Monday, March 1, 2010

The Problematic Attainment of Contentment

Before I get on a Political blog, I wanted to write a little about the struggle with Contentment. This is directed toward the serious disciple of Christ.

Philippians 4:11-12 "I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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."

Hebrews 13:5 "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.'"

We, as believers in the LORD and followers of His word, are to be content in all things. That is plain and simple. However, I wonder, if we are truly honest with ourselves, how many of us could honestly admit that we are content most of the time? If you think about it, this idea is near impossible for a human being (realize I said "near" impossible, not impossible). For as human nature goes, we are inherently greedy. We always want more, whether it be things, or relationships or opportunities, even in ministry. As human beings we always want to improve in whatever we embark on. If its a job, then we want a raise/promotion, if its school, we want a higher GPA, if its sports we want the championship, and then the next championship. If its ministry, we want it to be more effective, even in our own personal lives, we always want to be better human beings. So how can we honestly say we are content?

Allow me to address the distinction between contentment and aspiration, as I am sure this is the first thing that would pop in ones mind. One might argue, that you can aspire to be better or more successful and still be content where you are. Because aspiration and contentment are two separate achievements. However, I beg to dislodge this claim. I do not think you can claim to have both, contentment and aspiration. At the root of aspiration is hope, and hope is the desire for a certain thing to happen. Hope has at its foundation "desire" and desire is wanting what you do not have. If you aspire you are in all practicality wanting more of what you are attempting, you would not aspire if you were happy (content) with the position/place you were in. Why would you want to leave? Why would you want to change, if you were truly content with the position/place you were in, then why in the world would you put in any amount of effort to change your content paradigm? The answer is you would not! You would stay where you are, happy and satisfied. The problem is, most of us are not like this, we always need to improve, we always need to get better, we always want more! So then, this brings me back to my earlier question, how can we do as Paul writes and be content as we have a greedy human nature?

I will use myself as an example of the imperfection of a lack of contentment in life. Many of you know of the volunteer work I do overseas, what you don't know is the battle I have within myself when I am overseas or at home in the States. When I have spent a fair amount of time in the States, I find myself longing for the adventure of the Middle East/Africa, the desire for extreme, effective ministry. I yearn for the spontaneity and I long for the great fellowship I get from the community I have out there. Pleasant pictures of service and doing good come to my head and a yearning to leave the comforts of America and immerse myself in the troubles and sacrifices of overseas ministry pleasantly overtake me! Basically, I see only the good of overseas work and I see only the bad of life in America. And yet, when I have spent a fair amount of time in the Middle East/Africa, the exact opposite happens. I see the opportunities I am missing in the States, I yearn for the fellowship of friends and family and good food. I see the different kinds of opportunities for ministry in the States and convince myself that I am made for that. I see all the pitfalls of life in the Middle East/Africa and am blinded to any good of that life.

My dilemma goes one step further. When I am in one place yearning for the other, I am AlWAYS aware that after some time I will want the location I am currently in. I am actually AWARE of the dichotomy that I face in both locations and I try my hardest to remember the good of the location I am in and remind myself of all the good I thought about it when I was in the other location. (I hope that made sense) This is not something that I have struggled with two or three times, but every single year of my life for the past seven years. If I find myself in the States, I yearn to leave. If I find myself in the Middle East/North Africa, I yearn to leave. I ALWAYS WANT WHAT I DO NOT HAVE! Please keep in mind, I am not talking about material things, but about service about ministry about helping others. So if I can not find contentment in something as important and descent as helping others, then how in the world am I expected to find contentment in less important things like what I own? How can I do it with my inherent sinful nature?

I am completely aware of my inability to be content in life. And as a serious disciple, I find it daunting to obey this advice written by Paul in Philippians and this command in Hebrews. I might be alone in this, but I know I am not! Why? because we are all human and I know, that if we are all TRULY HONEST with ourselves we would admit that, at times we have been content, but only for a short time until our eyes or aspirations set themselves on the next best thing. If you can honestly admit that you have found contentment in life and have stayed in that contentment, THEN PLEASE, PLEASE PLEASE TELL ME HOW YOU DID IT! BECAUSE I DO NOT SEE HOW PEOPLE WHO ARE HONEST WITH THEIR SINFUL HUMAN NATURE CAN ACHIEVE TRUE, CONSISTENT CONTENTMENT IN LIFE!!!!!

I am pretty sure I know what some of you might say in response to this, and I have a response of my own to that, but I will see if anyone steps up! Just be warned, if you use Scripture, make sure you use it in context.

1 comment:

  1. True contentment is Spirit enabled worship responding to the death and resurrection of Jesus for the glory of the Father. Though unadulterated, unceasing contentment escapes us in this creation, as a new creation we begin to experience that contentment that will see its fulfillment in the final resurrection.

    The apostle Paul begins Philippians 3 commanding the people of God to rejoice in the Lord. Though righteous under the law, he counted knowing Christ far more valuable. He continues in verses 10 and 11 to look to the resurrection as the end goal. Along the way, however, he shares in the suffering of Jesus' death. So, we see Paul desiring to know Christ in this life through suffering, but at the same time looking to the future hope of the resurrection, just as the Lord Jesus was resurrected by God.

    When Paul sums up the source of contentment in 4:13 as the Lord strengthening him, I take that to mean that the Lord strengthens Paul as a new creation through present suffering and future hope. So, we indeed see contentment and "aspiration", as you put it, coupled together in the power of the resurrection and new creation.

    As for the Hebrews text, I would say that you took it out of context yourself if you are going to make it a broad brushstroke relating to general contentment, since the verse refers to it in relation to the love of money. But, there are principle parallels that can be drawn out, even in an isolated verse.

    The end of the verse echoes God's faithfulness to his covenant with his people in OT texts such as Deuteronomy 7. God is faithful to the promises he makes, and this faithfulness sees fulfillment in, again, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

    All of this is but a gloss, but it points to the inauguration of the new creation and its ultimate fulfillment as the source of contentment. As we sojourn through this life anticipating the final resurrection, God works in us as his new creation. Someday in the future God will rest a second time from his creative work, and that will signal our true contentment, for he will truly be content with his creation. We will then join God in the final and eternal sabbath in the new heavens and the new earth.