Searching For Contentment
Over the last four weeks we have been looking at the problem of overload in our lives. We have examined the problems of our time crunch, our anxiety levels, pressures at work and financial and material pressures. I have given you a host of suggestions for dealing with these issues, and I hope some of them have helped you start carving out some margin in your lives. It seems to me that the crux of the issue is our need to find contentment in our lives. According to Webster, being content means, “feeling or manifesting satisfaction with one’s possessions, status, or situation.” The opposite of contentment is envy, discontent or coveting. Listen to this description from Max Lucado,
An hour of contentment. An hour when deadlines are forgotten and strivings have ceased. An hour when what we have overshadows what we want. An hour when we realize that a lifetime of blood-sweating and headhunting can’t give us what the cross gave us in one day—a clean conscience and a new start.
But unfortunately, in our squirrel cages of schedules, contests, and side-glancing, hours like these are about as common as one-legged monkeys. In our world, contentment is a strange street vendor, roaming, looking for a home, but seldom finding an open door. This old salesman moves slowly from house to house, tapping on windows, knocking on doors, offering his wares: an hour of peace, a smile of acceptance, a sigh of relief. But his goods are seldom taken. We are too busy to be content. (Which is crazy, since the reason we kill ourselves today is because we think it will make us content tomorrow.)
“Not now, thank you. I’ve too much to do,” we say. “Too many marks to be made, too many achievements to be achieved, too many dollars to be saved, too many promotions to be earned. And besides, if I’m content, someone might think I’ve lost my ambition.”
This morning we want to find this illusive place of satisfaction called contentment.
THE MYTHS THAT PROHIBIT CONTENTMENT
The book of Ecclesiastes is an odd book. It is written most likely by the wisest of men, Solomon. Because of his wisdom He had riches, power and influence. In the book of Ecclesiastes Solomon writes about his search for meaning in a secular world.
Throughout the verses of his book, Solomon examined his options. He looked at money, power, education, pleasure, prestige and declared that they were meaningless, a chasing after the wind. The book can come off a little depressing at times. However, if you read it carefully to the end, you find that Solomon is pointing us past these things to show us where real contentment is found. This morning we turn our attention to Ecclesiastes 5:10-20. First, Solomon addressed some popular myths about contentment.
Myth 1: Stuff will satisfy us (10)
Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless
Let’s look at it this way. How would you complete this sentence: “I think I could finally be happy if _________________.” Or how about this sentence: “I would feel quite satisfied in life if _______________.” Seriously, think about the question! If we are honest, most of us (if not all of us) would fill in that blank with some kind of material thing.
- If I had more money
- If I could marry the person of my dreams
- If I could build my dream house
- If I could get a certain promotion or position
- If I could gain a certain position of influence
- If I could solve a certain problem
- I didn’t have to do something
We would pin our hope to some of the very things Solomon says are meaningless. Solomon had money, pleasure, knowledge, and status and they left him unsatisfied. The problem is that we don’t believe him. We think it would be different for us. We wouldn’t be miserable. We would be happy.
Do you think most people in Hollywood are content? Does it seem like most professional athletes are content? We would say that they “have it all” yet they are caught up in drugs, alcohol, violence and they can’t seem to be faithful to or maintain a marriage. The inescapable conclusion is that having stuff isn’t what makes you happy or bring you satisfaction.
Myth 2: Having More will Solve My Problems (v. 11) Solomon addressed a second myth. It is the idea that if we just had a little more then that would solve all our problems. Let’s be honest, isn’t there a part in all of us that thinks if we only had enough more to pay all our bills or get what we are longing for all our problems would disappear? In truth, says Solomon, having more actually creates as many problems as it solves.
As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them? (11)
As you get more there are more people who want to get some of it from you. One author writes, “When a man’s possessions increase, it seems that there is a corresponding increase in the number of parasites who live off his wealth, whether management consultants, tax advisers, accountants, lawyers, household employees, or sponging relatives.
As we get more stuff there are more things to take care of that will demand more of our time and money. We become even more tied down. And the more you have, the more people there will be who resent you for what you have.
Myth 3: Having More will Bring You Peace The third myth is that having more will allow me to finally rest. Solomon says:
The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much,
but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep. (12)
Solomon has observed that the person who works hard and only has basic necessities (the laborer in his day) sleeps well no matter how much he has to eat. The person with much is actually more restless because they have eaten too much, they have too much going on in their life and they can’t unwind. Stuff does not bring peace- it actually brings more anxiety.
The story is told of John D. Rockefeller a man whose life was almost ruined by wealth. At the age of fifty-three, Rockefeller was the world’s only billionaire, earning about a million dollars a week. But he was a sick man who lived on crackers and milk and could not sleep because of worry. When he started giving his money away, his health changed radically and he lived to celebrate his ninety-eighth birthday!
Myth 4: Having More Will Bring Me Security (13-17) We want to have as much as we can and save as much as we can so that we can retire comfortably and not have to worry about the future. Listen to Solomon’s words,
13 I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner, 14 or wealth lost through some misfortune, so that when he has a son there is nothing left for him.
Solomon pictures a person spending his whole life saving for the future and then a calamity strikes: a catastrophic illness; a stock market crash; perhaps a terrorist attack that destroys the economy; or a “sure fire” investment that goes bad. How many people have lost that which they worked their lives for because they had an extended Nursing Home stay? Solomon observed that such a person spent all those nights away from home, all that present joy that they passed up, all those opportunities they declined, all because they wanted to “save for their children” only to end up with nothing.
I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart. [18-20]
The person who is content is the one who has learned to enjoy the life that IS rather than the life that “could be”. Contentment comes from being able to accept our lot and be happy in our work. But how do we get to that point?
HOW TO FIND CONTENTMENT
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians from jail. He knew the order could be given and he could be executed any day. Yet he wrote.
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13)
There are several things we can learn about contentment from the Apostle Paul.
Contentment Can Be Learned. The first thing we learn from Paul is that contentment is something you can learn. He had learned to be content. I can’t help but wonder if this is why older people are often more content than younger people. They have learned some of the lessons of Solomon. They have discovered that stuff cannot satisfy us, solve our problems, or give us security.
Contentment is not about circumstances, it is about attitude. Paul was content even though He was in prison and could die at any moment. He was content even though some were using his imprisonment to advance their own cause. Even in the worst of circumstances, Paul found a sense of satisfaction and joy in life.
Being content is not saying, “I just don’t care any more”. Contentment says, “I will live fully and joyfully in whatever situation God places me.” It means trusting that God has a reason for the things that are going on in our life. He has a plan to use us and develop us through these things. If what Paul is telling us is true, then we should be able to find contentment even in the most difficult of circumstances. It is all a question of attitude.
I worked as a bank teller when I had finished college and before I went on to Graduate School. It was a busy bank and I was in a drive thru “cell”. I needed to work, but I didn’t like the isolation of the job. My attitude wasn’t very good. One day God called me to task. He led me to consider the fact that I might have been placed in that position for a reason. Perhaps this was my “mission field”. So I put up a little sign in my window that testified to my faith (and held me accountable). I began to see the customers not as annoyances I had to deal with but as people I had a chance to touch. Suddenly this mundane job because a fertile ground for ministry. I tasted contentment.
Contentment is Anchored to Our Trust in Christ Paul says he learned that he can do everything through him who gives me strength (v.13). Practically, Paul had learned that as long as He put His trust in Christ, He could find joy in any circumstance. He could trust God in a palace or a dungeon. He could know joy while being applauded by crowds or being beaten by those who hated him. He had a hymn sing at jail. He witnessed to a King who examined him at trial. Paul saw every circumstance as an opportunity sent by God and He rejoiced in it.
In Psalm 73 the Psalmist seems to understand this concept,
I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. [Psalm 73:23-26]
So the secret to contentment, it seems, is realizing that when we are His; when we are connected with Christ; we already have life’s greatest blessing. When we become a true child of God we have been granted the highest honor we can be given. When we trust Christ for salvation we have the greatest security and the brightest hope. If we put our hope in Christ and not the things of the world, we will know contentment.
Max Lucado draws us another picture,
We are not happy here because we are not at home here. We are not happy here because we are not supposed to be happy here. We are “like foreigners and strangers in this world” (1 Pet. 2:11).
Take a fish and place him on the beach. Watch his gills gasp and scales dry. Is he happy? No! How do you make him happy? Do you cover him with a mountain of cash? Do you get a beach chair and sunglasses? Do you bring him a Playfish magazine and martini? Do you wardrobe him in double breasted fins and people-skinned shoes?
Of course not. Then how do you make him happy? You put him back in his element. You put him back in the water. He will never be happy on the beach simply because he was not made for the beach.
(From When God Whispers Your Name by Max Lucado)
Some Practical Tips
So, where do we start? First, we need to make sure that we belong to Jesus Christ. We need to look at our own hearts and lives and ask that simple question: “Do I really trust Him or am I playing the “religion game”? Do you trust Him to give you what you truly need (whether it is finances, opportunities, status, or gifts and abilities)? True faith means putting your life in His hands. It is giving up all hope of saving yourself. It is surrendering control of your life to the Lord of Life. It means trusting His wisdom and resting in His love. It is gratefully receiving what He has given with the joyful confidence that it is for our ultimate good.
Second, we need to resolve to be present in the present. In other words we need to savor the moment. We need to look for ways to demonstrate the love of Christ even in a time of crisis. We need to absorb the blessings of the moment rather than ignore it for what might be in the future. We need to believe that there is a lesson even in the hardest time. We need to cherish our children now. We need to find joy in our labor now. We need to stop putting life off till some future day.
One summer while I was in college I worked in a factory that made switches. It was a very repetitive job but I enjoyed it. I would whistle while I moved parts from department to department. I tried to greet people by name. I tried to listen to the stories of the people God has placed in my life. I learned a bunch and hopefully I left behind the scent of grace.
Third, we need to release our anxiety about the future. Eugene Peterson has a helpful translation of Matthew 6:34: “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” [Message] True faith means trusting God with the future so we can live in the present.
I’d be willing to bet that there are a lot of future things that nag at your heart and soul. You may be concerned about health issues, retirement finances, political issues, job security, vocational choices, family issues and more. Understand that as you are fixated on worrying about these things you are fretting about what God has promised to take care of (thus evidencing a lack of faith). You are also missing out on today’s allotment of life.
I realize these things are much easier said than done. I struggle with them myself. Contentment is not about DOING more, it is about TRUSTING MORE COMPLETELY. It is taking God at His Word. It’s about relying on His Character. Contentment comes not from getting more stuff, but from finding and resting in the heart of God.