Contentment – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, Peace

Contentment – Introduction

In our gotta have bigger, gotta have better, gotta have more society, we tend to look outward for happiness. We generally believe we’ll be happy if could just get “X”…whatever “X” is. We live our lives in search of that illusive “X” that will, when obtained, bring us happiness. Unfortunately, all to often, even when “X” is obtained, the happiness derived from external sources is short-lived – there’s always another new “X” that we believe will bring us happiness. Worse, if we lose “X,” or “X” is taken away, our happiness goes right along with it. Contentment, on the other hand, is inward, and deeply spiritual. And, because contentment spiritual in nature, it’s a choice, a state of being that can never be lost or taken away.

Spiritual Quote

“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.”
~ Socrates

Thoughts

We tend to use many words interchangeably. Often, though, the words that we interchange with others have very different meanings. For instance, happiness and contentment are often interchanged. But they have very different meanings.

Happiness means: the state of being delighted, pleased, or glad.

Contentment means: the state of being satisfied with what one is or has.

Proverbs 15:16 tells us, “Better is a little with reverence for the Lord than the great treasures of the wicked.” (Aramaic) In Hebrews 13:5, Paul advises, “Do not be carried away by the love of money; but be content with what you have…” (Aramaic)

In our search for happiness, we tend to always look for what is coming next. We want a job, or a better job, or a better boss, or more money. We want better relationships, a new relationship, a new car, or a better car. We work during the week looking to the next weekend, the next vacation, the next thing we can buy, or the next experience. In short, in our quest for happiness, we’re never truly satisfied, and we’re often envious of what others have and we do not. Even when we do get what we’ve wanted, the happiness soon fades, and is replaced by a new want – some “thing” that, if we could just obtain it, would make us happy. Things, by their very nature, come and go – nothing lasts forever. When our focus is some elusive state of happiness, our journey is a cyclic, endless ride of highs and lows.

Contentment, however, being spiritual in nature, is achieved through faith. Unlike happiness, contentment is not tied to the accumulation or acquisition of “things.” Once a state of contentment is achieved, it remains constant. It is always a choice – we can choose contentment or we can choose discontentment; but it can never be purchased or supplied by another, nor can it be lost or taken away by another.

Contentment Stems From Faith

In Philippians 4:11, Paul wrote, “…I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” (New King James)

Remember, when he wrote his letter, Paul was a Roman prisoner. Remember, there was no cable TV, no air conditioning, no comfy bed, no indoor plumbing. It wasn’t “three hots and a cot.” I’m sure Paul wasn’t deliriously happy about being chained to a wall in what was probably a cold, damp cell with a brick or dirt floor. So, how could he make such a bold statement about being content? Because he knew that contentment is a deeply spiritual state of being brought about by faith.

Pastor Rick Ezell puts it this way*:

“When I come into a relationship with God through his Son, Jesus Christ, I understand whose I am and what I have. A lack of contentment causes me to look horizontally – at what others have so I am never satisfied. Contentment invites me to look vertically – at God. When I look in his direction, regardless of my possessions or lack of or status or lack of, I know that he is enough.

A man once went to a minister for counseling. He was in the midst of a financial collapse. “I’ve lost everything,” he bemoaned.

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve lost your faith.’

“No,” the man corrected him, “I haven’t lost my faith.”

“Well, then I’m sad to hear that you’ve lost your character.”

“I didn’t say that,” he corrected. “I still have my character.”

“I’m sorry to hear that you’ve lost your salvation.”

“That’s not what I said,” the man objected. “I haven’t lost my salvation.”

“You have your faith, your character, your salvation. Seems to me,” the minister observed, “that you’ve lost none of the things that really matter.”

We haven’t either. You and I could pray like the Puritan. He sat down to a meal of bread and water. He bowed his head and declared, “All this and Jesus too?”

John Stott wrote, “Contentment is the secret of inward peace. It remembers the stark truth that we brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it. Life, in fact, is a pilgrimage from one moment of nakedness to another. So we should travel light and live simply. Our enemy is not possessions, but excess. Our battle cry is not ‘Nothing!’ but ‘Enough!’ We’ve got enough. Simplicity says, if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.””

As Christians, our contentment comes from knowing that if we have Jesus, we have enough.

How Can We Be Content?

We attain a state of contentment when we, like Paul, can say, “I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret – whether well-fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:12-13)

Contentment cannot be purchased, acquired, or given. We’re not born with it. Contentment is learned. And we learn contentment through our faith in Jesus.

Let me share an example (also from Pastor Ezell*):

“Doug McKnight could say those (Paul’s) words. At the age of thirty-two he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Over the next sixteen years it would cost him his career, his mobility, and eventually his life. Because of MS, he couldn’t feed himself or walk; he battled depression and fear. But through it all, Doug never lost his sense of gratitude. Evidence of this was seen in his prayer list. Friends in his congregation asked him to compile a list of requests so they could intercede for him. His response included eighteen blessings for which to be grateful and six concerns for which to be prayerful. His blessings outweighed his needs by three times. Doug McKnight had learned to be content.”

Contentment Resides In The Heart

It’s not wrong to want or desire something more than what we have. Contentment isn’t about denying those feelings. Instead, contentment is a spiritual state of being that frees us from being controlled by those feelings. It’s not about pretending things are wonderful when they’re not, or pretending to be happy when we’re not. Contentment is about living in a state of inner peace that comes from having a deep relationship with God without being contingent on external circumstances or situations. Contentment resides in the heart.

“The majority of people in our society is like thermometers and suffers from pseudo happiness – a counterfeit high that quickly evaporates. They hope the next superficial satisfaction will last, but external happiness is like cotton candy. It’s sweet for a moment and dissolves an instant later. A person who is happy because she is vacationing on Maui is a person who has only a few days to be happy. But a person who has learned to cultivate deep-down contentment will be a consistently joyful person wherever they are.

Most people thirst for what the apostle Paul had: enduring contentment, a deep-down, soul-satisfying contentment. That kind of contentment can only come from within. Contentment is always an inside job. It has everything to do with what is going on inside you, not what is going on outside. It has only one source. That source is found in a soul satisfying relationship with our Heavenly Father that cares for us and promises to meet us where we are.”*

What’s The Secret?

Contentment is not something attained through money, relationships, or status. Contentment is a deep, heartfelt state of being born of our faith. There are, however, things we can do, as Paul put it, to be content in all things.

1. Stay Close To God

God will always provide for our needs. Spending time with Him every day, letting Jesus’ teaching guide us, and the Holy Spirit inspire us deepens and strengthens our relationship with Him. The stronger our relationship with Him, the more we realize that the spiritual is eternal, and the material/physical is temporary.

We then focus more on what’s really important, and we focus less on what is transitory. In Matthew 6:31-34, Jesus put it this way, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

2. Appreciate What We Have

Instead of focusing on what we don’t have, we should appreciate what we do have. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul advises, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” Paul is saying that, in all circumstances, there are things to appreciate. He’s not saying that God’s will is that we have tough times. He’s saying that God’s will is that we live our lives with an attitude of appreciation.

My dad was a living example of appreciation. When times are tough, I think of him, and the example he set. When he was diagnosed with cancer, and throughout his treatment, Dad certainly wasn’t thankful for the cancer, or the horrible effects of the radiation. Now, he could have sat around feeling sorry for himself, and he could have played the “why me” game. Instead, he remained, and focused on, what he did have – he was married to the woman he had loved all his life, he had had a fulfilling career, he had children and grandchildren who filled his life with joy, and he had the opportunity to live where he had always wanted to live – here, in Grants Pass, in the midst of the forest and the mountains and the trees.

3. Let Go Of The Past

“Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead” (Philippians 3:13). We’ll never attain a state of contentment by focusing on mistakes, decisions, or events of the past – ours or someone else’s. We must learn to forgive the past, and let it go. We can’t change it anyway.

We can’t move forward by always looking in the rear view mirror of our lives. Dredging up the past only keeps us tied to the past. And all that does is stir up our heart in ways that prevent us from attaining contentment. And that discontentment can lead us down a pretty dark path of greed and covetousness.

I have a relative who has had many disappointments in the past, many of her own making. Rather than acknowledging her mistakes, and the mistakes made by others, forgiving them, and moving forward, she constantly dwells on and talks about all of the awful and mean-spirited things of her past. She’s lost so many material possessions that she is deathly afraid someone will get something that she feels entitled to – not because she has any particular right to it, but simply because she wants it. When going through my Dad’s things, I came across some items that were very important to one of my brothers, and my dad had wanted him to have. This particular relative decided she wanted them, and she stole them. She was the only one there at the time, and the only one who could have taken them. And, of course, she denies even seeing the items, much less taking them. She’s so afraid someone might get something she wants, and feels entitled to, she resorts to theft and dishonesty. Until she let’s go of her past and what she’s lost, and develops a sense of appreciation for what she has, she will never be content.

4. Day By Day

Psalm 37:7 reminds us, “Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.” And Paul, in Philippians 4:19 tells us, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” We must spend devoted time each day in fellowship with God. And we must remember that all things happen at exactly the right time. We may want certain things about our life to be different, but sometimes something else in our lives needs to change before what we want can be actualized. We must be patient, taking things one day at a time. If we focus on our spiritual needs, the physical needs will come; and in the meantime, we will live contentedly.

5. Find Sufficiency In Jesus Christ

In Philippians 4:13, Paul tells us, “I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Through the powerful presence of Jesus dwelling in our hearts we experience His peace. It is through that peace that we gain unlimited strength. He gives us the strength to make it through the tough times like job loss, health issues, financial difficulties, and relationship problems. In order for that to happen, though, we must go back to living Day by Day and spending time with Him. Philippians 4:7 tells us, “And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Through communion with Him, we experience His peace; and it is His peace that brings contentment.

Closing Thoughts

Contentment is a state of being – it resides in the heart. It is a choice – we can choose, like Paul, to be content in all things. In closing, I’d like to share a personal example of true contentment that has served to inspire me.

My father had a very deep faith. He never really spoke of it. Instead, he lived it.

When he was diagnosed with cancer…

When he was undergoing radiation…

When he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and his memory began to fade…

No matter what was going on, even in the darkest of times, whenever someone asked, “how are you today?”, his response was “I’m wonderful.” And he was.

Like Paul sitting in a Roman prison, Dad wasn’t thrilled with having cancer. The radiation left him internally scarred for the rest of his life, causing extreme pain and discomfort. The Alzheimer’s slowly took away every memory of his entire life. But his contentment was so much a part of him that, even when he couldn’t remember that I was his son, he couldn’t write his name, and he had no idea who his wife was…when asked how he was, he would respond with, “I’m wonderful.” For him, it was a state of mind so powerful that it was his state of being. Regardless of what he was experiencing externally, his response never changed. Even when Alzheimer’s took every memory he had, it couldn’t take away to core of his being – He was wonderful.

Happiness is largely gained or lost through external things, situations, or circumstances. As a result, happiness is fleeting. Contentment, on the other hand, is available to us regardless of external circumstances, through our faith in Christ. Through our faith in Him, we learn that He is enough. In knowing Jesus, we know that God hears us, loves us, and is always with us. He is our anchor, our compass, and our light. With Him, we have everything we need.

Let us Pray…

Acknowledgements

I’d like to acknowledge Pastor Rick Ezell for his thoughts and basic outline for today’s message.

Scripture

  • Proverbs 15:16
  • Philippians 4:11-13
  • Matthew 6:31-34
  • Philippians 3:13
  • Philippians 4:19
  • Psalm 37:7
  • Philippians 4:13
  • Philippians 4:7
  • Hebrews 13:5

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Stories of Non – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, PeaceStories of Non – Introduction

We all face challenges every day, and I am no exception. Some call these challenges “tests of faith.” Some even question, “where is God” and “why is this happening to me?” This week we’re going to review three stories by Eckhart Tolle – three Stories of Non. Honestly, the practices seem quite simple on the surface. But, on closer examination, we can see how the principles put forth in the Stories of Non can be deeply rooted in our faith.

Spiritual Quote

“Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be. ”
~Grandma Moses

Thoughts

This week, I’ve faced some challenges that, quite honestly, have tested my faith. Many of you probably have, too. I’ve been reading, and re-reading, three stories by Eckhart Tolle from his book, “A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.” I call them Stories of Non. On the surface, the Stories of Non, and the principles they espouse, seem quite simple. They also seem to come under the heading, “Easy to say, not quite as easy to do.” But, by looking deeper at the stories, and how they relate to my faith, I am reminded that “bad” things happen. I’m also reminded that “bad” is relative – it’s how I choose to perceive the situation. And, no matter what, God is right here with me. It’s up to me how I choose to face the challenges.

Story #1 – Maybe – It Is What It Is

“The deeper interconnectedness of all things and events implies that the mental labels of “good” and “bad” are ultimately illusory. They always imply a limited perspective and so are true only relatively and temporarily. This is illustrated in the story of a wise man who won an expensive car in a lottery. His family and friends were very happy for him and came to celebrate. “Isn’t it great!” they said. “You are so lucky.” The man smiles and said, “Maybe.” For a few weeks he enjoyed driving the car. Then one day a drunken driver crashed into his new car at an intersection and he ended up in the hospital, with multiple injuries. His family and friends cam to see him and said, “That was really unfortunate.” Again the man smiled and said, “Maybe.” While he was still in the hospital, one night there was a landslide and his house fell into the sea. Again his fr4iends came the next day and said, “Weren’t you lucky to have been here in hospital.” Again he said, “Maybe.””

Story #2 – Is That So

“The Zen Master Hakuin lived in a town in Japan. He was held in high regard and many people came to him for spiritual teaching. Then it happened that the teenage daughter of his next-door neighbor became pregnant. When being questioned by her angry and scolding parents as to the identity of the father, she finally told them that he was Hakuin, the Zen Master.

In great anger the parents rushed over to Hakuin and told him with much shouting and accusing that their daughter had confessed that he was the father. All he replied was, “Is that so?”

News of the scandal spread throughout the town and beyond. The Master lost his reputation. This did not trouble him. Nobody came to see him anymore. He remained unmoved. When the child was born, the parents brought the baby to Hakuin. “You are the father, so you look after him.” The Master took loving care of the child. A year later, the mother remorsefully confessed to her parents that the real father of the child was the young man who worked at a butcher shop. In great distress they went to see Hakuin to apologize and ask for forgiveness. “We are really sorry. We have come to take the baby back. Our daughter confessed that you are not the father.” “Is that so?” is all he would say as he handed the baby over to them.

The Master responds to falsehood and truth, bad news and good news, in exactly the same way: “Is that so?” He allows the form of the moment, good or bad, to be as it is and so does not become a participant in human drama. To him there is only this moment, and this moment is as it is. Events are not personalized. He is nobody’s victim. He is so completely at one with what happens that what happens has no power over him anymore. Only if you resist what happens are you at the mercy of what happens, and the world will determine your happiness and unhappiness.”

Story #3 – This, Too, Will Pass

“According to an ancient Sufi story, there lived a king in some Middle Eastern land who was continuously torn between happiness and despondency. The slightest thing would cause him great upset or provoke an intense reaction, and his happiness would quickly turn into disappointment and despair. A time came when the king finally got tired of himself and of life, and he began to seek a way out. He sent for a wise man who lived in his kingdom and who was reputed to be enlightened. When the wise man came, the king said to him, “I want to be like you. Can you give me something that will bring balance, serenity, and wisdom into my life? I will pay any price you ask.”

The wise man said, “I may be able to help you. But the price is so great that your entire kingdom would not be sufficient payment for it. Therefore it will be a gift to you if you will honor it.” The king gave his assurances, and the wise man left.

A few weeks later, he returned and handed the king an ornate box carved in jade. The king opened the box and found a simple gold ring inside. Some letters were inscribed on the ring. The inscription read: This, too, will pass. “What is the meaning of this?” asked the king. The wise man said, “Wear this ring always. Whatever happens, before you call it good or bad, touch this ring and read the inscription. That way, you will always be at peace.””

Putting Them All Together

As Mr. Tolle states, “The full import of these words [This, Too, Shall Pass] becomes clear when we consider them in the context of two other stories that we encountered earlier. The story of the Zen Master whose only response was always “is that so?” shows the good that comes through inner nonresistance to events, that is to say, being at one with what happens. The story of the man whose comment was invariably a laconic “Maybe” illustrates the wisdom of nonjudgment, and the story of the ring points to the fact of impermanence which, when recognized, leads to nonattachment. Nonresistance, nonjudgment, and nonattachment are the three aspects of true freedom and enlightened living.”

Three statements – Maybe…Is That So…This, Too, Will Pass. Three simple statements…quite easy to say; much harder to live. But, as I re-read these stories this week, I began to realize they have scriptural foundations, too:

Luke 23:24 – “Then said Jesus, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”” Jesus accepted the situation as it was. In fact, during his entire ordeal He never resisted what the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Romans did to Him. Even from the cross, He never condemned or judged them.

Matthew 6:19-21 – “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Philippians 4:11-13 – “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Hebrews 13:5 – “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.””

Colossians 3:1-4 – “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth…”

In Matthew, Jesus is reminding us that everything of this world is temporary, so don’t get attached to it. Enjoy it while you have it. But, if it goes away, that’s the nature of things. Instead, never let go of faith – it can never be taken away.

Philippians, Hebrews, and Colossians remind us of Paul’s total acceptance over his circumstances and his detachment from material “things.” He understood that everything is temporary, including this earthly life, so he didn’t stress over it. Whether “good” or “bad” – Paul leaned on his faith in Jesus.

Conclusion

So, we have three simple stories…Stories of Non: Nonresistance, Nonattachment, and Nonjudgment. And, scripture validates each and every one of these concepts. Scripture also reminds us to always turn to God in faith, regardless of circumstance. One thing scripture adds, though, is passages that remind us of God’s promise to never leave us. Let’s take a look at just a few of them:

Deuteronomy 31:6 – “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Deuteronomy 31:8 – “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

Joshua 1:9 – “…Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Matthew 6:34 – “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Matthew 8:20 – “…And behold, I am with you always…”

We all have troubles and challenges. And, I am no exception. As I mentioned at the beginning today, this week has been full of challenges for me. But, as I pondered and reflected and, yes, even stressed a bit – okay, a lot – I realized I was stressing over “things”. Researching and preparing for today helped me immensely. I am reminded, again, that “things” and situations and possible outcomes are all temporary, or haven’t even happened yet. And, though put into much simpler terms, Grandma Moses was right – life is what we make it.

As I re-read the Stories of Non, and immersed myself in scripture, my feelings of helplessness and hopelessness abated. I became more at peace with it all. I am reassured that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are always with me. No matter what happens, that can never be taken away. And that fills me with a sense of hope.

In closing, I want to share again a poem. It bears witness to Jesus’ reassurance that we will never be alone. We’ve all heard it before but in getting caught up in life, in “things of this world,” we tend to forget. For me, perhaps for you, too, it bears repeating:

Footprints

One night I had a dream–
I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord
and across the sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene I noticed two sets of footprints,
one belonged to me and the other to the Lord.
When the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that many times along the path of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I also noticed that it happened at the very lowest
and saddest times in my life.
This really bothered me and I questioned the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you,
you would walk with me all the way,
but I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life
there is only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why in times when I needed you most,
you should leave me.”
The Lord replied, “My precious, precious child,
I love you and I would never, never leave you
during your times of trial and suffering.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
it was then that I carried you.”
~Mary Stevenson

Scripture

  • Luke 23:24
  • Matthew 6:19-21
  • Philippians 4:11-13
  • Hebrews 13:5
  • Colossians 3:1-4
  • Deuteronomy 31:6
  • Deuteronomy 31:8
  • Joshua 1:9
  • Matthew 6:34
  • Matthew 8:20

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