At the end of one year and the beginning of another, I am poignantly aware of two contrasting qualities playing tug-of-war within my spirit. I long to be content, and yet I long for more of everything. I strive to convince myself that acquiring more (even the good things) will bring the peace I seek. Contentment is my ultimate goal; yet I wonder–am I attempting to achieve contentment by facilitating greed?
It occurred to me recently that greed and contentment are not merely opposites, but warring competitors. In my life, these opponents go to battle the hardest at Christmastime and the New Year. After a season of spending and accumulating, I typically throw myself into planning mode for the future. I falsely operate under the assumption that my well-crafted plans for success and peace can work in tandem with one another. As much as I hate to admit it, I am pretty certain that in every decision, one of them always wins out over the other.
How so? Greed promises contentment by acquiring just a little bit more–a better position, a little more money, another achievement. It masks itself as hard work and perfectionism. How can anyone argue with a standard of excellence? But greed actually is a hungry monster with an insatiable appetite. The more it gets, the more it wants. With justifiable excuse, greed stretches toward contentment as the final destination. Yet contentment will never be reached.
In my life, contentment represents itself as a worthy ambition, a coup-d’etat over materialism and selfishness. It guarantees freedom and peace. But I have discovered that contentment is better defined as a journey, slow and grueling, and achieved through dogged persistence. As a pilgrim traveling toward contentment, I must make conscious decisions all along the route to actually starve greed–to wrestle daily against this world’s ideology. Wrapped in the theology of God’s person, contentment requires sincere faith and almost blind allegiance to follow God’s will, regardless of the hardship. Faith trusts God’s goodness, thereby making greed defenseless. Wavering faith, however, doubts God’s infinite goodness, thereby jeopardizing contentment.
Herein lies the crux of the issue. How good is God? Is He so good that He allows me to go without the things I want? Is He so good that He watches me struggle financially, wallow in loneliness, or wrestle to leave a mark on my world? Is that really goodness? Somehow, along my journey, I have to face this moral dilemma of what I truly believe about God. I will never find substantial peace without faith that my God is loving enough to give me only what I should have and not what I want. I must recognize the presence of greed during those frustrating times when God’s goodness doesn’t produce the desired pay-off in my life. I will need to recognize greed’s suggestions:
“You deserve more.”
“This isn’t fair.”
“You will need to take charge of this situation.”
“If you just had a little more money, this problem could be resolved.”
Contentment, however, hears the deceptions and responds with truth:
“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:19
“‘For your thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways.'” Isaiah 55:8-9
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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 everything through him who gives me strength.” Phil. 4:11-13
So how does one achieve contentment?
I don’t really know–I’m still working on it. But the Apostle Paul wrote candidly about contentment in Philippians, so he must have understood the struggle. Writing from a dank Roman dungeon, alone and awaiting death, he stated that he was content. What was his secret?
1. He focused on eternal, not temporal, value. “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him . . .” Phil. 3:8-9
2. He understood that the real value of giving was in the heart, not in the gift. “Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. . . . And my God wil meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4: 17, 19
3. He believed that God had the right plan for his life. “I press toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.” Phil. 3:14-15
Maybe the secret to contentment is not trying to be satisfied with what I have or banning myself from acquiring more. Maybe contentment exudes a different value system altogether, one that assigns no value at all to the things of this world, not even to the things I am attempting to live without. Instead of squelching the desire to have something or disciplining myself not to get it, I ought to live in a different frame of mind entirely. I must live with an eternal mindset, the only perspective which can distinguish easily between contentment and greed.
“Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven.” Phil. 3:19-20
Instead of a New Year’s resolution to spend less, save more, and appreciate life–I want to adopt an eternity mindset. That will likely accomplish these other three anyway.