On the way to school, I was talking to my son about phones. I told him that all phones used to have these wires attached. You couldn’t take the thing with you. And he said. “Like those old- fashioned phones in your office?” I said yes. But now, I think. He calls those phones old fashioned? Sheesh ten years ago, I thought they were the most sophisticated thing ever. Heck, they even had a screen on them, and a voicemail that talked to you. Now I carry something in my pocket that can show me pretty much any show or movie ever made, and all I have to do is tap it a couple of times. Wow.
Do you see that picture?It shows you a picture of a house in the 1950s, and not just any house, but a dream house. And how big was that dream house? If it fit the average, it had a thousand or so square feet. Maybe if it was the deluxe model, it might go up to 1250 square feet. And today, do you know what the average size has become? It’s more than doubled to 2500 square feet. Yet, let’s get real, has anyone’s happiness doubled or their fulfillment or their joy? Does anyone feel twice as much contentment with their life?
Growing up, I remember well when our family went out to eat. We went out on the birthdays. Do you know why? We had a local family restaurant that gave the birthday kid a free meal, so it made it just barely affordable. And yes, we did go out on Mother’s Day usually to the local Morrison’s Cafeteria, but we could only pick a certain number of items for our tray. And that was it.
If you had told me then that someday folks would go out to eat every week or maybe even more, I’d have thought. Wow, what an amazing, wonderful life that would be, to eat out like that! But now, folks are pretty much living that life. More restaurants open all the time, and within days, their parking lots are packed. Yet, would those folks opening the menus talk of how amazing or wonderful their life has become? I wonder.
The world we live in has more abundance than ever. But do you feel all that abundant? I gotta admit. Most days, I don’t feel all that abundant. I feel stressed. I feel harried. I feel even at times overwhelmed but abundant? Not so much. Do you feel all that abundant? Do you feel blissfully content with the overwhelming bounty that lies before you?
Four years ago, Gallup did a survey trying to look for the most contented nations. They asked questions like these. Did you feel well-rested yesterday? Were you treated with respect all day yesterday? Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday? Did you learn or do something interesting yesterday? So where do you think America ranked. We ranked two places below Rwanda. Think about that. A nation that twenty years before suffered one of the worst mass slaughters in history ranked as more upbeat than America? So, if that’s the case, maybe, abundance isn’t what folks think it is. So, what does truly bring well-being in the deepest sense of that word? What will truly make you content? In these words, God shows you the way. Let’s listen and here what God has to say.
We live in a time when we carry televisions in our pockets. We live in luxury that even fifty years ago people would find stunning. Yet, with all that abundance, do people seem more content, more satisfied with their life? Heck, with all those things, do people even feel rich? So, if all that abundance doesn’t do it, what does? In these words, God tells you.
God even tells you that you can have this contentment even if you have very little. Look at what Paul says. He says. 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. What is Paul’s secret? How does that happen? It happens when you realize where true contentment can be found. And when you discover that source, you’ll realize, like Paul, that no matter what you face, good or bad, this source will bring you a sense of contentment, of peace, no matter what you face.
But before you and I can go there, we have to see one thing first. We have to see why Paul calls it a secret. Why do people have such difficulty discovering what Paul has?
They have difficulty because pretty much everyone looks for contentment in the wrong places. So, folks think. If I have success or a happy marriage or a great family or lots of pleasures or even live a life serving others, then I’ll be content. They have a point. All those things do give you contentment, for a while. But does the contentment ever really last? No, not really. And it doesn’t last because it’s not good. It doesn’t last, because all those things, no matter how good they are, weren’t created to give you the contentment for which you yearn.
And everyone kind of knows this. Do you ever even in your most fulfilled, contented moments, still sense something is missing? Maybe, it’s because you know the contentment won’t last. So, you enjoy it yes. But you’re still already anticipating the sadness of when it will go away. Maybe you sense, as good as that moment is, it’s still not good enough. Yet here’s the irony. Even when it disappoints, we still keep looking. Why?
It’s because we sense that the contentment we seek is out there somewhere. And all the good stuff, it does give us a taste, a hint. It arouses our desire for it even. But it just can’t fulfill it. Yet, here’s the problem. Even when people realize that the contentment isn’t happening, they still miss where it really can be found. Why?
Well, first they may keep banging their head against that same wall. They think. I just need more success or more wealth. I simply need a better plan or a better job. I just don’t have the right thing yet. Or maybe they think. I don’t have the right person. Every week, I send out these funny quotes to our young families. One quote I loved, but well, I just couldn’t send. So, I’m telling you here. It went like this. “I just bought my husband a “get better soon” card. He’s not sick. I just think he could be better.” It’s funny, but painfully true. A few years ago, an old friend of mine wrote to tell me that her husband was leaving her and their four kids. He wasn’t having an affair or anything like that. He just didn’t feel content. He thought leaving behind his family would help. I still remember her devastation, and the heartbreak of her kids. And you know what I guarantee. Contentment didn’t come for him. It never will. If you think it will, you’ll just be like that poor schmuck in the desert always running to the next mirage, thinking that the oasis lies there. But you get there and see it’s nothing but sand. Still, you don’t stop. You just look for the next mirage. And in all that searching, you leave a lot of wreckage behind in your life and in others.
But let’s say, you don’t bang your head against the wall anymore, what then? A lot of times you just start banging on yourself. You think. Something must be wrong with me. And you are right. Something is wrong with you. Because something is wrong with everybody. That’s not the problem, though.
Have you even seen a preview for a movie and thought that film looks awesome! Then you went and saw it and realized that you had already seen the best parts, in the preview. That’s the life of everyone you know. Everyone you see is always showing you their highlight reel. No one sees the behind the scenes. And today, you don’t even need to see the person to see that highlight reel. All you have to do is go to Fakebook or Instagram to see it.
So, if you believe others’ highlight reel or fakebook or Instagram posts, then you go through life, thinking it must be me. You may even go to therapy to figure that out. And sure, therapy could help you. But you know what therapy can’t do. It can’t give you contentment.
Now if you stop blaming things or people or yourself, where do you go next? You may go off and blame the universe. You think. Nothing has brought me the contentment, I yearn for. So, I guess. It just doesn’t exist. This is as good as it’s going to get. You simply let the desire die. Some may even go as far even losing the desire to live at all. But most still live their life. They just do it with a sense of resignation. The desire is still there. But you just press it down. You deny it. Maybe you try to distract yourself from it. But in the more honest moments, you feel the sadness, the grief that that your life will never hold the meaning, the joy, the contentment you yearned for it to have. But if that’s you, you’re wrong. Just because you can’t find something, doesn’t mean it’s not there. It just means that you’re looking in the wrong places.
I love the way C.S. Lewis put it. Creatures don’t get born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exist. So, a baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; Guess what? there is such a thing as water. People feel sexual desire; well, there is something called sex. So, Lewis concludes. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
Do you get what Lewis saying? This contentment does exist. And you can even get hints of it in the pleasures of life. But ultimately what you are looking lies beyond those things. It lies beyond what you can see. That is the secret Paul has learned. And notice how Paul says it. He didn’t discover it. He learned it.
You see. In Paul’s case, what did he look for to bring him contentment? He looked at religion. But religion didn’t do it either. But when he encountered Jesus, he encountered someone even beyond religion. And in Jesus, he began to learn the secret of contentment. He learned even, that his relationship with Jesus could bring contentment no matter what circumstances he faced.
Why? Jesus’ presence didn’t depend on his circumstances. Instead Jesus’ presence transcended them. Jesus presence went beyond them. And the more he made that relationship, that presence his ultimate focus, the deeper and more unwavering his contentment grew.
Now how does Jesus bring that sort of contentment? It comes from simply knowing this. It comes from knowing how much you are loved. When you see that in Jesus, the creator of all reality came for you, came to bring you home, that this God in Jesus even gave up his life to do that, that fills you. And that love stays with you, on your worst days and on your best.
I love the way that the singer Victoria Williams put it.
Jesus walked on the water, He turned the water into wine
He went down to the drunkards To tell them everything is fine
You R loved, You R loved, You R really, really loved
He went down to the drunkards To tell them everything is fine
You R loved, You R loved, You R really, really loved
And when you know you are loved like that in the deepest parts of who you are, it fills you. It fills you with contentment, with joy, with a sense of well-being that nothing, nothing can take away. When you look for contentment in something beyond Jesus, the problem is not that you want too much. The problem is you want too little.
Yet, still, you and I can miss what Jesus yearns to give. Why? We can’t let go. We cling to stuff that doesn’t ultimately matter. And as a result, we miss what truly does. Maybe you cling to old resentments or guilt from our past. Maybe you cling to ambitions or the opinions of others. But whatever it is, if you’re holding on to it, you can’t receive fully what Jesus yearns to give. But if you want what Jesus has for you, you can’t receive it unless you let go.
And sadly the one thing that a lot of folks can't let go is money. Here’s the truth. Until you let go of the lie that your security lies in your stuff., you will never be able to experience the fullness and freedom that Jesus yearns for you. Why? This stuff gets in the way. Sure, you say, you’re trusting Jesus for your contentment. But is your checkbook telling a different story? Is it telling you that you’re still trusting in the lie that your stuff can bring you contentment? You stuff can’t do that, not now, not ever.
Ultimately, your giving is about your growth, your freedom, your discovering where true contentment lies. And when you let go of your money, something that has far too much power in our world, and if you’re honest, in you, it frees you. It frees you into a deeper dependence on God, and with that dependence, a deeper experience of God’s love.
Where can you let go of your need for money, where can you sacrificially give to bless others. For three months take a step of radical generosity. See what God will do. See how God will work. See, how in Jesus, God will even reveal more deeply his incredible love for you. For when you open yourself to this love, His love that loves you no matter what, then you have opened the door that leads you into the very contentment you seek. If you doubt that is true, then simply test it. The door to contentment is open before you. All you have to do is go through.