By Steven Clark Goad
Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 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. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6:6-10, NIV, 1984).
As a freshman in high school I was invited to join our school’s concert choir. I loved music. For me, it was a heady matter to be selected. Most aspiring singers didn’t make the cut for choir until their junior or senior year. I was on cloud nine.
A month later I was given the lead roll in the choir’s operetta. Me, of all people! I must really be good, I thought. The fact that tenors were hard to come by hadn’t crossed my mind.
Up In the Air went off without a hitch. Other opportunities afforded themselves. Boys’ octet. Madrigals. But then something happened that altered my puny ego trip. Another Steve moved into our area who could also sing tenor. He got the rest of the lead roles for the rest of my high school career.
I was not very content to play second fiddle to the other Steve. Third fiddle, now and then, was even harder to swallow. So what if he was taller, more handsome, and could sing better than me? He usurped me and supplanted me. Content? No way.
Eventually Steve and I became good friends. And as much as I enjoyed his musical talents, I did not enjoy living in his shadow and being passed over for lead rolls and solos. My ego was at stake.
This reminds me of another who was supplanted. John the Baptist was a powerful preacher. He paved the way for the Messiah: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). John must diminish and Jesus must take center stage. How gracious. “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). How did you do that, John?
I Can’t Get No—Satisfaction
Possessions are the greatest enemy of contentment. Often we judge our worth by how much stuff we have to feather our nests. Our swimming pool is larger than theirs. We have two new cars and they are still driving an old beater. My position at work puts me next to the top in management.
How can I settle for less? Affluence has a way of challenging our sensibilities. Does more and more really lead to contentment?
To be content is to learn to be satisfied with what we have. When we’re content, our life’s delight will not depend on external matters like wardrobes, expense accounts, or the size of our house.
The apostle Paul understood contentment. He knew about life’s ups and downs. There were times when he was flush. And there were times when he was not only less affluent; he was hungry and wondering where his next meal would come from. He had learned in austerity and plenty that such positions had nothing to do with being satisfied. “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11, NIV), he wrote.
It seems our lack of contentment is often tied to monetary matters. We have bought a bill of goods that says if we get more money and have more things, we will be happier. We often hear parents say, “We just want our kids to be happy.” But that’s not good enough if we truly love our children. That isn’t our purpose in life. Who says we are supposed to be happy?
Contentment is superior to happiness. It doesn’t depend on a raise, a diamond ring, a new car, a house, or a puppy. “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have” (Hebrews 13:5).
Affluence is one of the great deceivers. Perhaps it is the greatest of all. We know that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Not just evil, but all kinds of it. Satan has many devices in his tool kit. One of them is money. It gives us a false sense of security. It goads us into thinking we are more important than we are. It creates snobbery in many who have it.
To have enough necessities to survive is no longer acceptable to a society that has ridden the cash cow for so many decades. The current state of the American economy reminds us that we have no guarantee of affluence. Too many grown children still living at home with mommy and daddy are a stark reminder of how strong economies are not a given.
Even Shakespeare knew that at some point the riches of a king’s wealth were useless: “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse” (Richard III). What good is all the money one could spend in five lifetimes if he loses his life? We can’t take a single stick with us when we cross over to the other side. So why do we stress ourselves to accumulate so many sticks? The older I get, the more I realize that less is more.
Wealth has a way of making us forget the giver. Immense wealth makes some think they are above petty matters such as seeking and obeying God. The eagerness to gain fortune can drive men like Bernie Madoff to do their best to “make off” with your life’s savings. Money—and all the things money can buy—can distract us from our purpose for existence. It’s easy to lose focus when surrounded by anything our eyes might desire. Solomon learned that the hard way.
Someone has to be in the kitchen fixing supper. Martha was such a person. One day, when the Master was in her living room, she had her priorities confused. Sure enough, getting the biscuits and gravy was important, but someone far more important was in the house. Martha, like any good housekeeper, was concerned with many things. Dusting. Meals. Visitors. But Jesus had to say to her, “One thing is needful” (Luke 10:42, American Standard Version). Mary had chosen the better course.
The God of Busy-ness
As it was with Martha, so it is with many today. We are a hurried and harried society. We have too many irons in too many fires. Some are busy climbing the ladder “wrong by wrong” instead of rung by rung. We are distracted by our crowded schedules and self-imposed activities.
We spend fortunes on weddings to celebrate marriages that won’t last a decade. We watch far too much trash TV and wonder why we aren’t more spiritual. Our society has given the next generation more than the previous generation—to a fault. And now we have a generation of adults who feel entitled to full bellies and all the electronic toys money can buy, whether or not they’re employed.
I remember when J. C. Penney stores were closed on Sunday. Mr. Penney said that if a man had so much business that his enterprise needed to be open on Sundays, then that man had too much business. It was an era when God and holiness were still the coin of the realm to some. How far have we come from those simpler times?
The man was late for work. He was driving a bit faster than normal. A honeybee flew into the car. The man started swatting at it as if it were a bat. He forgot the one thing he needed to be concentrating on—driving. His lifeless body was found in the wreckage.
We know the good old days weren’t that great so far as comforts are concerned. But the reason so many of us long for them is that we were not tied to things as we are today. We didn’t need four family members working just to feed our wants. Back then only one thing was paramount. Today that one thing is still needed. Jesus wants to be in the house. Cooking on the fancy six-burner stove can wait.
Steven Clark Goad is a minister and freelance writer in Blythe, California.
Growing Toward Contentment
Epictetus said, “I am always content with what happens; for I know that what God chooses is better than what I choose.” While that sounds great, many of us will live most of our lives far removed from that ideal. It takes time to cultivate such deep contentment, but if we work toward it, we’ll see God bringing it to fruition in our lives.
Here are ways to help contentment grow.
• Pray earnestly. Contentment is a work only God can do.
• Practice obedience—every day in big and small things.
• Work through your guilt. Check out Let It Go: Come Home from Your Guilt Trip by Mark Atteberry at www.standardpub.com (Item 021530610).
• Watch for God working—it might not be where or when you think, but if you’re persistent you’ll see it.
• Be patient. Growth in Christ takes time and often feels like it has stops and starts.
• Spend time with people who have the same goal.