Monday, December 6, 2010

Chasing Contentment in a Fallen World

Contentment …  ahhh. Even the word conjures feelings of peace and tranquility. Contentment sounds so soothing, so peaceful, such a relief in our crazy, hectic world. Do you sometimes wonder if you will ever be content? Are you perpetually unsettled, unfulfilled in your career, your relationships, your daily life? Have you concluded that discontent is probably just part of life, part of being human?

There is certainly some truth to discontentment being part of being human, or at least in our present state. Indeed, we lack contentment because we are fallen, we are sinful. OK, I know that sounds trite but the reality is, we are stiff-necked, covetous creatures and yes, that comes from our sin nature brought to us by Satan through the ever notorious, Adam and Eve. It is curious though that despite our fallen nature, we are encouraged in God’s Word to somehow be content. Paul of course is perhaps the most remarkable model and teacher of how to live a life of contentment in all circumstances (Philippians 4:11) whether in prison, shipwrecked, stoned, or just generally miserable, Paul seemed to have a different perspective than most of us would. To the Corinthians Paul writes, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10, ESV) I don’t know about you, but Paul’s circumstances were much bigger challenges than I am facing today or at least on most days.

As we seek joy it is also helpful to remember that we are sojourners, we are but visitors in this life. Have you ever been homesick? Isn’t that emptiness much the same as that unspoken yearning and gnawing unhappiness you feel daily? So we are wandering as tourists through this fallen, corrupt world feeling empty and wondering why creation, including us, is such a mess. Well, just to be clear, this is not heaven, this is earth. With a fallen world and our fallen nature working against us, happiness will clearly not come easy.

So most of us listen to the world’s wisdom and pursue our quest for happiness by trying to fulfill our fleshly desires. Curiously, even if we become “successful” in this world and somehow become content with our material position, we will still find ourselves unsettled by the lack of Spiritual contentment. I know that may sound unbelievable if you have never been blessed with wealth, but trust me, if you ever receive worldly abundance or have a real heart-to-heart with someone who has, you will find they struggle with the same issues as you. If you are unconvinced, I encourage you to review any of the studies that track lottery winners a few years after their big payday, or perhaps visit an elite Palm Beach party. You will see that despite their “treasures”, the wealthy, like the rest of us, have lives that are a mess and they are often more miserable than you, no matter their position or possessions.

Truly, creature comforts never really satisfy that longing, that Spiritual thirst we all have. Contrary to our culture’s suggestions, material goods and self-actualization (thank you Maslow) do NOT lead to inner peace. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17, ESV) It is particularly difficult for the successful, the famous, the rich to deal with that hollowness, that God shaped void in their heart, since they are blessed with the world’s treasures and therefore are supposed to be happy. Breaking through the enemy’s lies to find true peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7) can only be realized through a relationship with Jesus. Only then do we personally experience the peace that guards our hearts.

We should be cautious though not to confuse contentment with complacency as we live out our faith. John recorded in the book of Revelation, that being complacent with our faith, like the church at Laodicea, is not a healthy condition. In the letter to that church, God explained that he wished the Laodiceans were either warm or cold because in their lukewarm state, God warned that “I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16, ESV) or in the New King James Translation, “I will vomit you out of my mouth”. That is quite a picture of displeasure.

So how do we seek contentment, that peace for which we yearn? How do we fight off the sinful desire to covet, the craving for more stuff, while seeking happiness and avoiding complacency?  It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit, by God’s grace and not by our own power, new age meditation, herbs or vitamin D, that we are we able to reach that place of contentment. And our tool for filling our Spiritual tank with God’s grace is prayer, as Paul’s letter to the Philippians reminds us, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7, ESV)

Perhaps Paul’s instructions to his young helper Timothy are most clear:

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. (1 Tim 6:6–10, ESV)

True contentment, fished from the misguided wisdom of the world by prayer, comes from bypassing the temporal perspective and keeping our eyes on the eternal treasure offered ONLY by Christ Jesus…. Amen?