Summary: We as disciples of Jesus are surrounded in our world with materialism. We all want more stuff, but it never satisfies. Only through learning contentment can we live the way Jesus wants us to in this world.
In my last post, we begin a new miniseries on Developing Christian Perspectives and how to have a Christian worldview. In this post, we continue talking about Christian perspectives by comparing contentment with materialism.
Many Americans chase the “American dream,” the desire to be wealthy and be able to do whatever you want. The problem is that this is an elusive dream and most never get there. They spend their lives in an endless job without much success in chasing the dream
But we disciples of Jesus have a different dream. We want to please Jesus in everything we say, think, and do. We follow His agenda and one of His teachings is how to be content in Him and not chase the fleeting desires of this world. In light of that pursuit, let’s get started.
Enslaved to the Rat Race
As people chase the American dream, they find themselves in an endless “Rat Race” where they spin on a wheel that gets them nowhere. Although there are many opportunities to “get ahead in life,” most people never get where they want to be. They chase this elusive desire that others define.
Seeking fame and fortune never pans out. They end up making small gains but never arriving. The desires of the flesh enslave those who seek them. We want what our minds and bodies tell us we should have, but these come from worldly pursuits.
Disciples of Jesus seek the Kingdom of God and its fulfillment. But Christian Americans can find themselves chasing this pursuits is the world around them. Jesus said a higher standard and goal. He said that it profits us nothing to gain the whole world and lose our souls ().
You need to get out of the rat race if you are pursuing such things. Jesus calls you to something much better than chasing the dream that never develops. You will never be satisfied by the desires of the flesh and the world’s goals for you. Stop listening to the world and turn to Jesus’s desires for you.
Keeping Up with the Jones’s
This phrase, “keeping up with the Jones’s” describe the desires of people to have the nicest things and try to do better than those around them. They spend their lives comparing themselves to the higher standards of neighbors and others. How defeating to never catch up to such higher standards.
Don’t let others define success for you. You live differently than the world, and you have a different perspective than the world. You don’t have to compare yourself to those around you. It’s a futile and fruitless pursuit. You will just be discouraged when you fall short of the goals of others.
Are you in this boat? How are you faring on the seas of individualism, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, and doing your very best? How do you define success? Are you coveting your neighbor’s “success”? We need to take time to evaluate our lives and whether we are holding to Jesus’s standards or the world’s.
The Trap of Materialism
In America, the trap of materialism is very real. We are pressured by everyone around us to seek stuff. Sometimes you may not realize how pervasive and infectious these desires are. You may be trapped in materialism without realizing it. Selfish ambition invades Wall Street and every other area of life.
People seek money because that leads to fulfilling the desires of our flesh and giving us the illusion of happiness. If you have money, you supposedly can get anything you want. You become the slave of your desires and they control every move you make. You start living for the things you can’t obtain.
Desire for stuff and money, the American dream, and chasing after things you will never obtain leaves you with dissatisfaction. It’s a burning passion within that is never quenched. You live with worry, discontentment, yearning, and depression. You seek the things others have, the life they are living, and everything better on the other side of the fence.
Does this really improve your life? Wanting things takes your mind off a heavenly, eternal perspective. Because we are physical and spiritual creatures, the draw of this world’s stuff on us is constantly pulling us away from a Christian perspective. More stuff doesn’t get you more happiness. It makes it worse because once you have more, you want even more. It’s time to stop listening to desires of the world. Jesus gives a better way.
Paul talks about the love of money is one of the chief desires of our lives. He quickly reminds us that it is the root of all evil, and we brought nothing into this world, and can take nothing out of it (1 Timothy 6:6-10). Contentment frees us from a life of worry, striving, and failing.
Putting Coveting Away
At the heart of discontentment is coveting other people’s stuff and situations. God knew it would be such a big problem for community living that He made it the tenth and final commandment (Exodus 20:17). It is the only commandment that cannot be observed by another person.
Coveting is a matter of the heart. You can covet someone else’s stuff, but as long as you don’t steal it or tell anyone about it, no one knows you are breaking this commandment. Our desires get the best of us, and while Jesus gave us new desires as His new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), we must choose to listen to godly desires over fleshly ones.
In one sense, as a disciple of Jesus, you will need to obey the Spirit and stop displeasing God by coveting other people’s stuff. Obedience to the Holy Spirit is the hardest thing you will do. Sometimes you will succeed, other times you will fail. Following negative commandments is hard because there is no way to reinforce good behavior.
James hits his congregation hard when he writes, “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:2–3, ESV) he follows this up with serious Old Testament prophetic speech, “You adulterous people!” Spiritual adultery is the prophetic terminology for idolatry.
And that’s just what it is, isn’t it? When we desire more stuff, a lifelike our neighbor’s, or anything else contrary to God’s will and best for us, it is idolatry. We put money, stuff, and the things of this world above God. God didn’t give that final commandment because He doesn’t want you to have nice things. He did it so you would not be focused on this world.
Jesus expounds on this when He tells us God takes care of the birds and flowers of the world, so He will certainly take care of us (Matthew 6:26-35). If we really believe God takes care of us, we wouldn’t be relying our own resources and willpower to get things we don’t need. That’s why I said in the last post that having an eternal perspective is the foundation for all the other Christian perspectives we will discuss. The stuff you have won’t last, so you waste valuable time and effort for worthless things.
I’m not saying these things are not valuable. We need money to provide for ourselves and our families. Certain things are useful to us while we live in this world. But we place way too much emphasis on the stuff that we have, making having more wealth or stuff a status symbol. These are the things God foresaw when he made the tenth commandment.
Trusting in God’s Provision
The biggest cure for coveting and materialism is to remind ourselves that God is our Provider. Everything we need He supplies. Paul put it best when he said that my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory (Philippians 4:19). When we practice contentment, it is putting the onus for our needs on God.
You cannot just say you believe God is your Provider. You have to put it into practice. The true test of faith is action. When you can step back, change your values, and wait on God to provide, then you have put your faith into action. That is a tested, proven, gold faith in God’s provision. He is then truly Jehovah Jireh of your life.
Giving God full control of provision in your life puts Him on the throne of your heart. He knows what you need, and He will provide it out of His lavish wealth. It takes the pressure of anxiety to supply your needs. You no longer have to trust in “self.” There is freedom in turning over your needs over to God.
When you put everything in His hands, it’s no longer in yours. I have often thought about my paralysis as one of the greatest lessons to learning I am not in control. My life is completely in God’s hands. I can do nothing for myself. I’ll admit it’s not easy to realize this. The fact that my life is in God’s hands can cause anxiety, especially when I am disconnected from my vent for more than a minute and a half or so.
This biblical truth of God’s provision becomes quite real in that moment. If God wants to take your life instead of save it, you will be in heaven with him. As one of my mentors always said, “You can’t scare a Christian with heaven.” Truly think about the fact that you are not in control. If you relied on yourself to provide all your needs, what happens when you reach the end of your rope? It’s much better to put your needs on God and watch Him come through.
Learning to Be Content
You’ll be happy to know that contentment is not a spiritual gift. It is not a natural talent only some people have. Contentment can be learned, and that’s the greatest relief of all. In one of the most familiar passages of the New Testament, Paul addresses contentment. Paul is talking about the Philippian Christians and how they seek to provide for his needs. He responds,
“I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:10–13, ESV)
He wanted the Philippians to be concerned, but that wasn’t why. He didn’t want them to break out the church credit card for him. He wasn’t glad to know they wanted to take care of him, it glorifies God. Paul says that he is not in need. That’s plain he says that he has learned” to be content no matter his situation.
He has learned contentment in poverty, hunger, and any number of situations none of us wants to be in. I can remember my grandfather telling me about times when his family was in need. God always provides, for just when they needed it the most, there would be a knock at the door. When he opened it, there were grocery bags of food for them.
Contentment doesn’t only talk about getting along with little or being in dire situations. It also talks about how to accept the bounty and blessing of the Lord. Even in those times a person can become greedy and want more than the Lord’s blessings. Contentment means you are thankful for God’s bounty and trust Him when you are in lack.
A verse quoted very often about any number of circumstances that do not relate to this passage is Philippians 4:13. Saying, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” does not refer to some superhuman strength to do impossible things. It is Jesus’s strength to learn contentment no matter what we are faced with. Paul is saying he can do anything because of the strength of Jesus in him. He is saying that with Jesus’s help, he can face not having enough and having more than enough. We must learn contentment so we can truly say the same.
Do you know the weaknesses of your flesh where temptation roams? When you are faced with lack or bounty, have you learned how to be content? Ask Jesus to teach you contentment, and don’t be surprised if He uses hard circumstances to teach you.
We have seen how being content with our situation and what we have keeps us from the materialism that pervades our culture. Next, we will see how generosity frees us from hoarding everything we have.