At Somers Baptist Church, it’s our practice to celebrate at the Lord’s Supper the first Sunday of the month. The message that day is usually shorter. Over the next few Lord’s Supper Sundays, I’d like to develop the topic of “Contentment.” It’s an important topic that undergirds a lot of directives for the Christian life and its presence or absence colors a lot of our experience. It’s also related to our Philippians series. And it’s a great meditation to prepare us for the Lord’s Supper.
What is Contentment? What are some bedrocks truths about contentment? What are the ingredients of contentment? What is the way toward contentment?
What is contentment? Here’s a dictionary definition: the state of being satisfied with what one has, at ease with the arrangements of one’s life.
The Puritan minister, Jeremiah Burroughs, developed that definition theologically: Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.
1 Timothy 6: 6 says this: …godliness with contentment is great gain. Contentment isn’t absolutely necessary for life to eventually turn out ok, but it sure does make the experience more pleasant. Or to say that the opposite way: Discontentment is a great sorrow that also mothers other sorrows.
Have you read or heard the short story called “The Necklace”? Mathilde Loisel has always wanted to be rich but her husband is a low-paid clerk. Well, he gets an invitation to a ball but Mathilde doesn’t want to go because she has nothing nice to wear. Her husband gives her money – more money than is wise – for her to buy a new dress. But even then she isn’t happy. How about wearing flowers? Pouting, no. Well, how about borrowing jewelry from her friend, Mrs Forestier? Ok, she borrows a diamond necklace.
The ball is magical, she is in the company of influential people, she is highly admired– ahh. But upon returning home they discover the necklace is lost! They have to replace it and discover a replacement for around $225,000. Her husband uses an early inheritance to pay for half and for the other half they secure a high-interest loan. Mathilde returns the necklace to Mrs Forestier and never tells her it had been lost.
For ten years they live in poverty and shabbiness. She works long hours as a cleaner; her freshness and beauty falls off her. Her husband takes on a second job at night. Finally they pay off the loan. One day Mathilde comes across Mrs Forestier (who barely recognizes this stricken woman) and, full of bitterness, tells her the whole truth. Mrs Forestier gasps: That necklace I lent you was made of paste, wasn’t worth more than 500 francs!
The Scriptures are full of stories that center on the sadness of discontent. In fact, maybe that’s the theme of the sad tale from Eve and the fruit to David and Bathsheba to Judas to Demas to…. Truly, discontent produces sorrow +
On the other hand, Godliness with contentment is great gain. It’s advantageous…for the one who is content, and probably for others too. You can get to the top of the mountain without being in shape, but being in shape makes the hike much more enjoyable.
We could press that analogy a bit farther to make another point: In order to be in shape for summiting the mountain we practice certain habits not called “being in shape.” The months before you climb you don’t tell your roommate, I’ll be gone for an hour while I in shape.No, you’ll be gone for an hour while you weight lift, and jog, and stretch – the practices that add up to being in shape. Similarly, to be content we practice certain habits not called “being content.”
If someone says I should be content, I agree but don’t know what to do with that. What specific things do I do to be content? Contentment is a learned habit. Look at Philippians 4:11: …for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. Contentment doesn’t fall on you, accidentally, but is acquired.
Or, we could say, retrieved. Because the actions to contentment aren’t obvious. Look at the next verse: I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger. Contentment isn’t obvious. For instance, we might assume that contentment has mainly to do with “stuff” – having enough or simply willing yourself to be ok with however much you have. But the Scriptures suggest otherwise: look at the following verse: I can do all [this] through him who strengthens me. It’s not only about how I treat my material possessions.Through Christ we are content – now that’s a cool verse but it’s shrouded, not transparent.
Contentment doesn’t depend on one’s circumstances. Look at those five words in v. 12: In any and every circumstance.
Both the heights and depths have their respective challenges to contentment: I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. As a society becomes wealthier, does it proportionately increase in that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition ? And the answer, of course, is NO. “If it be riches that slay you, what matter if it be riches you have or riches you have not.” – George Macdonald
Finally, we should hear that word “riches,” as pointing to more than material wealth, but favor with people, attainment, achievement, etc.
Now, three bedrock truths about contentment from Psalm 131:
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
3 O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore.
1. Contentment is an outcome of a studied humility
My heart is not lifted up. – I’ve rejected reflections and plans and postures and attitudes and emotions of self-importance. I am turning my back on taking myself too seriously, of being high and mighty, always wanting to lecture people, of wanting to stand out.
My eyes are not raised too high. This phrase is similar to the previous but narrows the focus onto the sense of superiority to others. Haughtiness, Others are below me and I look down on them.
I’ve abandoned the rat race of comparing myself with others, competing with other people for status, especially spiritual status. Just because someone is rich or a democrat or doesn’t agree with my stance on politics and religion… “no meddling where I have no business.” No inwardly despising them for not recognizing how much smarter I am, for being so wrong.
Your child goes through a struggle. People ask you about that, and it’s something the thoughts that go through your head. What are they supposing?? That he’s not talented? Or, God’s punishing him? Worse: maybe this’ll expose some flaw in my parenting?
Always competing with others. Always trying to look like the most successful. Not the way of contentment.
2. Contentment is an outcome of willing inattention
Calming and quieting the soul – David’s phrase that sound a lot like Burrough’s definition of contentment – involves a deliberate inattention to certain matters that he says are “too great and too marvelous.” When we looked at Psalm 131 in December, we categorized these matters temporally: the past – the course of my life, regrets, assigning blame; the present – the real state of people; how exactly God’s judgments are working themselves out; and the future – what troubles await us, how exactly my provision will come.
Why was I given this speech impediment? How is that fair? Why did God allow this to happen to my child? Who is doing better: my family or her family? Am I being punished for doing that thing four years ago? What will happen if Biden gets elected to four more years? Will society go bananas if Trump wins? Will I ever get recognized for this good work?
I’ve heard that it’s possible if you’re very wealthy to get full body scans that will detect tumors and cysts and cancers early. No one’s going to take me by surprise!
Contentment involves taking a deep breath and accepting: there are so many limitations, especially of knowledge, that God has built into human existence. You’re going to be surprised. Trouble is coming, our Lord says. Trouble is coming. But don’t worry about it. The Apostle of our Lord says: I can’t even discern my own motives, much less anything else. God said to Moses: Who made your stuttering mouth?
Again, take that deep breath. Unclench your jaw. Accept your limitations. Accept the so many things that are too great and marvelous for you to figure out.
3. Contentment looks like a weaned child
The outcome of this studied humility and willing inattention is analogous to a weaned child with his mom: a trust that isn’t self-conscious, that is ok with ignorance, and thus appears almost stupidly serene. Contentment = looks almost stupidly serene.
Look at that weaned child. He’s probably not looking at his mother most moments, but in every moment, he’s trusting his mother. Mom has always taken care of me.
A practice of contentment – sitting quietly before the Lord and simply remembering how He’s kept you fed and healed you and brought you before some beauty and interest and …. I’m not here talking about being grateful. But just being conscious of it. Not dramatically conscious. Just recalling that in “hard times” you also came upon some pockets of humor and good people and interesting stuff you didn’t even know was out there.
Mom’s always thinking through my life and giving me what I need. God’s always thinking through my life.
The weaned child has lived off his mother’s milk. His life from her life. The mother gave of her own body to supply the young one who is now weaned. And we’re in an analogous situation with God, but a how much more analogy.
Here’s what St Paul said: He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things. Brothers and sisters, God is committed to us. God is committed to us. Paul says, He has given us, not just His Son, but His own Son. Self of Himself. His very self to us. Of course He has.
You facing blinking engine lights. Credit card debt. Balding tires. New pains in your body. More frequent memory lapses. Rising gas prices – – Look back to God’s provision over the year. Look a little farther back to God’s provision over your lifetime. Look even farther to God’s provision to your parents and grandparents. Look way back to God’s provision in Jesus Christ. How more clearly can He prove to you: I’m for you. I’m with you. Of course, I’m not going to leave the one for whom Christ died.
Don’t get excited about this. Don’t get emotional. Don’t even be thankful. Just accept what has happened. And expect more of the same. Because the Father has given up his Son for us. I can do this whole contentment thing through him who strengthens me just by virtue of knowing the Father gave him up to bring me into his family, into His charge.
The practices of contentment (so far):
· When you start to think uppity or care hard about people thinking you’re uncommonly swell or accomplished – let the klaxons sound.
· Accept there is much unopened to you. The fact that God has not told you your day of death should represent how much God has kept you in the dark. Be ok with that.
· Don’t dwell in the past and don’t want to live in the past but allow memories to substantiate God’s commitment to you. He bought you. He bought you. He bought you. With His own Self. He’s good. He does good. You know that – he’s done good and you remember that.
I’ll ask the men to come forward.
Feeding from mom engenders trust in mom. We feed on Jesus Christ now to develop our faith in him. Brothers and sisters, this is the table of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because it is His table, we extend an invitation to every baptized Christian believer who is joined to his local church to join us in this sacred remembrance of the Lord’s death for us and for our salvation.
The death of Jesus is the ground of our salvation – not just our salvation at the final judgment but the living means by which we’re returned to the Father. And not just casually returned…but entered into a covenant with Him – He will be our God, and we will be His people. Ahhh! There’s good contentment grounds. Through Jesus Christ. Through His broken body and shed blood. I can do all this contentment stuff through the strengthening from: God has given us His Son and so afterward will give us all other things.
When the ushers pass out the bread, they’ll say to the one who receives it: “The body of Christ broken for you.” When you pass it on, you say that to each other.
Similarly, when the ushers pass the cup: “The blood of Christ shed for you.”