This sermon is the third in a 5-part stewardship series entitled “Enough.” This series is based on the short stewardship study by the same title authored by Adam Hamilton. The sermon series theme is Discovering joy through simplicity and generosity. The series Scripture verse is 1 Timothy 6:17 — “Command those who are rich in this present world not to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God.”
Sermon #1: “Losing the Shackles”
Sermon #2: “Giving On Purpose”
Sermon #5 (Rev. Bob Roth, Consecration Sunday)
Sermon Scripture: Philippians 4:10-13
Sermon Theme: Contentment
Sermon Main Point: Choosing contentment means we look to God as our Source, giving thanks for what we already have
If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about yourself, what would that be? One thing I’d change about me is my discomfort of schmoosing – working the room, if you will. I won’t go so far as to say I wish I were an extrovert, but if there were one aspect of extroversion I wish I had, it would be the ability to comfortably walk up to people I don’t know and strike up a conversation with them.
How about your stuff, your possessions—is there something you wish you had more of or a higher quality of? When we lived in Mackinaw City I was struck by all the snowmobiles around me in the winter. And they looked like a lot of fun, and for a number of years I kind of drooled over my next door neighbor’s two snow machines. If only I had a snowmobile, then I’d be really happy!
I’ll be honest, there have been many times I’ve looked at one of my family members and wondered what it would be like to be able to vacation in Cancun every year, to not have to think twice about picking up the tab for the whole group when eating out, to be able to drive a really nice SUV. There’s been times when I’ve said to God, “Lord, I know you didn’t bless me with that kind of income, but I’d be willing to give it a try!”
Don’t we all struggle with not being content with what we have now? I’m certainly not immune to feeling discontent, to looking at what I have and quietly wish it was different, or more, or better. And here’s the truth—contentment is NEVER a matter of the quantity or quality of what we have, because even those who have lots and have the best, they too struggle with discontentment. It really is that age-old problem we all have: believing that the grass really is greener on the others side of the fence. And you know what, that little adage really is true—all summer long, especially during the periods of drought, it really did seem to me that the lawn directly across from our house was greener!
There are lots of different ways of understanding Christian stewardship. One angle is to talk about our level of giving… that is, the amount we give. In this case, you’ll hear the phrase “proportional giving,” which is giving a specified proportion of one’s income, usually a percentage. You’ll hear the term “tithe,” which is church-speak for 10%.
During this stewardship campaign, though, we’re not so much talking about amounts or percentages, but the heart that’s behind the giving, as well as some practical things you can do to become generous. Two weeks ago my message was about moving towards spiritual and financial freedom. My main point was that pursuing good, God-honoring financial practices is a major factor in experiencing financial and spiritual freedom. Moving away from financial debt is the desired response. Last week I talked about the idea of aligning our giving with our life’s purpose. My main point was that generous giving most often happens on purpose, and not by accident; it takes planning, setting goals, and knowing your purpose in life. Today I’m talking about cultivating the attitude of contentment.
As is always the case when trying to better align ourselves with God’s ways, it’s helpful to name the starting place, the human condition. The starting place is our belief that my life does consist in the abundance of my possessions. That’s the message we’re bombarded by every day. And how do I know that a part of each of us believes that? Because of our feelings of discontent. Because of that nagging voice in our heads that says, If I just had a little bit more, I’d be happier. If I just had this thing I don’t currently have, I’d be more satisfied. If I had a bigger house or a nicer car or more fashionable clothes, I’d feel more fulfilled. The fact is, every single day we’re bombarded by advertising that tries to convince us this is true.
Into this message, Jesus speaks a word of truth. Life absolutely does NOT consist in the abundance of possessions (cf. Luke 12:15). Here’s the problem: we say we agree with Jesus on this matter… and it may even be that we truly DO agree with him, that our life consists of more than our money and things. But too often we live as though they do. Adam Hamilton calls this “Restless Heart Syndrome.” It’s the affliction of never feeling satisfied with what we currently have. And its primary symptom is discontent.
Now, having said that, would it surprise you to hear me say that that there’s a discontent that’s good and healthy? There’s a certain discontent that God intends us to have. He actually wired our hearts so that they’d be discontent with certain things, which would then cause us to seek the only One who can fully satisfy us. So God wants us to content with certain things and discontent with others. Unfortunately, in our sinful, broken state, we tend to get them confused, so that we’re discontent with the things we’re supposed to be content with, and content with the things we’re supposed to be discontent with!
Generally speaking the things God would have us be discontent with are our moral character, our spiritual life, our pursuit of holiness, our desire for justice, and our ability to love. These are the areas in which we should continue to grow and improve, for we’re meant to become more that we are today. God wants us to actually yearn to know him more, to forgive others, to be seekers of truth. The problem is that many if not most of us are quite content with where we are today in these matters. How many of us in this congregation feel the need or desire to be in a Bible study, small group, or Sunday school class? Some of us, yes, but a large majority—at least until now—haven’t been clamoring for more opportunities for spiritual development
On the flip side, the things God would have us be content with are the very things that we feel discount with. Our possessions, our jobs, our church, our children, our parents, our spouses, our current life situation, and even our personality traits (like my desire to be more extroverted than I am). Sin has flipped it upside down.
We could learn a lesson from the Apostle Paul. In his letter to the Christian congregation in Philippi, he expressed gratitude that they were finally showing concern for him, for whatever situation he was in at the time of the writing of this letter. But then he quickly adds this: “I’m not saying this because I’m trying to get something out of you, for I have learned how to be content in any circumstance. I know the experience of being in need and of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor. I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:10-13).
It didn’t happen overnight, but Paul eventually figured out how to be OK with whatever life situation he was in at that time. And my guess is that he also figured out that whatever life situation he was currently in, it was probably going to change. And rather than fight it, he realized that it was best to be ok with it.
Maybe contentment boils down to having a certain belief about God. Do you believe that God knows your needs and desires, and has your best interest in mind? Do you believe that God is truly interested in your life, and is actively orchestrating it to some degree? Do you believe God wants his very best for you? Do you believe God can fully satisfy your soul? For those who can say yes to these questions, it may be easier to be content. If I truly believe that God knows my needs, knows my situation, and is actively working in my life to give me all I need to be fully satisfied, then it’s probably easier to come to the place where I can be happy with what I have.
But if I’m not able to affirm these questions, then it’s probably going to be a lot more difficult to be content. Why? Because I’m constantly going to be thinking to myself, “I don’t like what God’s given me. I think I know better than he what I need. Maybe my theology has a tremendous impact on which tent I choose to live in: disconTENTment or conTENTment.
Here’s how Adam Hamilton puts it: “Choosing contentment does not mean that we must stop buying things or move into cramped homes or apartments. That’s not realistic, and I don’t believe that’s what God requires of us. Rather, choosing contentment means we look to God as our Source, giving thanks for what we have. It means we ask God to give us the right perspective on money and possessions and to change our hearts each day. It means we decide to live simpler lives, wasting less and conserving more. And it means we give more generously. When we do these things, we’re reclaiming the joy of contentment and simplicity.”
Benjamin Franklin summed it up this way: “Contentment makes poor men rich, but discontentment makes rich men poor.” 1 Timothy 6:6 says this: “godliness is a great source of profit when it is combined with being happy with what you already have.”
In the O.T., after King David died, his son, Solomon, became king. In terms of wealth, he was the Bill Gates of his day. In terms of the desires of the flesh, he was the Hugh Hefner of his day. He truly went after and got everything he ever desired, everything that money could possibly buy—including 700 wives and 300 what we would probably call sex slaves today. There was nothing he didn’t have or get that he wanted. But guess what? It didn’t satisfy. Hear him well: 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. (Eccl. 2:10-11). All was vanity and a chasing after wind. I thought it would make me happy, but it never did. I thought it would be fulfilling, but it left me empty. I thought I would be satisfied, but I was always left wanting more.
Remember that snowmobile I thought I needed in order to make my long winters a lot more enjoyable? I discovered that I DIDN’T, in fact, need that snow machine as much as I thought I did. A couple of years into my appointment, my next door neighbor invited me on a day-long trek with a group of snowmobilers. We rode south for a few hours, had lunch, then rode back. And what I realized was that it was fun, but that it wasn’t nearly as fun as I thought it would be. It seemed to me that getting a ride in once a year would satisfy me just fine.
Contentment is a choice. It’s something we have to cultivate in ourselves. If this is something you’d like to change in your own life, on the back side of the blue insert are 4 keys to cultivating contentment. These come from Hamilton’s stewardship study called “Enough.” As you prepare for Consecration Sunday on Oct. 22, and as you pray about the level of support God is putting on our heart, please do this one thing: give thanks every day for what you DO have. God can change your heart. We can do all these things through the One who strengthens us.