'Now godliness with contentment is great gain' 1 Timothy 6:6
Are you content?
What does it mean to be content?
I think many of the problems that our society faces arise from discontent. People want more, and better, education, healthcare, housing, benefits, pensions, employment, leisure, tax credits and public services. And they want these things now. (We are on the eve of General Election here in the UK, but don't worry, I am not going to delve into politics tonight)
The Puritan writers had plenty of wisdom on this - I would recommend Jeremiah Burrows' 'The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment' (link is to full PDF of this challenging book). A lot is in the title. It is:
1) Rare, even among Christians
2) Worth as much as (or indeed far more than!) a precious jewel, and
3) Christian contentment differs from the feeling of general wellbeing that an unbeliever may experience when all is well.
It might be better to phrase my opening question the other way round:
What makes you discontent?
In my life, it is often closely linked to covetousness. Dictionary definitions of covetousness vary, as 'to covet' can be taken to mean to earnestly desire something, and that is not always bad. However, more often it is used to describe a 'wrongful or inordinate desire, without due regard for the rights of others'. Covetousness is described and warned against in the Bible through both direct commandment and also through illustrative stories of those who ultimately come to grief though their covetous desires. When Moses was given the 10 commandments, the final one stated 'You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbour’s' (Exodus 20:17)
Why is covetousness such a bad thing? It introduces discontent, and tells the lie that God's provision in your life is not sufficient. This opens the door to many wrong attitudes and actions. Ten examples of where sin can enter through covetousness are listed here (but you may think of more!)
1) Questioning the nature of God. Either denying His sovereignty, or denying His goodness
2) Lack of faith. If God is either not sovereign, or not good, how can I trust Him in future?
3) Lack of thankfulness - failing to see the good things that God has blessed you with
4) Lack of service - my two loaves and five small fish seem inadequate for the task
5) Lack of generosity - others have more than me, so they should give
6) Lack of hospitality - my house seems small, and others have several spare rooms
7) Lack of joy - I don't recognise that God's plans for my life are perfect
8) Lack of peace - questioning whether I need to change something fundamental in my life
9) Lack of perspective - it can be easier to look at those who have more, rather than less
10) Lack of love - my eyes are now on myself and my 'needs' not on others
Why am I writing this tonight? In response to a challenge in my own life. Last night I attended a Bible study at the new home of a friend. It was large, beautiful, tastefully decorated and incredibly tidy. The kitchen was incredible, like something out of an Ideal Home magazine. I knew I might feel this way, but I was taken a little by surprise at the myriad of churning thoughts that went through my mind.
THOUGHT: Life would be so much more orderly in a spacious home.
TRUTH: Life would be almost exactly the same, just with more housework needed
THOUGHT: Their lives must be so perfect (or certainly less chaotic than ours) to be able to settle down
TRUTH: Actually buying a larger home can bring its own snares. We have financial freedom to travel, move overseas, live with fewer worldly constraints through our choices of where we live. And a building, however nice, cannot solve life's problems
THOUGHT: Their children must be really well behaved, well discplined, focussed and achieve everything set before them (rather than spending the best part of a morning to settle down and do some basic reading and writing, as we have done for the past couple of days)
TRUTH: What a completely illogical thought! Why should a particular size or style of home improve behaviour? Their children, just like ours, are sinners who need to come to an understanding of the grace of God, and also of their need for God's strength to overcome their sinful natures.
THOUGHT: We could have much better Bible studies and offer much better hospitality in a large and beautiful home
TRUTH: We've been having regular Christian meetings and hosting guests (both known to us and strangers) for the last 15 years. That there are five of us living in a three bedroom house does not prevent us being able to open our doors and share. Similarly, our friends believe God has given them their new home to be used by God (and hence last night's meeting was at theirs, as we are trying to hand over the things which had previously taken place at our house prior to moving overseas in a few months).
THOUGHT: It would be much better for homeschooling to have all that space
TRUTH: Homeschooling can take place anywhere, and the main locations in the house are reading on the sofa or sitting at our large dining table. This would be the same in a bigger home. Actually a lot of our life and schooling takes place outside anyway - in parks, museums, beaches, art galleries, home ed meet ups and so forth
THOUGHT: It would be good for the boys to have more space to play
TRUTH: It's good for the boys to learn to live closely together. They also need to learn that what we have is enormous compared to most children in the world, as indeed many families live in a single room or very basic accommodation. They need to learn that relationships are more important than things
THOUGHT: Maybe we are a little crazy to make the choices we do, when we could 'afford' to move somewhere bigger and more luxurious
TRUTH: This one is key. Our choices have been shaped by God's leading and guiding over the past 20 years. Our choice of home is only one example of how we have felt God calling us to have a loose hold on this world, to live as strangers here and respond to His call to serve Him in a range of roles, short, medium and potentially long term in low-resource countries. Yes, we could afford the same kind of home - but that is not the life we have been called to, at least not at this current time.
THOUGHT: My family would be happier if I had a home like that
TRUTH: That may be true! My family (rather than my in-laws) are not Christians and wish we would 'settle down' and do the conventional life thing. But that isn't something to aspire to!
The reason I write out some of my internal conversation is because a lot of how we respond is a choice. We can choose to be content. The Apostle Paul said it beautifully when he wrote:
'I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have . I have learned the secret of being in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.' Philippians 4:12-13