I regularly get newsletters from around the world telling me what God is doing. Some newsletters encourage me to subscribe so that I can be kept up-to-date with what the Spirit is saying and doing. When reading Scripture however, I tend to find not so much words about ‘what God is saying for a city or nation’ but words that encourage me to be more like Christ, to honour others greater than myself or to die daily to the flesh. I find words that call the church, as the expression of God’s wisdom, to be to the glory of God.
Recently in prayer the Holy Spirit gave me a word: contentment. Now I admit it is not a very grandiose word, it is not a word to build great organisations or structures but, if it came from the Spirit of Jesus Christ then it is a powerful word.
Contentment strikes at the heart of the dominant idolatry of society today. The marketing industry exists to convince us that what we have is not enough, our desires cannot be satisfied without their products and our relationships cannot be successful without their help.
Discontent is the feeling or expression of greed. While people in the church may not overtly demonstrate lust, many express a growing discontent with their possessions, position or pleasure.
This has become the fruit of years of preaching in many circles that focus on ‘what man wants’ rather than what God requires. If you preach a message that God wants you to be happy, healthy and wealthy; that Jesus only wants the best for you – and then call that ‘best’ possessions, pleasure or social status – it should follow that the end result will not be holiness, Christ-likeness or the praise of God’s glory but a discontent with what we have now.
The world and its desires will pass away
The apostle John beautifully outlines the foundational expressions of idolatry as being sensual craving, lust for possessions and social standing or power.
1 John 2:16-17 For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. NIV
He continues by telling us that such desires – which apply to everything in the world – will pass away with the world but that the person whose desire is for God will not pass away with the world but live forever.
Being content with what you have
So, what of this word I have received? I believe contentment is a word for the church and it is for now; it is time for the Body of Jesus Christ to learn to be content in any and every situation.
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, runs through the highlights of his life to the Corinthian church.
2 Cor 11:23-28 I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. NIV
This is markedly different from the ‘highlights’ of many of today’s guest speakers at conferences and seminars. I wonder if many of our conferences would draw a crowd to someone with Paul’s credentials?
Anyway, the point is that Paul does not once boast from a position of strength as we would understand it, but from one of weakness. He does not encourage us to follow a God who wants us wealthy, or living for pleasure or for political or social status, but to forsake worldly pleasures and follow Jesus Christ.
1 Tim 6:6-9 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. NIV
I have learnt the secret of contentment
Yes it seems that there is a secret to being content. Paul explains that he had to learn contentment.
Phil 4:10-13 I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 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. NIV
Contentment is the expression of a heart of faith towards God. If I am hungry and in need, I am content; if I have a full stomach and lack nothing then I am content. This is a complete contrast to the children of Israel in the desert. They received God’s provision of manna but constantly grumbled. They had His presence at the tent of meeting and in the tabernacle but still they were discontent. They had God’s personal presence, God’s personal provision and God’s name as a standard among the nations of the area and they were still discontent.
They longed for the pleasures of Egypt even though they were slaves there. The provocation of the Israelites towards God was their discontent.
Ps 78:17-18 But they continued to sin against him, rebelling in the desert against the Most High. 18 They willfully put God to the test by demanding the food they craved. NIV
What then is the secret to contentment? The Spirit reveals it clearly throughout Scripture:
Heb 13:5-6 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”
6 So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?” NIV
The secret to contentment is found in our posture. Many struggle to follow Christ because they are looking back, just like the people in the wilderness, longing for what they have left. The secret to contentment is in the promise of God’s presence and the hope we have in Christ.
Only when we crave the pleasure of God’s presence, only when we long to possess the inheritance of sonship, only when we value being named after the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ will we be content in any and every life situation.
Godliness with contentment is great gain
Contentment is to be satisfied with your position on earth until God changes it – if he does. It does not mean that we should not pray for God’s provision but we should not crave and desire more than we need. As Scripture says, if we have food and clothing we will be content with that.
The spirit of discontent is not at work in those who are truly poor or genuinely in need, it is at work in affluent societies and in churches that have become ensnared by the pleasures of this world.
So, the word for today is contentment:
7 So, as the Holy Spirit says:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
during the time of testing in the desert,
9 where your fathers tested and tried me
and for forty years saw what I did.
10 That is why I was angry with that generation,
and I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray,
and they have not known my ways.’
11 So I declared on oath in my anger,
‘They shall never enter my rest.'”
12 See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. NIV