Stewardship Series: Gratitude
Elizabeth M. Deibert
O Lord, your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Spirit of God, give us grace to receive your truth in faith and love, and strengthen to follow on the path you set before us; through Jesus Christ, Amen.
Can you walk through a store and buy nothing? Not even one small thing? Can you drive through a car dealership and feel content with the car you have? Can you open the refrigerator, and eat nothing. Can you go to a party and refuse alcohol? You can with practice. Yes, walk through the store, drive through the dealership, open the pantry full of food, go to the party, and chant the mantra we learned last week. In Jesus I have enough. In Christ, I am content. The Lord is my shepherd. I have everything you need. Our souls are searching for contentment and how can we find it? By resisting the temptation to find pleasure in all kinds of things. They are good gifts from God, but when we give them too much power, they distract us from the love of God and keep us from becoming the people God intends us to be.
It is so easy to see the problem of contentment when a child is being pushed down the aisle of a store, screaming for a new toy he or she doesn’t need. What is more difficult to admit is that most of us adults have not grown up. Oh, we don’t make a scene. Because nobody is telling us “no.” We adults just go and buy, because we are free to do so, until the credit card bill comes in, or the bank account is tight and it is time to write a check to keep your commitment to the church and there’s not enough money left. I know what I’m talking about here. I’ve done it. I’ve made impulsive $100 purchases. I’ve even talked myself into NEEDING a new car, because the old one might start having problems. I’ve justified purchasing new clothes, just because I thought that “new clothes feeling” would boost my mood. I’ve walked through the grocery store, picking up anything that looked tasty or interesting with no thought for budget. I have gone to the refrigerator, looking for satisfaction in there.
“No” is a great word and we can learn to say it with pleasure, no a morbid self-denial. “No, I don’t need that. I have all I need to be content. In Jesus I have enough.”
In our Philippians passage last week, Paul spoke of contentment, saying “Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have.” (Phil. 4:11)
Content? Little and plenty? Any and every circumstance? Hungry and well-fed? Paul knows the secret –that in Jesus he has enough. That’s contentment – leaning hard into your relationship with Jesus Christ, so you’re not looking for ultimate satisfaction anywhere else or in anyone else. Hear now what Paul tells his younger friend, Timothy, about contentment:
1 Timothy 6:6-16
Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment;
7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it;
8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.
9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation
and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires
that plunge people into ruin and destruction.
10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,
and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith
and pierced themselves with many pains.
11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this;
pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.
12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called
and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
13 In the presence of God, who gives life to all things,
and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession,
I charge you 14 to keep the commandment without spot or blame
until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will bring about at the right time—
he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords.
16 It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light,
whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
The problem described by Paul to Timothy is the relentless pursuit of wealth, the love of money, the desire for more things. It is not that the things themselves are sinful. It is the uncontrolled desire for them, the driving passion for them which keeps us from putting love of God and neighbor first. Paul describes it as a fight. It is a battle to hold onto faith, to fight off idolatry, putting other things ahead of God. And if Paul and Timothy, have a battle, we’ve got a nuclear war, because everywhere we turn, people are telling us that acquiring more stuff and upgrading what we have will make us happy. Some folks call it Affluenza and unfortunately there’s only one vaccination which helps you prevent it. Filling your life’s veins with so much of God that you have no time, no money, and no energy for Affluenza is the only cure for this deadly virus, especially this time of year.
Now in this deflated economy of the last two years, nearly all of us have had to re-think our priorities and scale back. And our hearts should be filled with gratitude, because this struggle for more self-control is so good for us. I know that’s just what you’ve been thinking – how wonderful it is that you are upside down in your house and have lost 1/3 of your retirement account. But you know, only when we find a way to live on less, do we have the opportunity to discover true contentment with God. When we are not pursuing wealth and all the symbols of wealth, then we can see that it is intimacy with Jesus Christ that we really need.
Adam Hamilton, Methodist minister and author of the book, “Enough” being studied in one of our Lively learning classes today, refers to the two tents we can choose to live in. We can live in contentment or discontentment. If we build intimacy with Christ, then our contentment will grow, but if we live according to the values of materialism, we will never have enough stuff. We’ll be discontent with our possessions and with the people around us. We will always be hungry for more. Bob Hughes wore a t-shirt to choir that says “Hungry” on front and on back it says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Those words are from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount.
Paul says, “There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment.” He tells Timothy to turn away from the lust for more stuff and to go after, to be hungry for righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.
Think about some of thing that frustrate us: heavy traffic, interrupted internet access, not finding what you’re looking for in the grocery store, waiting in line at department store. In some countries, people would be thankful for paved roads, for any access to internet, for having fresh food and clean water, and for the clothes they already have. We are among the wealthiest 10% of the world’s population with more than 80% percent of the world’s resources. Don’t we have enough really? Can’t we be content?
Contentment, you see, is not the fulfillment of everything you want but the realization of the abundance that you already have. When you grab your gratitude rock and realize how very much you have, compared with most of the world, then you can wait until your shoes are worn and have holes before buying again. You can say “no” to a new car idea. You can be satisfied with your furniture and your clothes and your leftovers. You can be like the 10 year old boy who knocked on the Frueh’s door on Halloween. Gretchen offered him two candy bars because his pillow case was empty, but he said just one because he wanted to make sure she had enough for everyone. He was in sharp contrast to a group of kids who knocked on my door and though their bags were full, they reached for as much as they could grab.
You see, discontentment is a struggle in plenty and in want. Discontentment is a heart issue, and can only be dealt with when the heart is seeking God first and submitted to living confidently and abundantly in the palm of God’s hand. Contentment is not just closing your mouth to complaints. Contentment is building up gratitude, speaking positively about God’s work in your life even in times of struggle, when you feel sorely lacking.
To the degree that I able to buy as much as I want, or consume as much as I want, or entertain myself as much as I want, I am not free but trapped. That’s why we need to give more away.
We need to put ourselves in a position to discover “the rare jewel of contentment,” (as Jeremiah Burroughs, Puritan writer theologian writes) Contentment is discovered when we resist the trappings of our world, the affluenza, the lust for more and more stuff.
You heard the good news, didn’t you? We do have all the money we need for Peace’s 2011 church budget. Isn’t that great? But the bad news is it is still in your pockets and bank accounts, stocks and bonds. It is in that monthly paycheck or that retirement account, but in order to release it for higher purposes, you’ll have to cut out some of your discretionary spending. You might feel like the two year old in ToysRUs but I trust you will not scream. We have more than enough as a church to preserve our commitment to 20% mission giving, but the bad news is that we will not unless we learn more about saying “no” to ourselves.
These are challenging times. You can look for what’s missing in your life, or you can rejoice in all the things you already have. You can wish for different circumstances, or you can look for what God is teaching you in your current circumstances. Courageous and generous people of Peace, let us be so full of God’s Spirit, so content, so full of gratitude that we have more than enough to share. May our contentment keep our mission budget up-sized, even in this down-sized economy. May our contentment keep this church fully staffed with talented people, even as we make up the $60,000 gap which comes with being a grown-up church, financially independent of denominational support funding. May our contentment keep us rejoicing in the challenge and the opportunity of this wonderful new worship and ministry center, where we can reach out to new friends.
It all depends on your attitude of gratitude. It all depends on your trust in God. Life is not about having the most toys or the most financial security. Life is about building an intimate relationship of dependency on the Lord, the only One who will completely satisfy your deepest longings.
There’s an old story of a rich entrepreneur who was disturbed to find a fisherman sitting lazily beside his boat. "Why aren't you out there fishing?" he asked. "Because I've caught enough fish for today," said the fisherman. "Why don't you catch more fish than you need?' the rich man asked. "What would I do with them?"
"You could earn more money," came the impatient reply, "and buy a better boat so you could go deeper and catch more fish. You could purchase nylon nets, catch even more fish, and make more money. Soon you'd have a fleet of boats and be rich like me." The fisherman asked, "Then what would I do?" "You could sit down and enjoy life," said the rich man. "What do you think I'm doing now?" the fisherman replied as he stared off with a smile of contentment. (Our Daily Bread, May 18, 1994)
Stay hungry, my friends, stay hungry for God’s righteousness. Don’t give in to affluenza. Fight the good fight with the medicine of contentment. Grab hold of the life that really is life and cling with all your might! Cast care aside; lean on your guide, the King of kings will for you provide. To You, Lord of lords be all honor and glory and every ounce of our devotion. Amen.