Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Day Twenty-Two: Contentment

The WORD of the Day:

"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.' So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?'" 
--Hebrews 13:5-6

Let Me Give You a Lift:

Today must be the day for posts about contentment.  The Faith Deployed Blog--an encouragement website for military spouses--also had a message on contentment today.  Maybe that's because the beginning of a new year is when people spend extra time evaluating what is really important; now is when we take a hard look at what we need versus what we want

More often than not, the thing that we most think we need, but that stands in the way of what we really need, is money. Wealth, possessions, things--we want these, and at different times in our lives they are very important to us.  But they can also be a major distraction from what actually is important. We work long hours to make money for a family we never see; we push hard for a promotion when we know our hearts would be happier doing something else; we get caught up in titles, personal achievements, and the rat race when we should be walking with God. Sometimes, it is only in retrospect that we realize we've sacrificed the important for the fleeting.

On Day 20, we talked about the story of the prodigal son. But there is another kind of prodigal too, just as lost and sometimes more so.  He's the person so caught up in himself--his achievements, accumulating wealth for himself, being self-made, doing anything to get ahead--that he does not even realized that his path diverged from God's.  How often are we that person? We want so badly to be "somebody" by the world's standards, when the reality is that the world's "somebodies" are often empty, broken people (Hollywood, anyone?). On the outside they look like they have it all together, but inside they are lonely, their lives lack meaning and they try to compensate with fleeting things like drugs, alcohol, fly-by-night relationships (and marriages), but can't seem to hold on to anything.  Why? Because they've lost sight of their purpose, so busy with today that they forgot about the end goal.

The apostle Paul wrote about this in his letter to the Philippians.  See, before his conversion, Paul had it made in Jewish society. He came from a wealthy family, was born into religious royalty, was well-respected; in that community Paul could have done virtually anything with his life.  But he tells the Philippians that none of that matters: 

"I count everything as loss because of 
the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord."  

Learning Christ, as Paul put it, was the ultimate lesson in determining what is important in this life and what is not.  And Paul continues in his letter to tell the Philippians that everything we need in this world, God provides. He said:
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 
Paul's message was not telling his readers that they should be overjoyed by poverty, or that going hungry was something to be happy about.  Rather, when Paul talks about contentment, he is conveying the idea of an earnest belief in the fact that God will provide what is needed. Even if is not what is wanted.  He's saying: 'whatever situation I find myself in, I will be okay because God will take care of me.' This idea of contentment based on trust in God is why Paul could make that last statement with confidence, that he can do all things through God.

One final thought. There is nothing wrong with being wealthy; that is not Paul's point. Like many other things in this world, money itself is a neutral, neither good nor bad.  What we do with it, and our attitude toward it, are the determining factors.  It is a matter of the heart.  If we use our wealth to help others and glorify God, it is a great blessing. If we allow ourselves to be sucked into selfish ambitions by money, or if we allow money to run our lives, if it distracts us from our ultimate goal, that is the problem. 

The reason Paul admonished Timothy that "the love of money is the root of all evil" is because, as Jesus said, "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." If we find our hearts being distracted by things--money, power, position, etc.--we need to remember our trajectory must be forward, and let grace bring our hearts back where they belong. 

Give it a Listen:

Luminate-- “Come Home” If you want to hear the story behind the song from the band, you can check it out here. Basically, this song was written for the "other" kind of prodigal, the one so lost in his own ambition that he doesn't understand that without God his empire is built on "a cracked foundation."  The message is simple, and I love it: "It's never too late, you can't outrun grace. No, mercy doesn't care what you've done. Come home!"

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