Tag Archives: Discontent

The Path to Contentment

But godliness with contentment is great gain.
1 Timothy 6:6 (NIV)

Our friend Tony Harris published a book this past year entitled FADS Marketing. Tony is an expert marketer and his book is a fascinating insider’s view of the world of big marketing. The book opened my eyes to the way I am being sold a bill of goods every day with regard to food, alcohol, drugs, and sex (F.A.D.S. Get it?). If I’m blind to it and if I’m not paying attention, then I will fall for it over and over and over again. What big marketing does is take the field of my basic human appetites and then sows discontent.

Contentment is a recurring theme in Paul’s later writing. I find it interesting that it seems to have become a more important topic the further he got in his own spiritual journey. He takes a rather balanced approach. “I know what it is to have plenty,” he writes, “and I know what it’s like to be in need.” In either circumstance, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves (because it can change rapidly in ways we don’t control), we should seek to be content.

That’s hard to do if I’m blind to the fact that every advertisement and marketing ploy (and they’re all over the place) is trying to stir my appetites’ discontent until I have what they tell me I want and need.

The further I get in my life journey the more I find myself pursuing contentment. I’m not perfect at it by a long shot. I confess that. Like most paths to growth and maturity, the road to contentment often finds me repeatedly taking one step forward before falling two steps back. Looking back, however, I can see the progress. More and more the things of real value to me are relationships, conversations, laughter, time, quiet, a shared meal, life together.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself once again honestly taking inventory of my wants and also taking inventory of my haves. Along the path to contentment, I’ve discovered that if I focus myself on gratitude for, and enjoyment of, the latter then the former takes up less room in my heart and mind.

And so, I contentedly enter another day of the journey.

Pomp and Circumstance

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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:12-13 (NIV)

We are all suckers for a Pinterest-worthy phrase. The Bible is full of them. The stuff of inspirational bookmarks, posters, desktop backgrounds, and cheap commercial trinkets sold at your local Christian bookstore.

As I’ve journeyed through God’s Message for almost 40 years, I’ve observed that it’s quite common for that inspirational, scriptural quote to be taken completely out of context. Text that is actually profound, mysterious, and/or challenging with eternal, Level Four spiritual meaning is screen printed, replicated and dragged down to self-centric, ego-pleasing, Level One interpretations. I’m not pointing fingers, by the way. I’m as guilty as anyone.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

I’m sure there are many young followers of Jesus who are receiving graduation gifts from well-meaning grandparents with that phrase printed on a greeting card, key-chain, or bookmark. On the surface, it seems to flow right along with all the pomp and circumstance of your boiler-plate commencement address:

“Chase after your dreams.”

“You can be anything you want to be.”

“Make your mark on this world.”

“The world is yours for the taking.”

“All your dreams can come true if you work hard enough.”

I noticed as I read the chapter this morning that preceding Paul’s inspirational statement is a rather sobering message:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”

Paul, who was stoned and left for dead outside the city of Lystra. Paul, who was shipwrecked three times in the Mediterranean and once spent twenty-four hours floating on debris in the open ocean hoping to make it to shore. Paul, who was bitten by a viper. Paul, who five times was given 39 lashes (because 40 was considered lethal). Paul, who traveled some 10,000 miles largely by foot. Paul, who was beaten with rods three times, went hungry and found himself cold, naked, and alone. Paul, who was writing those words from prison.

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.”

The secret of being content in any circumstance is the “all things” Paul was referencing with his inspirational phrase. He wasn’t talking about grabbing the world by the tail, achieving his personal dreams, and moving up in the world. He was talking about being perfectly content being cold, naked, hungry, bloody, bruised and shackled in a first-century dungeon. Ironically, that is not the stuff of inspirational commencement addresses.

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that it is discontent that often fuels personal dreams, aspirations, ambition, economics, and the American dream. Paul’s faith taught him contentment in the midst of unimaginable suffering. I struggle to be content with my iPhone 8 when the iPhone X hits the market.

And there’s the disconnect.

This morning I find myself challenged to restore the meaning of the words “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” to its profound, mysterious, spiritual meaning in my own heart and life.  Being content no matter my current situation and circumstances. I confess that it’s easier said than done for me, and I’ve got a long way to go in learning the secret Paul discovered. Which is why this is a journey.

Time to press on. Have a good day, my friend.

 

Chapter-a-Day Haggai 1

source: sualk61 via Flickr

This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Look at what’s happening to you! You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes! Haggai 1:5-6 (NLT)

As you might suspect if you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, I like to write. In fact, there are a couple of books and plays rattling around in my head most of the time. Ask me the question, “If you were going to write a book, what would it be?” and I’d have to start flipping coins to narrow it down to one. I can tell you for sure that these verses from today’s chapter would definitely be referenced in one of them.

As I look back on my journey, I find that the theme of contentment has largely been ignored by Jesus followers and the church organization. Even though God’s Message reminds us to be content in any and every circumstances, the louder voices of our culture and our economy cry for us to be continuously discontent. Historians will tell you that we are in the “Age of Technology” and nothing has tapped into our spirit of discontent like technology. The must have gadget or device we buy today is replaced by a newer, better, faster gadget or device tomorrow. Welcome to the hamster wheel. Start spinning.

I don’t write this to judge anyone but myself. I am increasingly convicted that I have given in to the spirit of discontent as much as anyone. My daily introspection and self-examination often leads to a conversation with God in which I’m asking forgiveness for not being content in one fashion or another. I am reminded again this morning that Jesus said the road to life is narrow, difficult, and runs against the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the super highway towards death. In God’s economy, godliness coupled with contentment are the means of great gain.

Maybe I should write that book: The Case for Contentment.

I’m afraid no one would be interested.

Chapter-a-Day Acts 6

photo by Charlie Beldon via Flickr

But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. Acts 6:1 (NLT)

Of course there were rumblings of discontent. Rumblings of discontent have been a natural consequence of the human order ever since Adam and Eve bit the forbidden fruit. We are self-centered creatures and when things don’t go our way we rumble with discontent. Children rumble against parents when they don’t get their way. Parents grumble about rebellious, self-willed children. Students rumble at their teachers and teachers gripe about their students. Employees rumble with discontent towards their employers. Employers rumble with discontent at their employees. As a leader in our community theatre I get to deal with rumblings of discontent from audience members, actors, directors, members and city officials. Having been a member of many different churches over the years I’ve experienced rumblings of seismic proportions on many occasions and feel tremors of discontent every time I walk through the lobby on a Sunday morning.

So, why does it surprise us when it happens? Why do we have this notion that peace and tranquility are somehow the natural order in a fallen world, and why do we act so shocked and amazed when time and again we find ourselves rumbling in conflict? On this chapter-a-day journey through God’s Message we’ve encountered stories of people rumbling with discontent over and over and over and over since the beginning of recorded history. Time and circumstances change, but the discontented rumbling goes on through the eons.

Which is why, I believe, Jesus called us to the rather difficult, unnatural task of loving others more than we love ourselves. That’s the calling card. It’s what makes us stand out from others. Everyone loves themselves more than others, but who regularly puts others’ needs ahead of their own?

Today is my 46th birthday. It is the 16,803rd day of my Earthly existence. Over the past few weeks I’ve been spending a lot of time in quiet introspection. If I consider the averages I’m well on the downhill side of this journey, but I’m no where near where I want to be. I look in my own heart, examine my own thoughts, and inspect my words and actions. I find far more discontented rumbler than selfless lover. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

I want the second half of my journey to count more for God’s Kingdom than the first.