Why is your calendar full? Why are you so exhausted? Why are you never satisfied? What is it you think you are accomplishing? What are you building really?
A preoccupation with the material (Proverbs calls it hoarding) can trap us. We act like life is about who has the most stuff. When we start valuing possessions over people, one thing is certain: we will never find contentment. Often the things we own soon own us. The best way to handle the material things of the world is to view all we have as tools given to us by God to use for His glory and honor.
Solomon tells us that human desire is like an empty womb, a grave (or death), a fire, or a parched dessert. These things are never satisfied. They keep wanting more. That is our human condition. We are people who are never satisfied. We buy a new car and within months (or days) we find ourselves wishing we had a car similar to someone else or had the new features that have just come out. We get a pay raise but then find out someone else is making a lot more money than we are and we feel “deprived”. You know the old saying: “How much is enough? Just a little bit more than what I have.”
Jesus said, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul? “
We will be discontent with life anytime we look for something to bring us satisfaction or joy other than the Lord. God has made us so we will only be complete when we are walking with Him. Someone has said “there is a God-shaped hole in our heart”.
Think about it. If you were really hungering for a steak . . . I mean really craving one but you had to settle for a taco at Taco Bell in one sense your hunger would be temporarily addressed but in another there would still be an unsatisfied longing inside of you. If you really had a craving for chocolate a piece of celery might distract you for a couple of minutes but the craving would still be there.
We hunger to be known and loved by God. We long to feel life has purpose. We hunger for significance, a significance that only He can give us. We can distract ourselves with the nifty trinkets of this world. We can occupy ourselves with pursuing career goals or the pursuit of personal happiness but these things are temporary. They are celery to the one longing for chocolate.
So here is the question: Do you feel that you have been cheated by life? Do you find yourself resenting what other people have? Do you spend your time longing for something (or someone) that you think would bring satisfaction to your life? Have you bought in to the advertising mindset that newer and better is always what we need? If so, you are looking in the wrong direction.
The Pursuit of Contentment
So what is the key to gaining contentment? Listen to these words from Solomon,
Prov 15:17 A bowl of vegetables with someone you love
is better than steak with someone you hate.
Prov. 16:8 Better to have little, with godliness,
than to be rich and dishonest.
Prov. 17:1 Better a dry crust eaten in peace
than a house filled with feasting—and conflict.
Solomon points out that contentment doesn’t come from stuff . . . it comes from relationships. The most important and central of those relationships is the relationship with have with God through Christ.
Contentment comes when we see everything we have as a gift from God instead of feeling entitled. It is best expressed in these wonderful words from Psalm 73
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
I desire you more than anything on earth.
26 My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
but God remains the strength of my heart;
he is mine forever.
It seems to me that contentment begins when we see that we have received an undeserved mercy from God. Once we realize we have received the greatest gift there is, it is hard to feel deprived. Think about it! God loves you and He loves me even though He has no reason to do so (or better, He has every reason NOT to do so). We should feel great that the Creator of the Universe loves us.
Second, we need to focus on what we have been given rather than on what we have not been given. We call this problem the myth of the Greener Grace. It is the idea that everyone else has more than me. Instead, it is better to say, Look at what God has given me! Instead of envying the toys some other child received at Christmas, why not enjoy the gifts YOU received?
That extends to life. If we find our pleasure in the Lord, if we see that every good gift is from Him, if we cherish our family rather than wonder if things would be better with another family, we will find that satisfaction and contentment begin to flood our soul. It is a matter of focus.
Max Lucado writes some really pointed words,
Test yourself with this question: What if god’s only gift to you were his grace to save you. Would you be content? You beg him to save the life of your child. You plead with him to keep your business afloat. You implore him to remove the cancer from your body. What if his answer is, “My grace is enough.” Would you be content?
You see, from heaven’s perspective, grace is enough. If God did nothing more than save us from hell, could anyone complain? If God saved our souls and then left us to spend our lives leprosy-struck on a deserted island, would he be unjust? Having been given eternal life, dare we grumble at an aching body? Having been given heavenly riches, dare we bemoan earthly poverty? (In the Grip of Grace p. 131)
After reading that I dare you to feel that you are deprived. How can we not feel blessed, content, and grateful?
The late Dallas Willard answered the question: “What is the key to a healthy soul?” by answering, “We must relentlessly work to eliminate hurry from our life.”
Did you get that? Relentlessly work to eliminate hurry from your life.
Some of you sit here antsy because of where you need to be next. Some are distracted because of what is coming later in the day. As a result, we are missing the beauty of this present moment. We are looking past our meeting with our loving and life-giving Lord . . . for what?
We must work to stop looking for what “might be” and start appreciating what IS.
- Forget about other things and enjoy those special moments with your children.
- Refuse to rush your enjoyable encounter with your friend.
- Take some time to play with your dog (go ahead . . . let them give you a lick on the face!)
- Make sufficient time to be with the Lord each day in a place and time where you will not be disturbed.
- Spend time pondering these great words of Jesus, “It is finished”. He didn’t say our payment for our sin was begun on the cross. Instead, He said it is FINISHED. Ponder that fact, reflect on it, and remember what Jesus did for you and for me. If you are clear on the blessing that has been given, you will feel much more content about your life.
- Whenever you feel you need something, stop and remind yourself that you have everything that you need in Jesus.
We live in a world that is anchored to people being discontent. The lack of contentment seems to fuel our economy. However, Solomon calls us to be wise. We must see past the glitz and the promises of a better life. The truth is we don’t need anything else to know the best life has to offer. All we really need is to know and rest in Him.
The next time someone tells you what you “need” to find happiness, surprise them by saying you don’t need to find joy, happiness, peace, and satisfaction because you already have them. They are yours and they are mine because of Jesus. Why run through life like a mad man? We already have all that we need.
 Chuck Swindoll Living Beyond the Daily Grind Book 1 (Waco:Word 1988( p. 222
 Bill Hybels Descending into Greatness p. 93)