The Secret of Contentment

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We’ve been looking at houses with land online.  From acres of woods with a small clearing and a barn, to the formal drive and majestic oaks leading to the house of our dreams, we’ve been looking…again.

We get this itch every few months.  We desire to move away from the city and enjoy the great outdoors.  When we visit my inlaws’ place – a dream to us – we imagine what it would be like to own something so perfect.  We make the plans, start the search, crunch the numbers, build the dream…then…we go to church.

Do you know what our pastor had the gall to speak about today?   The secret of contentment (I guess the title gave that one away).  We are at the end of the book of Philippians where Paul states,

“Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.   I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

I wanted to affirm my agreement by saying “amen!” but could not choke out the word.  Here we go again, thinking through our responsibility of being one of those who have plenty.

I have seen other countries, I have done some traveling, I know how other people live with much less.  When we first came home from England we could not believe the overabundance of America.  We made all kinds of pledges to one another – we don’t need a VCR, there’s no need for a walk-in closet full of clothes, we can make due without eating out two times a week, one car is plenty for a family to own, that’s too much square footage for three people.  We had learned to live with less and had enjoyed our time overseas.  But, even with all our ‘pledges’, it didn’t take long before we had bought the VCR and began looking for a home with a pool.  When is enough, enough?

I want to be satisfied and give my money to missions.  Really!  I do.  Amazing things are happening around the world with the spreading of the gospel.  I want to help pay for some Jewish people to make aliyah.  I want to support more children through World Vision.  I want to sponsor indigenous pastors in Asia, give relief to the martyrs, buy goats and grain for the people in need, help to rebuild from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina…and…I want that house with the massive oaks.

The responsibilty…

To whom much is given, much is required.

Lord, take my desires and make them Yours.  Let me see the world through Your eyes.  Forgive my yearning for more.  Help me see others’ needs before my wants.  I am weak, You are strong.  I can do all things through You Who gives me strength.  In Jesus’ name, I pray, amen.

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34 responses »

  1. be content the Lord wants you to find the right spot to further your dream…acorns started there, why can’t you start over there?

  2. “Why dream of money when we know we should dream of eternity!”

    EXCELLENT point!!!!!!

    Years ago, Keith Green commented on one of his albums that if he didn’t know about how long God REALLY took to create the world (young earth/ols eatth stuff) he figured that if, as the Bible says it took him 6 days creat the workd and if Jesus has been preparing a place for us in heaven for at least 2,000 years, we’re living in a garbage can! (Dan’s paraphrase).

    Eph 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

    Is focusing on ‘stuff’ down here ‘settling for peanuts’?

    I think I have a title for another blog at my place.

  3. Yes, Dan, it’s all about eternity. I was challenged by the founder of Gospel for Asia (can’t remember his name) to imagine where I would be in 100 years. It’s really such a short amount of time we have before the grave, so what are we building? I think, castles in the sand.

  4. K.P. Yohannan – Gospel for Asia – support ‘indigenous’ missionary efforts. He was offered a bucket load of money from a very large church once id they could send their ‘mission team’ and turned down the money. God turned the hearts and they ended up donating money without needing to send their mission team.

  5. B4:

    The most memorable are The Hurricane of ’38 and The Blizzard of ’78. Both of which were unexpected, sudden, and brutal. In ’38, the streets were flooded. In ’78, well…I could tell you any number of stories about that storm–like the kid who got buried in the snow and died two feet from his front door. Or the young girl in her 20s wearing a bikini while building a snowman. (People are just weird, I guess! Then again, it WAS The 70s!) But there are still times when a storm hits and everybody gets out the candles and flashlights in case they lose power (thunderstorm). Or they make a mad dash to the grocery stores to get bread and milk because they know they have to stay off the roads (snowstorm). But me? I’m literally seriously actually waiting for spring! And summer, when I can leave the back door open and the screen door closed because it’s so nice outside! Oh, I can’t wait for the natural world to come alive again!

  6. Thanks, Ric, sometimes it’s hard to talk about the things that convict me – just trying to ‘keep it real’. 🙂

  7. I well remember the blizzard of ’78! I was stationed at Ft. Devens at the time.

  8. CORRECTION: “…my roses are still covered [**] in burlap and buried in leaves…”

    Ya see? Ya see how cold it is here? Ya see! I can’t even type it’s so cold!!

    Ah ha ha ha!!!

  9. They do look a little like sunshine, don’t they? 🙂 🙂 🙂

    I don’t know what you’re complaining about – we got THREE inches of snow this year! 😉

  10. Living as i do in the southern hemisphere (better half!) of the planet i won’t bug you all with the fact it is the end of Summer here now and i have not seen snow reach the ground where i live since my family moved here 38 years ago ( made snowmen in my childhood though 🙂 )

    It has dared to rain on exactly TWO days so far this year!

    On the down side – the day after Christmas was 111.5 degrees (spent in a friends AIR CONDITIONED house) and we recorded our highest average temperatures for January (Hot month in Oz!) in recorded history this year. What was that about a heat wave?

    As for contentment…?

    Contentment for me is discovering your Spiritual GIFT – and living it out!

    I’m still trying to figure mine out.. i have a couple of good ‘leads’ though. 🙂

    love ❤

  11. The Apostle Paul’s view of contentment::

    What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ. and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. Philippians 3:8-9

  12. NorEaster: Our Texas snowmen tend to be more dead grass than snow – but we always take pictures (with a carrot nose). 😉

    Love: Your heat waves sound like ours – doesn’t everyone in Australia have air conditioning? I can’t imagine life without air conditioning…I would shrivel up and blow away.

    Knowing your spiritual gift and then having a place to share it is an exciting way to live – I went from being a mouth in the Kingdom to an eyelash – that’s been a humbling experience, to say the least.

    Dan: Thanks for the reference – I like the bit further down where it says it has been granted to us to suffer for the sake of Christ – that makes lots of sense to me these days. In the suffering I hold on tighter – it seems contradictory to contentment, but somehow in my life, it works.

  13. In human terms, definitely contradictory. In terms of conforming us to the image of Christ – invaluable! 🙂

    Concerning temperatures – preheat your kitchen oven to 400 degrees and oprn the door. Get a chair and sit it in front of the open door. Place a small fan on the open door and turn it on high. That was Iraq. All thing are relative!

  14. Michelle,

    Having seen you in comboxes across WordPress, I thought I would pay you a visit. And my reward was this wonderful post.

    Growing up in a home split between Catholicism and Evangelicalism, I had come to the conclusion that Catholics were the ones who spoke of simple lifestyle, caring for the poor, Matthew 25 etc. I am glad to be proven wrong in that assumption.

    As a vowed religious (poverty, chastity, obedience) simplicity of life is our cornerstone. But, being here in the US, we fight the same struggles on a lesser scale. I used to run around with a Blackberry. Now I dont have a cell phone. I still have a small personal TV and am struggling with giving it up.

    As we get older, the comforts somehow mean more and the idealism of youth can fade. It is a struggle to live simplicity and to live one’s life completely for others–but I believe that is the true struggle of the Gospel–to make ones life a sacrifice of praise. It is good to remember these things, especially in Holy Week. Thanks and God Bless.

  15. Pingback: Consumerism, Contentment, Simplicity of Life « Per Christum

  16. Fr. J.,

    I’m so glad you came to visit my site and comment. I have been challenged by your comments and would love to have your insight here.

    It is a struggle to live simply, especially in America. I remember hearing some pastor somewhere say we suffer from affluenza – I agree. We have too much and yet I’m not a socialist, I only pray we would give more from our hearts, cheerfully for others.

    Dan,

    I may be talking about doing with less – but I MUST have central air! The idea of sitting in front of a refrigerator…I only see my front cooled and the pounds piling on! 😉 But, hey! It was war.

  17. Michelle, your post inspired me to write one of my own. Of course nobody has all the answers. Two major Catholic figures who continually challenge me are St. Francis and Dorothy Day. If you haven’t heard of her, that’s okay. She is kind of a Catholic thing, but worth a wikipedia read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Day

    Anyway, the point of both Francis and Dorothy is that they made the connection between simplicity and generosity. Their simplicity was not just saying “no” to creature comforts, but was rooted in saying “yes” to the poor. And, neither of them had some abstract notion of “the poor.” Rather, they actually fed the hungry, clothed the naked, etc. They did it personally. Dorothy Day set up her Houses of Hospitality around the country as meeting places where the middle class could reach out, meet, and serve the poor. To do direct action is powerfully converting. To feel in one’s very person the feeding of Christ in the “distressing disguise of the poor,” as Mother Theresa always said, changes a person. To serve the poor is to often witness uncannily and miraculously the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. To kiss the leper is to become mystically and concretely one with Christ.

    One of my favorite Saints is Pope St. Leo the Great who, BTW, saved Rome from the Huns. He said: “There can be no shortage of material for generosity when it is Christ who feeds and Christ who is fed.”

    Simplicity is always most natural to me when in some way I am serving the materially poor personally. I dont know what your situation is, but perhaps there is something in there for you.

    Also, from an Evangelical point of view, there is no way to speak to a hungry man of Jesus. Feed him and you have already begun to preach.

  18. Fr. J. – Wow…Thank you for the recognition on your site – I am honored.

    I have not spent much of life with money, and only recently have begun to feel “comfortable.” When we (my husband and I) were younger we spent a few years in what America would consider poverty, but having lived with much less in England, we knew it was still more than most in the world have.

    When I have been personally involved in feeding my neighbors, it’s been a wonderful gift to me as well. I’m not well these days so the feet don’t get out too much, I have to do my giving through the offering plate and the mail. I always wanted to live on the mission field, we thought that was what God had for us. Maybe someday I will have the strength, until then…

    “Also, from an Evangelical point of view, there is no way to speak to a hungry man of Jesus. Feed him and you have already begun to preach.”

    Are you saying this is a good/bad thing? I have heard criticism of the Evg’l Rescue Missions when they offer a service with the nightly meal. I was involved in such a mission in college. I didn’t really understand the need to preach first then eat – I somehow felt it would have been better to feed the hungry and then if they wanted to stay, the service would be available.

    Thanks again, I blushed when I saw your site.

  19. Michelle,

    What I was trying to say is that the very feeding of the hungry is an act of preaching. St. Francis has the famous quote (in Catholic circles, anyway) “Preach the Gospel, if necessary, use words.” Mercy in concrete acts is a communication of the Gospel. In the context of having shared the compassion of Christ, speaking of him is far more powerful. I dont think that preaching/feeding is a a tit-for-tat sort of thing like at Rescue Missions. I have worked in one of those before, and it made me uncomfortable.

    The Catholic Worker style is to get to know people in need personally, then invite them to church. If they have questions, answer them. The Catholic approach is never to pressure, coerce or manipulate but to truly become friends with. We leave the prompting to the Holy Spirit.

    I am sorry to hear about your health. As you know, there are all kinds of ways to serve. It doesnt always have to do with slinging hash or writing checks. It is about doing what you can for whom you can where you are.

    BTW, you are pretty cool. 😉

  20. St. Francis has the famous quote (in Catholic circles, anyway) “Preach the Gospel, if necessary, use words.”

    I thought my pastor came up with that!! From now on, I’ll give the proper credit. 🙂

    I love that quote but must say, I talk too much to keep from sharing my faith. It just comes stumbling out when I least expect it – thus the need for a blog. I have a way of being overbearing so I’ve tried to adopt St. Francis’s thought to keep myself within proper boundaries.

    Thanks again for the kudos – I’m kinda likin’ you too. 😉

  21. We need to do both, serve people and be able to articulate the gospel, not just invite folks to whatever churh we happen to attend and leave the ‘gospel presentation’ to someone else. The gospel we articulate needs to be the same gospel Paul preached – salvation by grace through faith and not of works.

  22. Michelle,

    While we are called to be good stewards of what HaShem gives us and care for the needy, He also wants to bless us in tangible, earthly ways (look at Avraham, Yitzhak, Ya’akov, E’Yov/Job for examples). G-d has only ever asked us for tithe, that is, 10% of what He has given us. Nothing more, nothing less (except for rare individuals like Avraham who was asked to sacrifice Yitzhak). Everything else, should we choose (<– Key Word) to give it, is of our own will.

    Examine your motivations closely. Are you denying yourself this new house, land, etc because of an intense desire to help those less fortunate than yourself? Or are you doing it out of a belief that you are required to? If it is the latter (i.e. – obligation), then your motivation is wrong and your works worthless.

    Yeshua didn’t command everyone to obey the mitzvot. He merely asked those who love Him to do so.

    “If you love me, keep my mitzvot (commandments).” – John 14:15

    Motization for giving is the true key. Scripture tells us that Yeshua praised an old poor woman over the rich men because she had willingly (<– Key Word) given all she had.

    Examine your heart. If your motivation is to freely and willingly give to the needy, then do so with a joyous heart and silence the nagging doubts of your mind. But if what you desire more is to use the blessing G-d has given you to improve the lives of you and your family, then do that with a joyous heart and a song on your lips.

    Shalom,

    Jason

  23. Thank you, Jason. Examining motivation is key, I totally agree. I desire to give freely, cheerfully, and sacrificially. I am coming from a place of storing up treasures on earth – I don’t want to be motivated by guilt. We do tithe – I am speaking of beyond – the willing, cheerful offering.

    I am not opposed to having nice things, I just know that in America we have way more than anyone needs. I don’t believe in redistribution of wealth, I am not a socialist, but I do wish we would give more. If everyone would tithe then I believe we would have no problem taking care of one another’s needs.

    I do see in the New Testament that the word ‘tithe’ is not used – we are told to give out of our poverty, to give sacrificially, to give as Yeshua gave, and to give with a joyous heart and a song on our lips.

    Shalom Shabbat, Michelle.

  24. I don’t think a student of the Bible would deny that the ‘tithe’ is an Old Testament/covenent concept. Applied to New Testament believers I have heard it called the minimum standard for Christian giving. I also believe that God, through the Holy Spirit, guide us in our giving and that we should cheerfully obey.

  25. Thanks, Dan. This is my understanding as well, that we are to give above and beyond the “requirement” of Mosaic covenant. Have a blessed Easter!

  26. Just got back from my Saturday morning trip to the commissary on Ft. Carson. Ended up rejoicing with the yung man who helped out with the stuff. Probably got the fellow waiting for my parking space a little upset.

    Have a blessed Resurrection Day!

  27. I’m right there struggling along with you. I am reading through Philippians currently and Paul just amazes me…he definitely said Christ was the key to being content in any situation. So we just have to keep seeking Christ, and it will happen!

  28. Just something to think about in your search for contentment…I believe we all struggle with this, Mandy, just in different ways….

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