Cultivating Contentment
February 1, 2015

Cultivating Contentment

Passage: Ecclesiastes 2:10-11; Philippians 4:10-13
Service Type:

As we begin I’d like to focus your attention on our memory verse for the day.  It’s from the gospel of Luke where Jesus is speaking to a crowd of people and He says these really important words.  He says, ““Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15)


That’s our simple truth for today.  “Life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions.”  Do you believe that?  Your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions.


Actually I have it up here on the screen.  I’d like for you just to claim that as a personal statement.  Would you say this with me? “My life does not consist in the abundance of my possessions.”  Okay one more time: “My life does not consist in the abundance of my possessions.”


I believe that!  I believe it first because Jesus said it – and He was the Master.  I believe it because somehow I know intuitively that’s true.  My life can’t consist in the abundance of my possessions.


But I have this problem.  Everywhere I go, every day of the week the world is telling me, the world is telling me that that’s not true.  The world is telling me, “No!  That’s simply not right.  Your life does consist in the abundance of your possessions.  If you had a little bit more you’d be happier.  If you just had this thing that you currently don’t have, you’d have more satisfaction in your life.  If you just had a bigger house, a nicer car, or cooler clothes . . . why, you’d be happy! At least happier than you are right now. So while Jesus is telling me this, the whole culture is shouting out to me that it’s just not true.


And so there is this struggle, this tension inside that fuels a discontent in my heart.


I think about this contentment – discontentment piece and there is this wrestling in our heart and it fuels what’s already naturally there.  You see all of us are born with a certain discontent in our hearts.  We suffer from – you’ve heard of Restless Leg syndrome (RLS), a condition in which you just can’t stop your leg from twitches and contractions. Well all of us in this room suffer from Restless Heart Syndrome (RHS) where we have a hard time finding satisfaction for our hearts.  There’s a certain discontent.


And some of that God intended for you to have.  God actually wired our hearts so that they would be discontent.  The problem is that we’re discontent with all the wrong things.  He wanted us to be discontent with certain things.  Discontentment is a virtue at times.


But He also wanted us to be content with other things.  Again the problem is we become discontent with the things we’re supposed to be content with and we become content with the things we’re supposed to be discontent with.


James McIntosh, the great British philosopher and politician from the late 18th and early 19th century said this: “It is right to be contented with what we have, but never with what we are.”


Listen to the distinction again:  “It is right to be contented with what we have, but never with what we are.”


We are meant to be discontented with who we are.  We’re meant to constantly strive to be more than we are today, tomorrow.  We’re meant to long for more of God than we have now.  We’re meant to seek to have a deeper prayer life than we had last year; to pursue justice more next year than we did last year.  We’re to long for righteousness and for holiness and to love other people more tomorrow than we did yesterday; to be more grace-filled and to have more character, to grow in wisdom and stature.  We’re supposed to be discontent in those things.  We’re supposed to have a yearning inside to be more of that.


But the problem is we’re content with all of that.  We’re content with our level of participation in justice in the world.  We’re content with our righteousness.  Sometimes we’re self-righteous.  We’re content with how much we love other people.  We’re content with our relationship with God; content with how much we read the Bible; content with how much time we spend in prayer or how often we attend worship.  We’re content with all the wrong things!


And then the things that we’re supposed to be content with, we find ourselves hopelessly discontented by.  That house that we bought; it was our dream home when we bought it.  But two weeks later we notice that the kitchen wasn’t quite right and the appliances didn’t really meet our needs and the wall in the bedroom needed to be moved out just a little bit.  And the carpet is just builder’s grade and we want something a little nicer than that.  And so the moment we move in we begin thinking about the things we’d like to do to make it better, to upgrade it.  We’re just not quite content with the house of our dreams.


And that car that we couldn’t wait to get, you know, it was so cool, but the moment that we drove it off the lot, before the new car smell dissipated, we were already thinking about the next car we were going to get.


And it spreads beyond that to a whole host of things that are sometimes deadly.  We become discontent with our jobs.  We sit online at the office while the boss isn’t looking and we search for another job, on company time.  And because we don’t like our boss and we think, “Surely somewhere out there there’s a better job.”  Maybe it’s not the boss, maybe it’s the environment, maybe it’s the pay, but we search for something else we think is going to make us happy.


It’s not just our jobs.  Every pastor will tell you that there are people in the church on a regular basis who become discontented with the church.  That happens because we have this illusion that things are going to be perfect and we get into the church and it’s really cool for a while and then after a while we begin seeing all its warts.  We see that person who ushers who wasn’t very friendly to us, or that time that the pastor said something that hurt my feelings, or the moment nobody called me back when I had volunteered for something or I missed a few weeks and nobody seemed to even notice or care.  All we can see is what’s wrong with the church.  We can’t see any of the good stuff anymore.  And we go church shopping and we find another church and we hang around there for about 2 years until our feelings get hurt and we get disappointed.  And then we have to go find another church.  Discontented.


We did this with our parents when we were kids. Do you remember this?  We were like, “Man I really wish Mike’s mom and dad were my parents. If I had Mike’s parents I’d be really happy.  I’d be a functional human being.  I wouldn’t have all these problems. I’d be really happy. You know Mike’s parents let him stay out until 1230 at night. How come you make me come in at midnight?”


But you know what Mike’s saying, Mike’s saying, “I wish I had her parents.  If her parents were my parents I’d be really happy.  They’re sooo nice, you’re so mean!”


Here’s how it is.  So sometime you want to say, “Hey, then why don’t you trade?  Let’s just trade for a while and see how that works out.” 


We as parents do that with our kids.  You know, “How come their kids are so respectful and you’re not?” Don’t you do that when you’re kids bring their friends over to spend the night?  You say, “Can we trade?  Would you like to stay with us?”  The problem is, if they stayed, they’d become little monsters too.  This is just how it works!


And it’s how it works in marriages too.  You get married and you’re madly in love with each other.  You know all we can see is all of the wonderful attributes of Mr. or Mrs. Right.  But after a while we can’t see those things anymore.  We begin to see only those things that irritate us, frustrate us, and drive us crazy.   And then after a while you bump into somebody else.  We bump into that amazing woman, that amazing man.  “Why if only we had met earlier. Why if I was married to someone as great as him or as sweet as her I’d be really happy.”  And so suddenly you begin to compare your mate with somebody else’s mate and wonder how happy we’d be if only we were married to them.  And of course it’s all a fantasy because their mate is thinking the same about someone else.


You see what our discontent does?  And sometimes I think about how God must feel when He looks at us.  I mean here we are, even those of us who struggle in this room are in the top 1% of all the persons in the world when it comes to our possessions and our healthcare and all of these things.


God must look down on us and feel sometimes the way we feel when we save up and we give a special gift to someone that we care about a lot and you go to a lot of trouble to pick it out and give them the gift and they ask for the gift receipt.


You know what; I’ve done things like that before too.  And God must look at us and think, “What a bunch of sorry little ingrates!  What is it with these people?  I give them all of this and they keep asking for the gift receipt.”  “I don’t like what you give me, God, and I want something else.  I want to trade it in and get something better than what you gave me.”


So content and discontent – we wrestle with these things and what I’d like to do today is think for just a little while with you about how we can cultivate contentment.  So we all wrestle with it, but how do we cultivate contentment in the things that we’re supposed to be contented in.  And this could be an entire sermon series and so I’m going to only mention 4 things to hopefully get the ball rolling, 4 things for you to try and then to think about it on your own.


Let’s talk about 4 possible ways that we can find contentment for keys to cultivating contentment.


But before we do let me just give you an example of contentment.  And that’s the apostle Paul.  When he writes the passage that you heard earlier from Philippians he is sitting in a prison cell in Rome.  He’s waiting on news as to whether he will be executed or not.  It was a hole in the floor, a cavernous damp pit, and it was there he was writing, dictating actually through a grate in the ceiling this letter to the Philippians.  This is known as his “letter of joy”.  And I want you to with this in mind hear again these words:


“I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.”


That’s the secret we want to find in our lives. So that whatever the circumstances of our lives, like Paul, we can learn contentment too.


So here are the 4 keys to contentment that I’ll lift up – I’m sure there are others, but for our purposes today these are the foundation.


The first one comes from John Ortberg, who is a pastor and author.  He wrote the book If You Want to Walk on Water you Have to Get Out of the Boat. I know some of you are familiar with that book.  He says there are four words we should say that should just flow off your tongue.  And those are: “It could be worse.”


Could you say that with me?  “It could be worse.”  So he says we send people out to the car out in the parking lot and when you’re looking over and you see somebody else that’s getting into their really cool new car and then you get into your 5 or 8 year old car and you get inside, here’s what you should be saying out loud.  Say it with me: “It could be worse.”   Absolutely!


So now you go home and you drive up to your apartment or your condo or your house and you’re thinking about how somebody else has a cooler house than you do.  And how this house has problems.  And here’s what you’re going to say when you walk into your house.  Are you ready?  “It could be worse.”


Alright, you go to your job tomorrow morning and when you get there you’re walking in from the parking lot and you’re thinking about all the things that maybe you’re not happy with on your job.  But here’s what you say, just before you open the door: “It could be worse.”


Tonight you sit down at dinner across from your spouse and you say… Actually Ortberg says don’t say it out loud, just think it.


Alright.  That’s of course looking on the bright side, right?  It’s finding the silver lining.  It is recognizing, “You know what, no matter how things are and what is not happy in this particular relationship or thing, there’s a whole lot that’s good there if I’ll just choose to focus on that.  That’s the first key to cultivating contentment.


The second one is asking the question, “How Long Will This Make Me Happy?”  For how long will this make me happy?  And we’ve already talked about this to some degree.  But you know there are a lot of things we think are going to make us happy, and we get them, and they make us happy for about as long as it takes to unwrap the packaging and fulfill the instructions to put it together or set it up.  Have you noticed that?


How many things you thought you had to have and once you got them they just weren’t as good as you thought or that fun after all.


Cell phone graveyard.  Better display, more memory, faster processor, more apps, more capabilities.  The Verizon website has a countdown clock that tells me the number of months, days, and hours until my next upgrade comes up.  And I’m sure I’ll be there in the store that very day, and this one will take its plot in my cell phone graveyard.


You know is it really going to make you happy?  Really?


I’ve learned a good lesson on this a couple of years ago, about try before you buy.  In fact its good to do that when you can.  A couple of years ago when Robbie’s ODU team played the University of Rhode Island, Robin and I flew up to Providence for the day to see the game.  We got there early that morning and once we landed we went to Avis to rent a car.  Well it just so happened that we had a coupon that gave us a free upgrade and so I asked them what they had.  Wouldn’t you know it they had a beautiful red Camaro convertible.  So for 30 extra bucks we got the Camaro and cruised around Providence all day, and it was a beautiful sunny fall day.  And it was awesome!  And after the game we headed back to the airport and turned it in.  And I thought hey that was awesome.  Now I don’t need to buy this.  That $79.99 for the one day rental saved me over $20,000!  It was great!  Try it before you buy it.  See what you think.  It’s amazing how often once you actually get behind the wheel or you go rent the place at the beach or whatever it is, you see say, “I don’t know that I need to own it.  I think I can just borrow it or maybe it’s just not as important as I thought it was.”


So, for how long will this make me happy?


The third key is: "Developing a Grateful Heart."


Anyone who teaches on this subject of contentment is going to teach you that gratitude is essential.  And we have two choices in any situation we can complain or be grateful.  It kind of has to do with “it could be worse” sort of idea.  I can look for all the things I don’t like or I can search for the things I do like.


I heard a story about a man who he and his wife had a spat and she had just made him so angry that he walked out the door, it was dark outside, and he begins walking down the street.  And he goes for a 20 minute walk.  He’s fuming and really upset with his wife.


And he walks out the door and he starts praying.  And he says, “God, why did you give me such a stubborn woman?  She makes me crazy.  I don’t understand this.  Why do I have to deal with her all the time?”  And this is the conversation to begin with.


And then after he sort of let out all that steam his prayer changed.  He said, “But you did give her to me, didn’t you?”  And something began to shift in his prayer.


And then he began as he was walking to just thank God for the gift He had given.  Because he had just complained about the gift he had given him.  And he decided he better start thanking him for the gift.


And so he prayed and he thanked him for the way her eyes light up when he comes in the house. He thanked him for her embrace and the way she holds him and how he feels she holds him.  And the fact that because she’s so stubborn that she’s put up with him for all of the years and she’s kept us focused in the right direction.  And step by step as he walked back toward the house having enumerated all these things that he was grateful for, he walked back into the house and he was grateful for his wife and the gift that God had given him.


The Apostle Paul said that we are to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). A grateful heart recognizes that all of life is a gift. Contentment comes when we spend more time giving thanks for what we have than thinking about what’s missing or wrong in our lives. When we begin to be grateful and express gratitude to God, over time, we find our hearts have changed and we are grateful for what we have. It is then that we are able to be content.


Then finally, “Where Does Your Soul Find True Satisfaction?”  Where does your soul find satisfaction?


Now this is really important.  The world tells us we’re going to find satisfaction somewhere else.  But the Bible is constantly telling us that you’re going to find your satisfaction in God.  That you were wired for God.  All the stuff that you want and need deep down inside you can’t buy at the mall; you’re in need of being connected to the one who is the Creator of the universe; you desire that even if you don’t believe in God, there’s something inside of you that needs that. You need to know that you are loved unconditionally by someone who knows you better than you know yourself. You need to know that there’s grace and mercy when you’ve blown it; you need to know there’s hope in the midst of the darkest circumstances; and you need relationships with other people. Contentment is found in relationships – with people in prayer and praise with God. That’s why Jesus said there’s only 2 things you need to remember fundamentally about being a human being, “love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength and love your neighbor.


If you do these two things and you remember this is your focus, you’ll find what you’re looking for. The Apostle Paul says it this way in that passage just after he describes his contentment while he’s in the prison cell he says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. That is how he found contentment; that’s how he could be content no matter his circumstances.


The writer of the book of Hebrews says this: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have,” why? “For He has said, I will never leave you or forsake you.”  You can be content because you know He is by your side no matter what you’re walking through.


So we can say with confidence “the Lord is my helper I will not be afraid.”


I find it interesting when we look at the scriptures the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes, presumably Solomon in his old age – it’s a very depressing book.  He looks over everything in life and what he says it is all vanity, it’s just chasing after the wind.  And he says this very clearly in this passage that we heard earlier.


He says, “Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure…Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind.”


You’re going to have a restless heart until you find what your heart was designed to long for.  Which is why we still remember that beautiful prayer by St. Augustine 1600 years ago.  He said, “Thou hast made us for thyself. O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee”.


Ok so I want to just ask you this question and remind you of a news story this week.  Here’s the question: Which tent will you live in?  There are two tents.  There is the tent of discontent and there is the tent of content.  Which tent will you live in?  Your choice.


But there are certain things that we do to find contentment that we’ve begun talking about today.  And I would encourage you to be people who are content.  Benjamin Franklin I think had it right when he said this, “Contentment makes poor men rich, but discontent makes rich men poor.”


I’d rather you be someone who is poor but with contentment than someone who had everything and didn’t even realize it.


Jesus told us that our life doesn’t consist in the abundance of our possessions.  And every once in a while we finally see that and we get it.  Most of the time the media’s telling us it’s just not true.  But every now and then the media says, “You know what, that’s right.”


We saw that this week in tragic fire in the mansion in Annapolis this past week.


It reminded me of the wild fires in Southern California last year.  When we watched and all these wild fires come and consume entire neighborhoods.  There were thousands of people who were displaced for a period of time.  And I remember reading about one family; their daughter awakened them in the middle of the night.  They woke up, they smelled the smell of smoke, they looked out their back windows and they watched as the fire leapt the interstate as was coming up the hill behind their house, with the winds blowing it towards them.  It was racing towards their house and they had maybe ten minutes or less to get out.  They grabbed their children, they grabbed just a few things, they ran out to the car and as soon as they escaped just before the flames engulfed and portion of their home and all of their neighbors’ homes.


And people came back, and they came back and nothing was there; it was all gone.


And suddenly you become aware, my life does not consist in the abundance of my possessions.


After those fires a reporter interviewed some of the victims who barely had ten minutes warning to escape their homes.  “What did you take with you?”  And I thought this was very interesting.  I mean, what would you take with you?


One little boy saved his pillow.  Of all the important possessions, it was his pillow.  One woman saved two photographs and a childhood book by Dr. Seuss.


Another young man saved his saxophone.  He had just started playing the sax.


Another lady saved her shoes, her purse, she saved her high school and she saved her bible.


What would you save?  If a tornado was coming, or a flood, or a hurricane.  What is it that you’re going to grab?


And don’t you, you already know this intuitively.  You know none of that stuff in the end really matters.  You know that when you die, all the pictures and all the videos and all that other stuff you’ve collected is going in boxes or its going to the dump, or it may make its way to the church rummage sale.  Was it worth it?  And how long will it take you to learn that your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions?


I want to invite you to learn that lesson and to live like it.



Lord we pray that you might cure us from Restless Heart Syndrome.  And we are truly sorry for the times that we receive the gifts that you give to us and ask for the gift receipt; unsatisfied with the person you entrusted unto to our care, unsatisfied with our children or our parents, unsatisfied with our home and our car and our jobs.  God forgive us for the times we’ve offended you by the discontent.  Forgive us for being content with the things we’re not supposed to be content with.  Help us to have a hunger and a deep longing to pursue righteousness and holiness and justice and service and love; to long for you and your will for our lives.  Help us in this.  Help us to be content and to find in you our peace.  We ask these mercies in your holy Name.  Amen.