THE FREEDOM OF CONTENTMENT
These are my notes for teaching at the Cornerstone on Sunday, December 1, 2019.
Text: Philippians 4:10-13.
STRESSING OUT FOR MORE, MORE, MORE
Today, we're following up on last Sunday's teaching about gratitude. We talked about the deep inner peace we experience when we're grateful and how it brings calm in the chaos of the Holidays. Today, our focus is on the freedom of contentment.
The Holidays are like a pressure-cooker of stress and busyness. Many of us dread the Holiday season because it's become a time to strive for more: more friends and family time, more parties, more cooking and baking, more shopping, more time online ordering more stuff. More, more, more. The stress and striving is relentless.
Have you noticed that the garage is no longer a space to keep a car? These days, it's a storage room for all the stuff we can't fit in our closets and basements. The late George Carlin was a comedian and social commentator. He had a comedy routine about more:
"A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. ... And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn’t want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff. They never bother with that crap you’re saving. All they want is the shiny stuff. That’s what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get…more stuff! Sometimes you gotta move, gotta get a bigger house. Why? No room for your stuff anymore." (https://www.thefrug.com/george-carlin-stuff/)
The antidote to the relentless stress and feelings of unease is contentment. It is the experience of deep inner wellbeing or satisfaction. We can reach a state of contentment this Holiday season. But first, we need to know how not to get there.
DEAD-ENDS TO CONTENTMENT
Over the years, people have searched for contentment in a number of ways that don't work real well. For example:
Out-of-control living: King Solomon tried everything. No limits. His thinking was, if I want it, I'm getting it. He realized that out-of-control living didn't bring contentment:
(Ecclesiastes 2:10-11) I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. 11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
Under-control living: Some folks try for a disciplined lifestyle to find contentment. Get organized. Cut the clutter and the calories. Use a calendar. Set goals and achieve them. Everything's planned and under control. I've maybe met one person who lived like that for more than a day and I even have my doubts about him. The apostle Paul knew the truth:
(Romans 7:15) For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
The truth is, contentment isn't about control. It's about something much deeper and more powerful.
CONTENTMENT BY CONNECTION
The apostle Paul outlined the key to contentment in Philippians 4:
(Philippians 4:10-13) I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 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. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
The key to contentment is our conscious connection to Christ who lives on the inside of everyone who follows him, pouring his supernatural, spiritual, resources into us.
TWO CHALLENGES TO CONTENTMENT
The first challenge to contentment is our tendency to focus on our circumstances and to base how we feel on how life is going. The apostle Paul knew that contentment is not based on our circumstances. His situation was dreadful: Paul was in Rome, in prison, in chains (1:7, 13, 14, 17). He may have been in the notorious Tullianum prison, which was a dark underground dungeon. Prisoners were lowered through a hole into what must have seemed like "a dark and foul-smelling antechamber to Hell" (https://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/.premium.MAGAZINE-ancient-prison-of-saints-jewish-rebels-reopens-1.5420806).
Paul's situation was grim and, yet, he felt content. He had a deep sense of wellbeing even when things around him weren't good at all. Contentment isn't about our situation - good or bad. Author, Jeff Manion, wrote that we can have "full closets and empty souls" (Jeff Manion, Satisfied, p. 10). Jesus addressed this in his teaching:
(Luke 12:15) “Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
Jesus said that contentment isn't about possessions. It's not about how much or how little we have. You can de-clutter and still be stressed out. It isn't about more friends, more sleep, more time off. King Solomon who was the wisest and wealthiest man in the world when he wrote:
(Ecclesiastes 5:10) Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
On June 8, 1942, C. S. Lewis, the English author of the Narnia tales gave a talk called The Weight of Glory. In it he said, "He who has God and everything has no more than he who has God alone."
The second challenge to contentment is our negativity bias. According to neuroscientists, we're born with a tendency to see the downside of life. Eeyore is a character in the Winnie the Poo books. He's the perpetually negative, gloomy, pessimistic donkey. Nothing's ever quite right for Eeyore. His negativity bias is fully formed: "Good morning, Pooh Bear," said Eeyore gloomily. "If it is a good morning," he said. "Which I doubt," said he (A. A. Milne. Winnie the Pooh). Negativity takes our focus off of Christ and his supernatural power at work inside of us.
STAYING CONSCIOUSLY CONNECTED TO CHRIST
The way to contentment is to stay consciously connected to Christ on the inside. Paul knew that was his source of his inner wellbeing because Jesus makes all his supernatural, spiritual, resources available to us. Jesus said:
(John 10:10) "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."
Jesus is the source of a fuller, greater, more abundant life. Jesus said:
(John 14:27) Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Peace is an inner feeling of wellbeing. The world fights wars in order to achieve peace. Back in the day, I used jogging to release endorphins that gave me a temporary sense of wellbeing. But the good feelings never lasted because contentment isn't about circumstances on the outside, it's about Christ on the inside.
Here are some ways I use to remain consciously connected to Jesus so that I experience inner wellbeing:
I reject every negative thought as soon as I'm aware of it. Negativity disconnects us from Jesus, so when a dark thought comes into my mind, I refuse to dwell on it. I ban it from my brain:
(2 Corinthians 10:5) We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
I've found it helps if I don't read negative books. I don't watch horror movies. I avoid cable news channels. I don't think about what I don't have.
I refuse to compare my life to anyone else's. When I was a younger, there was a pastor I looked up to and wanted to emulate. He wrote the books I didn't write. He spoke at the conferences I didn't speak at. He served the huge church I didn't serve. Blah, blah, blah. All it did was make me unhappy. Comparison will steal your heart for God and make you sad and bitter..
(Exodus 20:17) You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. (See also Psalm 73:2-6; Philippians 2:3)
I remain focused on reality in Christ. Positive thinking opens my mind to Jesus. The Bible tells us to load our minds with good thoughts:
(Philippians 4:8) ... whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
I remember all Jesus has done/is doing. That's what I dwell on. I have a section in my prayer journal that is for this. On one page I have written a proclamation of all that Jesus has done for me and the new identity and destiny he has given me (see the appendix). On another page, I have part of Romans 8 to remind me of the love of God in Christ Jesus (see appendix). I claim Bible promises that remind of the power of Jesus working inside of me. Here's one I love:
(Isaiah 43:1-3) Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. 3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I recount my blessings in Christ. Every blessing comes through Jesus Christ, so the more I contemplate my blessings, the more I feel connected to Jesus. One way that helped me was memorizing Ephesians 1, which starts "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ." Then, it lists several of those blessings: love, adoption, forgiveness. I practice gratitude (see last week's teaching, The Life-Changing Power of Gratitude). I have a section in my prayer journal focused on gratitude.
I rejoice in and worship Christ - get my eyes off myself, my life, my situation, my feelings. Someone clever said, "Don't tell God how big your problems are; tell your problems how big God is." Jesus is mighty. He blazes in glory. His enemies are under his feet. He died and rose to reign over everything. Praise him! This hymn of heavenly praise to Jesus Christ is a good guide:
(Revelation 5:12) “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”
Those are some of the ways we can teach ourselves to stay consciously connect to Christ so that we find contentment in him. Jesus has supernatural power to help us all stress less and bring us into deep feelings of wellbeing.
STRESS LESS THIS HOLIDAY SEASON
Gift-giving originated as a way to celebrate God's greatest gift to us. The gift of his Son Jesus who rescues us from sin and death and restores us to God. But gift-giving got out of hand and God's greatest gift has been mostly forgotten.
The way to stress less is to focus less on all the giving, and focus more on receiving and enjoying God's gift of Jesus. Now is the time connect to Jesus by faith. Turn your life over to him now. Connect to his inner, spiritual, supernatural peace.
MY DAILY AFFIRMATION
Father, today, I cover myself with the cleansing, renewing, restoring, life-giving blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Holy Spirit, please bring all the power and benefits of Christ's person and work into my life today:
His life by which he offered his perfect obedience and righteousness in my place. Today, I'm clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
His crucifixion by which my guilt is removed, sin is rendered powerless, and I am included in the New Covenant with all its promises. Today, I'm loved, forgiven, and free in Christ.
His resurrection by which I am justified and restored to you, and I enter into new and everlasting life with you. Today, I'm fully alive and fully accepted in Christ.
His ascension by which I am seated on the heavenly throne with Christ, high above his enemies, and I gain his victory over Satan, the powers and principalities, and demonic spirits. Today, I'm an overcomer in Christ.
His enthronement and intercession by which I have the right to come boldly to the throne of grace to find help in my time of need. Today, I have all I need in Christ.
Pentecost by which I am filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered for transformation and ministry. Today, I live and serve in the fullness of Christ.
His return by which I am filled with all hope in my inheritance in glory and the renewal of all things. Today, I am steadfast, rejoicing in hope.
I am blessed, protected, and empowered by God and his might. Therefore, I stand firm. In light of such marvelous realities, I refuse to be discouraged. I will not quit. I will not give in. I stand complete in Christ. I am content in all God's provision in Christ. I have more than enough. I choose to be positive and confident. I choose to live with gratitude and joy. I pray and proclaim all this in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.