Wanting What You Already Have
July 10, 2005 | Brian Bill
We spent the 4th of July at my parent’s house, and because it was raining, my mom brought out some old files that she wanted to get rid of. As I went through the one with my name on it, I came across a paper I wrote when I was much younger. Here’s what it said:
“How To Be a Pest”
First you step on your sister’s toe until she can’t move at all. Then you read your sister’s diary and hide her bike. For more information about being a pest write to:
000 Dumb Drive
Dork City, Wierdtown 00001
Sometimes I can still be a pest. This past week one of our daughters wanted her hair put up in a pony tail and asked for some help. I told her that I would do it for her. She had a look of horror on her face and started to run away. I chased her and then she stopped, turned towards me and began snapping the rubber band on her wrist! If you were here last Sunday, you’ll recall that we gave rubber bands out to everyone and told people to snap the band whenever they get anxious and to repeat this phrase that comes out of Philippians 4:4-9: WORRY ABOUT NOTHING, PRAY ABOUT EVERYTHING. By the way, someone emailed me this week and mentioned that his rubber band broke because he had to snap it so much! My hope of being a hairdresser apparently caused some significant stress to my daughter. I guess I still have a lot to learn about not being a pest.
A day later I came out of the house and asked one of our other daughters to go for a walk. My entire family gave me one of those looks that really says: “Are you going to go out wearing that?” I don’t know how they did this but they even raised their eyebrows in unison! One daughter saw how I was dressed and started snapping her rubber band repeatedly! My wife said my basic philosophy is that “I don’t care how I look.” I guess it showed that night. I haven’t learned much about fashion over the years.
When I was going down memory lane on Monday, I found an “Order of Suspension of Operating Privileges” from the Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles. I lost my license for two months when I was 18 for getting caught speeding twice within the same month. I think I’ve learned a bit about driving since then. At least I haven’t been pulled over for speeding again…yet. I also came across some old report cards. I knew I didn’t have the best grades but I had forgotten how bad they really were. My lowest grades in Junior High were in Band and Spanish – I haven’t made much improvement in language or the arts over the years. In High School it was Spanish and Zoology that caused me much distress. You might get a kick out of one of my report cards from college. In one semester, my lowest grade was in Public Speaking! Some of you are not surprised by this one.
Aren’t you glad that what happened in the past doesn’t have to mark us forever? We can learn from our losses and be taught truth that can set us free. In fact, we should always be learning and growing. As we come to Philippians 4:10-13, we will see that Paul learned a few things over the years as well. Follow along as I read: “I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 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.”
These verses deal with learning and knowing how to be content. Notice the phrases Paul uses:
Verse 11: “For I have learned to be content…”
Verse 12: “I know what it is be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content…”
Even the great Apostle Paul had to be taught how to be content. If you and I are going to grow in this area we need to learn a few things as well. Before we look at how we can become more content, let’s give ourselves a progress report. Teachers like to tell their students how they’re doing in the middle of a semester so they have time to get their grades up before the end of the term. What kind of grade do you think God would give you right now? Perhaps you could use this scale:
A – Extremely Content
B – Mostly Content
C – Somewhat Content
D – Mostly Discontent
F – Very Discontent
You don’t have to tell anyone your grade, but keep this letter in mind and we’ll come back to it later. It’s not easy to become content, is it? I’m reminded of the airline pilot who was flying over a Tennessee lake and pointed out to his copilot: “See that little lake? When I was a kid I used to sit in a rowboat down there, fishing, Every time a plane would fly overhead, I’d look up and wish I was flying it. Now I look down and wish I was in a rowboat, fishing.” We often go after those things that we think will bring us satisfaction only to be left feeling empty and disappointed. It’s like the story of two teardrops floating down the river of life. One teardrop said to the other, “Who are you?” The other one answered, “I’m a teardrop from a girl who loved a man and lost him. Who are you?” To which the first one responded, “I’m a teardrop from the girl who got him.”
It’s amazing to me that Paul was one of the most learned men of his day and yet he had to study how to be satisfied. Let’s take a look at four classes in Paul’s Contentment Curriculum.
Contentment 101: Being Confident that God is in Control
Remember that Paul is in prison, chained to guards, and once again he can’t help but break out into rejoicing. Look at the first part of verse 10: “I rejoice greatly in the Lord.” Paul had great joy because he passed the first class called “Contentment 101: Being Confident that God is in Control.” I like how the Puritan writer Jeremiah Burroughs defined contentment: “Christian contentment is that sweet inward quiet, that gracious frame of spirit which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” Another definition adds, “An inner sense of rest or peace that comes from being right with God and knowing that He is in control of all that happens to us.”
Notice that Paul rejoices “in the Lord.” Everything is under God’s sweet sovereignty and because His ways are always wise we can find delight in every condition. This is fleshed out in Joseph’s response to his brothers after they had mistreated him in Genesis 50:20: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” He understood that God was behind everything and that He was working out His purposes, even in the midst of Joseph’s problems.
We must hold on to God’s sovereignty as we process what happened in London on Thursday. One pastor puts it this way: “God is in charge of all the details of life-the good and the bad, the positive and the negative-and he has ordained not only what happens to us, but when it happens, how it happens, where it happens, what happens before it happens, and what happens after it happens.”
If you’re struggling with discontent today, it may well be because you are not allowing God to be God. He’s in charge and He is working all things together according to the counsel of His divine will. If you are serious about becoming content, you must believe this. Proverbs 16:9: “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” Proverbs 16:33 attests to God’s sovereignty in all things: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” Hold on to the truth of Psalm 23:1: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.” Because He is our shepherd he will satisfy us. Psalm 145:16: “You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.”
Don’t forget that the very first temptation in the Garden of Eden involved Satan sowing seeds of discontent in Eve’s heart
Friends, as bad as things get, as disappointed as you might be, let’s not question the truth that God is in control. Don’t forget that the very first temptation in the Garden of Eden involved Satan sowing seeds of discontent in Eve’s heart. Once she doubted God’s goodness, it was a short step down the slippery slope of sin. In addition, some of you are not experiencing contentment simply because you are looking in other places for that which only God can provide. Proverbs 10:23: “The fear of the LORD leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble.” In Isaiah 55:2 God wonders why we don’t come to Him for contentment while we persist in pursuing those things that were never designed to satisfy: “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.”
Possessions don’t satisfy and ultimately people can’t provide what we’re looking for either.
Contentment 201: Developing a Proper Expectation of Others
Let’s look at the second half of verse 10: “…That at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.” Paul had founded the Philippian church about 12 years earlier and it had been about 10 years since they were able to send any support to him. The phrase “at last” doesn’t refer to impatience on Paul’s part, but rather that after this many years, they are now able to give again. Responding to the money they had just sent along with Epaphroditus, Paul expresses gratefulness. The word “renewed” was used of plants and flowers blossoming again. Paul feels honored that they are thinking of him and that they cared enough to send a gift to him.
Notice how content Paul is with these Christians. He cut them some slack, mentioning that they were always concerned but just had no opportunity to express it until now. How could Paul do this? It goes back to the lessons learned in Contentment 101 – he trusted that God would order the circumstances so his needs could be met. Knowing this truth kept him from anger towards others. It also gave him the freedom to not manipulate the masses just to get their money. He’s well aware that when God gives the opportunity we should respond as stated in Galatians 6:10: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
Some of us are way too tough on other people. We expect them to meet our needs, and when they don’t do everything we expect (because they can’t); we get upset and become more discontent. Are you irritated with others? Are you bitter toward someone because they let you down? I’m reminded of the man who lived in Hungary and complained to his rabbi, “Life is unbearable. There are nine people living in one room and they’re getting on my nerves. I can’t take it anymore. What can I do?” The rabbi answered simply, “Take your goat in the room with you.” The man couldn’t believe it but the rabbi insisted, “Do as I say and come back in a week.” A week later the man returned looking more distraught and discontent than before. “We can’t stand it,” he told the rabbi. “That goat is filthy.” The rabbi said, “Go home and let the goat out, and come back in a week.” A week later the man returned, radiant, exclaiming, “Life is beautiful. I like the people around me. We enjoy every minute of every day because now there’s no goat – only the nine of us.”
When we come to the third class in God’s contentment curriculum, we see that Paul would have been content with a goat in the room or with gold in his pocket. It didn’t really matter to him.
Contentment 301: Learning to be Satisfied in Every Situation
Look at verses 11-12: “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.”
If we expect everything to stay the same, we will be disappointed and discontent
How could Paul say that he was “content whatever the circumstances?” It’s because he knew, and we should as well, that circumstances are always changing. Life is all about change. If we expect everything to stay the same, we will be disappointed and discontent. Paul not only recognized that circumstances are unstable; he was also able to see through, or beyond what had happened to God’s sovereign purposes. Simply put, he was content because he could see life from God’s point of view, focusing on what he should do, not what he felt he should have. In other words, in plenty or in poverty, God was still in control and was weaving his ways through both of these conditions. Paul chose to be content “in any and every situation.” This is a sweeping statement that covers every condition of life. He uses three pairs of extreme opposites to make his point.
Well Fed Hungry
The phrase, “to learn” means to discover by experience, to enter into a new condition. We could translate it this way: “I have come to learn.” In the yo-yo of shifting circumstances, Chuck Swindoll says that it’s important to flex. A quick search of a Bible concordance reveals four contentment principles from Scripture.
- Be satisfied with your salary. In Luke 3:14, John the Baptist gave some soldiers a practical way to know if they had truly repented: “Be content with your pay.” The comedy film “Cool Runnings” is about the first Jamaican bobsled team to go to the Winter Olympics. John Candy plays a former American gold medalist who becomes a coach for the Jamaican team. Late in the story the coach’s dark history comes out. In an Olympics following his gold medal performance, he broke the rules by weighting the U.S. sled, bringing disgrace on himself and his team. One of the Jamaican bobsledders could not understand why anyone who had already won a gold medal would cheat to get another one. Finally he nervously asked the coach to explain. Here’s what he said: “I thought I had to win. But I learned something. If you are not happy without a gold medal, you won’t be happy with it, either.” Jesus said it best in Luke 12:15: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” If you’re not happy without something; you won’t be happy with it either. Or, as someone has said, “If you can’t be happy with what you already have, why should God trust you with anything else?”
- Be thankful for the basics of life. 1 Timothy 6:8: “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” Some of us need to have our needs reduced not our possessions increased. F.B. Meyer put it this way: “Contentment consists not in adding more fuel, but in taking away some fire.” Let me give you a practical suggestion. When contemplating the purchase of another possession or attending some activity, ask yourself this question: “Is this a need or a greed?” This is important to do because in our culture today almost everything is presented as a need. The multimillionaire John D. Rockefeller was once asked how much money would be enough for him. He thought for a moment and said, “Just one more dollar.”
- Want what you have even if you don’t have everything you want. I first heard this statement about 15 years ago and I’ve never forgotten it. Let me say it differently. The key to contentment is not having everything you want but wanting everything you already have. This is stated clearly in Hebrews 13:5: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” Ahab didn’t learn this truth when he decided to take Naboth’s vineyard (see 1 Kings 21). He had everything he could think of, but since nothing satisfied, he decided to steal from someone else. His greed led him not only to take the vineyard but to kill Naboth. And when he got the grapes, he still wasn’t satisfied.
- To grow in godliness you must become content. 1 Timothy 6:6: “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” We should be content with our God-given circumstances but never satisfied with our spiritual growth. Unfortunately our tendency is to do just the opposite. Many of us are content with where we are spiritually and very discontent with our circumstances. Are you ready to settle for less if it means experiencing greater spiritual growth?
How do we do this? What’s the secret Paul is referring to? How can we become satisfied in every situation? I think we could state the secret this way. Are you ready for this? It may jar you but I believe it’s true. You might want to lean forward to hear it because it’s a secret. I’m going to whisper it to you: God has so ordered the world and your personal circumstances that no matter what situation you are in right now, you have everything you truly need to be content. You might have plenty today and tomorrow be in poverty or you may abound today and tomorrow be abased, and not understand why, but as F.B. Meyer says, “He has a reason, though He may not tell it to you, and because you know that the reason satisfies Him, you may be content!”
Tough times teach us what really matters and what we really need. Let me remind you of some of Paul’s circumstances. In 1 Corinthians 4:11, he states: “To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.” What he went through makes my misery seem like a walk in the park. Listen to 2 Corinthians 11:27: “I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.”
And yet, somehow he could say in 2 Corinthians 6:10: “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” Contentment does not emerge out of what we do; it grows up out of what we go through. We see this in 2 Corinthians 12:10 from the New Living Translation: “Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul was a contented Christian. Are you? Our deepest satisfaction can only come from God, not from a change in our circumstances. As C.S. Lewis has said, “God cannot give us peace and happiness apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”
I talked to someone this week who told me that one of his parents is never happy. In fact, he can never remember this parent ever being satisfied, because nothing is ever enough. That’s a sad commentary and a poor heritage to leave children. If you’re a parent, give the gift of contentment to your kids, letting them know that it really is OK to have less, and want less. Often less is really more.
Contentment 401: Finding Strength in Christ
The fourth offering in God’s contentment curriculum must be completed in order to graduate to the next growth level. Philippians 4:13 may be one of the most quoted verses in the Bible, and maybe the most misused as well: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Sometimes this Scripture is used almost like a magical formula to say that we can do whatever we want to do. This passage is not promoting positive mental attitude or a selfish “name it, claim it” theology. In the context, the meaning is this: I can be content in whatever circumstance because of the strengthening work of Christ in my life. Or, we could say it this way: I will only be content if Christ gives me the strength to do so. A literal translation would read: “I am strong for all things in the One who constantly infuses strength into me.” Phillips paraphrases it this way: “I am ready for anything through the strength of the One who lives within me.” Remember the promise of Isaiah 41:10: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
We can do everything, and be content in all things, because of Christ. I can endure all that happens on the outside because I am strengthened by Christ on the inside. Notice the balance between my part and God’s part: “I can do everything.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that I will ever get an “A” in Zoology or Spanish. Motivational speakers often say things like this: “You can do whatever you put your mind to do. Just believe in yourself.” This verse does not mean we can be successful or content on our own, but we do need to be engaged. “Through Him” shows us the source of our power. We can be content only through Christ. This same truth is stated in the negative in John 15:5: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” There is no trouble or problem or difficulty that cannot be overcome by the sustaining power of Christ. This verse does not promise that you can do anything you want but it does promise that you can do everything that God wants you to do.
Every good curriculum involves homework. What grade for contentment did you give yourself at the beginning? Do you want your grade to go up? Here’s an assignment to help improve your CPA – Contentment Point Average.
- When something bad happens this week say outloud: “God, since you are in control I will be content.”
- Tell someone that you’ve been too tough on them.
- Confess your self-sufficiency and turn every part of your life over to the Lord.
- Step out in faith and do what God wants you to do, relying on His power to do so.
Sometimes we need some remedial work. When I went to college I had a year to get my math average up so they put me in Math 99. I had to pass this class before I could even take the regular classes. Likewise, there’s a class that you and I have to pass before we will ever be content. The only way to pass is to admit that you’ve failed. And then you must take the grade of another who sat in for you and aced the exam. His name is Jesus. 2 Corinthians 5:21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Are you ready to receive His perfect marks? Do you want them credited to your report card.