Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cultivating Contentment

Cultivating Contentment
Oct. 23. 2011
Stewardship Series Sermon 3

We’ve all, at one point or another, have thought about something. Unfortunately, I know there are some people here who have experienced it. The order comes that you must evacuate your home within the next upcoming minutes. What do you take? Perhaps it would be family photos, perhaps important papers. How difficult would it be for you to have to choose what few possessions mean enough to place them in higher priority over everything else?

It’s these traumatic occurrences that happen that remind us that everything in this life is temporary. We’ve heard all the jokes about not being able to take it with you when you’re gone. Like the one about the man who begs St. Peter to let him bring one suitcase full of gold bricks with him into heaven and all of the saints and angels wonder why he brought pavement with him. Luke 12:15 tells us that a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.

And yet the world tells us the complete opposite. Jesus tells us that our lives consist of more than money but culture shouts at us that it’s not true. And despite us saying that we believe Jesus’ words, we still devote a lot of time, talent and resources to acquiring more stuff. We say that our lives don’t consist in an abundance of possessions, but we live as if they do. Last week, Michael introduced us to two ailments we suffer from: credititis and affluenza. Today, I’m going to tell you about another disease that affects us: R.H.S. – Restless Heart Syndrome.

Now perhaps you’ve heard of restless leg syndrome – where people describe uncomfortable feelings in their legs like itching, tingling and pain. RHS works the same way – only with the heart. The primary symptom is discontent and it manifests itself in never being satisfied with anything. We acquire something and hardly take time to enjoy it before we want something else. The disease can progress to the point where we can become perennially discontent and, if left unchecked, RHS will destroy us.

Now we are designed to be discontent about some things. God wired us this way in order that we would seek the only One who can fully satisfy us. However, while there are certain things that we are supposed to be DIScontent with, there is a myriad of other things that we are to be CONtent with. And we get them confused.

The 18th century Scottish philosopher James Mackintosh once said, “It is right to be contented with what we have, never what we are.” The issue is that we tend to be content with that which we should be discontent and trying to gain more. We are content with our relationship with God rather than wanting more of him. We are content with how much we love others instead of growing in love. We are content with how much we read and study the Bible when we should long to do it more.

Oppositely, we aren’t content with the things that we should be content with. We can be discontent with our stuff – our homes, cars, tvs, and clothes. We can be discontent with our jobs and seek out better jobs that have better bosses or more money. We can be discontent with our families. As children we think that if had so & so’s parents, our lives would be better somehow. Then we grow and have children of our own and wish that they were more like someone else’s children. We can be discontent with our spouse, comparing him or her to others and imagine how much happier we’d be if we were married to another. We can even be discontent with our church. We see that our church isn’t perfect and has a couple of warts. We begin to see only the bad things and go church shopping.

What we are saying when we think like this is: “I don’t like what you’ve given me God and I want something else. I want to trade it in and get something better than what you gave me.”

Now luckily, there is a treatment for restless heart syndrome. To recovery from RHS, we must cultivate and contentment, simplify our lives and stock up on self control. So pay attention to the cure that I’m going to lay out for you.

There are 4 keys to cultivating contentment. The first is to remember that it could always be worse. Practice looking on the bright side – focusing on the silver lining. When you get in your older model car, say that it could be worse. When you find all the things in your house that need replaced or repaired, say that it could be worse. When you are frustrated or disappointed with your spouse, say that it could be worse.

The second key is to ask, “How long will this make me happy?” Will purchasing an item bring you sustaining satisfaction? Or will it only make you happy for a little while? One possible way to help decide this is to try before you buy an item. Rent the car you are considering purchasing for a couple of days. Borrow an item that you are wanting from a friend. You might discover that whatever it is, isn’t worth the expense.

The third key is to develop a grateful heart. This is one of the most important keys to contentment and happiness. In fact, it is essential if we are to be content. A grateful heart recognizes that all of life is a gift. Contentment comes when we spend more time giving thanks for what we have rather than thinking about what’s missing is wrong. In any situation we can complain or be grateful: we can choose to focus on disappointments or give thanks for blessings.

The fourth key is to ask yourself, “Where does my soul find true satisfaction?” The world tells us that satisfaction is found in ease, luxury, comfort and money. The Bible tells us that true satisfaction is found in God alone. St. Augustine wrote over 1600 years ago that “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” Christ is the one who satisfies every need and enables us to be content in all circumstances. He gave us the great commandment of loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we focus on these two things, we will find satisfaction for our soul and lasting contentment.

But we won’t find complete contentment unless we learn how to simplify our lives. Simplicity says that less is more: it says that we don’t need as much as we think we do. We are like hamsters running on a wheel. We don’t know where we are going, but we’re running like to crazy to get there – AND to keep up with others. And we consume a lot in doing this. Every year 1.2 billion trees are consumed to make the packaging, paper, napkins and bags we use. 2.5 million plastic bottles are used every hour. The U.S.A. has 5% of the world’s population but produces 40% of the world’s garbage – 1609 pounds per person per year. We must make a conscious decision to get off of this hamster wheel? But how do we do it? Well, I’m going to help you.

First, set a goal of reducing your consumption and choose to live below your means. Use reusable canvas bags when you go grocery shopping. Look at the mid-grade item rather than the top of the line item when making a purchase. Adjust your thermostat when you are away.

Second, before making a purchase, ask yourself, “Do I really need this or do I want it?” And if you want it, ask yourself why. These questions help determine your true motivation of desire. Is the purchase a need or are you wanting it to help fulfill another need – like to make yourself feel better about something. What you can discover is that maybe your reason for making the purchase isn’t necessarily a good one.

Third, use something up before buying something new. Now, this isn’t always possible, but when it is, make sure something is completely used up before replacing it. And when you do replace it, purchase something that is made to last. Take better care of the things you and have make repairs when necessary. Remind yourself that you don’t always need to purchase something new. And like Michael recommended last week, donate or sell things that still work that you no longer use.

Fourth, plan low cost entertainment that enriches. Do things that are simple and cheap. How many times have we gone on a vacation and spent tons of money, ran around doing things and come back exhausted when all we really needed to do was lie around and relax? We think that we have to spend money to have fun and really, we don’t.

Fifth, and finally, ask yourself are there major changes that would allow me to simplify my life? The stress of living beyond our means can kill us. Making payments when the funds aren’t there causes stress. What if you sold that car that is strapping your checkbook and bought a car free and clear? If your car is paid off, keep it longer before buying another one.

The same can be said for our houses. Bigger houses mean bigger mortgages, bigger utility bills, bigger property taxes, more to clean and more furniture to purchase.

Is there a club membership that you hardly use? What could you be using the money for instead?

Finally, we have to work on self control. Self control acts like a wall around our heart and life that protects us from ourselves, from temptation and from sins that can destroy us. If you don’t exercise self control with possessions, you can be lead to financial ruin – lead into slavery. We become a slave to our things and to our desire to acquire more things.

Self control comes down choosing to satisfy an impulse to gain instant gratification or not act upon it for a higher cause or greater gratification later. It’s about stopping to ask yourself three questions.

What are the long term consequences of this action?
Is there a greater good or better outcome if I use this resource of time, money or energy in another way?
Will this action honor God?

So which “tent” will you live in? Discon-tent-ment or con-tent-ment? Now this doesn’t mean to we stop buying things or move into smaller homes where we will be crowded: God doesn’t require this. Choosing contentment means that we look to God as our source of everything we need and giving thanks for what we have. It means we ask God to change our hearts and minds and give us the right perspective on money and possessions. It means we decide to live simpler lives, wasting less and conserving more. It means we choose to give more generously.

Last week you received a static cling that had 6 financial planning principles to help manage your money. Today, you will be receiving a key ring tag that has a prayer on it. I encourage you to slip it on your key ring because it’s a great way to help you when you are in the midst of making a decision of whether or not to make a purchase.

So today, choose contentment by choosing to focus on what really satisfies and discovering true joy through simplicity. Amen.