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“Money don’t get everything, it’s true
What it don’t get, I can’t use
Well, now give me money (that’s what I want)
A lot of money (that’s what I want)
The Beatles were singing this one in 1963 and by 1969…
Last night the wife said,
“Oh boy, when you’re dead
You don’t take nothing with you
But your soul – think!”
John Lennon, The Ballad of John and Yoko
In those years John Lennon set the standard for fame and fortune and it caused him to literally change his tune. What he discovered on a grand scale we would all be wise to consider. What is contentment and, if not from money or achievement, how can we find it?
Desiring no more than what one has; satisfied.
The dictionary definition is simple enough, but what does it really mean? Our consumer culture tells us we should not be content. After all, if you were satisfied with your car why would you ever buy a shiny new one? The same is true of the house you live in or the clothes you wear. Everything that can be bought comes with a message that you cannot really be satisfied without it, and once you have it you should start considering a new and better version. We are flooded with so many messages that stir our discontent it is a wonder that anyone can put out the desire for the greener grass on the other side of the hill. Is it really even possible to be completely satisfied with what you have?
The tenth ancient principle to be content with what you have is formed from the commandment that you shall not covet, or specifically,
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. Exodus 20:17
The word ‘covet’ comes from the latin cupiditas meaning “passionate desire.” The dictionary qualifies it as desire “wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others.” So there are two related problems, our unhappiness with our own circumstances that leads to an unhealthy eye for our neighbor’s stuff. Unlike others principles like truthfulness, theft or fidelity this issue is in your heart. The symptoms may leak out for others to see but the issue is a secret one that eats away from the inside.
The Apostle Paul writes,
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
1 Timothy 6:6-12
Lennon was on to something and Paul has it right. Pursuing wealth or material things will never satisfy you. Not only can you never get enough, the pursuit will lead to places and people where temptation can destroy you.
I am not saying this because I am in need, for 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.
If your contentment comes from your circumstances the only way to try and find satisfaction is to change the things around you. Will you be happier with a promotion or a new job, a new spouse or more money? Maybe for a time, but the problem, of course, is that there is always something new or better that will improve whatever circumstances you are in. The pursuit is hopeless and only leads to greater discontent. Paul’s secret is to separate the two. By divorcing contentment from circumstances and finding strength in Christ he found lasting purpose and satisfaction. What was true for Paul is true for you, contentment comes from the pursuit of things that matter.
Three Keys Points:
- Recognize that possessions are gifts. If you can’t take it with you it is only borrowed and everything you have falls into that category. If you consider all your possessions gifts from God it will bring you one step closer to contentment.
- Avoid making comparisons. This is what leads to the unhealthy eye for another person’s gifts. If you are prone to comparing yourself to others remember that you never have to look far for someone who has worse conditions than yours, no matter how bad your situation is. You can increase your gratitude for the gifts you have by remembering that most of the world has much less.
- Separate contentment from circumstances. You are created in the image of God for a purpose and pursuing that purpose is the only thing that will bring lasting satisfaction. This is true no matter what your current circumstances are.