What would it take to make you feel content? Maybe a lot of money, perhaps a comfortable lifestyle? Likely many different mental snapshots are floating in your mind, things that you’ve seen and heard about. I suspect that they would all be your personal fantasy version of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”!
Perhaps the riches of Solomon come to your mind? That would really do it, huh? He was likely the richest man that ever lived! I say that you already have way more than King Solomon. Solomon didn’t have air conditioning, electricity, indoor plumbing or even toilet paper. He had a chauffeured 2 horse chariot that never went much faster than a modern bicycle. All of Solomon’s money couldn’t get him anywhere faster than a kid on a moped today. In fact, we all can walk into any grocery store and buy fruits and vegetables from around the world, fresh, at any time of the year. Solomon sure couldn’t do that. Since there was only primitive food preservation and no refrigeration, he could only eat what was in season locally or what was just butchered. He had no jeans, no cool t-shirts and no skateboard shoes. He just wore silk pajamas all day. Boxers or briefs? None of the above! No television, internet, facebook or even magazines, just hand drawn pictures. How would you like to be stuck with 700 wives and 300 concubines? If he only quarreled with them 1% of the time, that’s 10 women hollering at him all the time! Could you afford to have all of them taking a shopping trip to Tiffany’s? All the clothes and jewelry, and the sound of 1000 chattering women? My head hurts already! Is that really what you want? Would that make you content?
Ok, I can’t be content with all that. Still, we want to be rich to be content, right? Being a nobody in the top 1% sounds pretty good. The television news people are always talking about how easy the 1%’ers have it. Fair enough, lets try that; to be in the top 1% in the world you must earn $32,400 per year. Not as much as you thought? That will likely be quite a pay cut for most of you.
So what about the other 99% of the world? 22,000 mothers will watch their child starve to death before their eyes today. Every single day. Try to explain to them how hard your life is. See if they will feel sorry for your plight. 4932 kids will die from diarrhea today. 6027 kids will die from lack of immunization shots today. 25% of the world doesn’t have electricity. 22 million people are in total slavery, more than at any point in human history. That dusty Bible you have on your shelf is illegal to possess in roughly 52 countries. Some places, there are people willing to risk death and torture for a copy. Yours may be unread because you’re too busy thinking about all the stuff that you should be entitled to have. We’re busy coveting everyone else’s stuff, no time for that” God “stuff. Does that make you content?
Americans have all that, and we are only the 12th happiest country in the world and that figure is dropping. So how can this be? We are an overfed bunch of crybabies that are just never content. We sure do love our greed, don’t we? Its the insatiability of greed, always more, more, more. So why is contentment so elusive? Friends, we just aren’t looking in the right place. Grab that dusty old Bible off the shelf for a minute. It tells us that greed and covetousness wont make us happy, it actually tells us that we are heading down a doomed path when we make “stuff” our god. We already have plenty of stuff, our poverty is in the unseen and greed blinds us to our greatest need. The Bible sure has that part figured out, but where is the ever elusive happiness?
You must start with thankfulness. 1Thessalonians 5:18 says ” In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Jesus Christ concerning you.” Those were Paul’s words. Here’s what Jesus said, Luke 12:15 ” Then He said to the people, ‘Beware! Be on your guard against greed of every kind, for even when a man has more than enough, his wealth does not give him life.'” How about Paul teaching the young Pastor Timothy, 1Timothy 6:8-9, “We brought nothing into this world; for that matter we can take nothing with us when we leave, but if we have food and clothes we may rest content. Those who want to be rich fall into temptations and snares and many foolish harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and perdition.” My, there isn’t much question there, is there? Do you see any foolish harmful desires in your heart? I have to raise my hand there too. I can get distracted with all the new stuff that marketers are shoving in my face. That’s when I lose perspective in what I really do have and contentment drifts away.
Now that we have a little perspective, knowing that we did nothing to earn this easy life, are you grateful? Have you considered that maybe Jesus didn’t put you here to just pile up cash and buy bigger houses to store all your crap? Those things didn’t make you happy anyway, you’re still miserable. I think that one of the ugliest conditions a person can have is being ungrateful. Just turn on the TV and watch the greed. That’s how your kids are being trained to live unless you give them something better. Most parents are too busy though to teach them better because they are on their own little greedy lust binge. How do you think they will turn out? Contentment is a stranger there too.
So where is the value in life? Thankfully, Paul didn’t leave us wondering. Consider his letter to the church in Phillipi, Phillippians 2:2-4 “If then our common life in Christ yields anything to stir the heart, any loving consolation, any sharing of the Spirit any warmth of affection or compassion, fill up my cup of happiness by thinking and feeling alike, with the same love for one another, the same turn of mind, and a common care for unity. There must be no room for rivalry and personal vanity among you, but you must humbly reckon others better than yourselves. Look to each other’s interest and not merely to your own.”
To love and care for each other isn’t what a post-Christian society teaches. We know that the worlds way doesn’t make us happy. Greed has made us broke and miserable. Jesus’ way is so countercultural that the world can’t even make sense of it. In our misery, we ridicule the answer. We aren’t living in poverty of subsistence, but we are destroying ourselves with our insatiable desires. What we’re stuck with is a poverty of character and of kindness and of empathy.
I’ll leave you to ponder Mother Theresa’s words: ” We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked, and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.”
Give thanks and give yourself away, friends.