Fighting for Contentment
I have a confession. I have been struggling for quite some time with contentment, particularly in regards to my vocation. I have shared this with numerous Christian friends and family. I've sought counsel. I've asked for prayer. I've fought to gain healthy perspectives and to wage war on my sin. I desire genuine repentance in this area. And yet, I still struggle.
Coveting, and its healthy counterpart, contentment, are difficult things. The pendulum can quickly and easily swing from one to the other. We have been created to desire. It is part of God's design for us. We have been made to worship, and worship starts with desire. But our sin has caused us to to long, not for God, but rather for other things, and in unhealthy ways.
As Cody mentioned in his sermon, having desires isn't inherently a bad thing. It's ok to want a family, a home, a car, or a career that you enjoy. It's even ok to want things that we would deem less significant or important, like that cool new electronic device, or those shoes you really like, or that thing you don't really need, but really want. It's ok to have desires, but we must constantly be guarding against allowing our desires to control us. I think that is when we cross the line into covetousness and discontentment.
Let's define coveting as an all-consuming yearning to posses something. I think that is a good way to understand it. Coveting is desire turned up to max volume. If that thing you want consumes your heart and mind, you have likely strayed into coveting. It you want it, and feel as though your every satisfaction in life depends on having it...yup, you guessed it, you are coveting. The problem though, is that our sinful hearts and minds don't process things this clearly most of the time. We can easily rationalize or explain away all of the ways we covet. In fact, we are experts at it!
The conversation with our conscience might go something like this:
Flesh: "Wow, that new truck is cool. I'd really like to have that."
Spirit: "Yes, I can see that you like that, it is pretty neat, but you know, we really don't need that. We just got new tires on our current truck and it just passed inspection with flying colors. It should be good to go for quite some time still."
Flesh: "Yeah, you're right. And I don't really have the extra money for it either right now."
Flesh (a short time later): "You know, I've been thinking more about that truck, and I really think if we got that it would help us a lot. It has more room in the bed so I could use it to help people at church move stuff. And it gets much better gas mileage so it would actually save us money every month."
Spirit: "Well, you haven't once offered to help anybody move anything in the five years since we got our current truck. In fact you always find an excuse to get out of pitching in any time someone asks. And 6 more miles per gallon won't cover the $500 loan payment. Besides, weren't you just agreeing that we should be focusing more on our relationship with Father and that we could be doing more with our resources, especially now that we just got our current truck paid off. If we get that new truck, you'll have to go back to working OT at work and we will have to cut back on our giving."
Flesh: "Well yeah, I guess you're right, but I still think..."
I share that little dramatization half in jest, but we all know we've played out a similar scenario in our minds on more than a few occasions. Let's be honest...the struggle is real. For myself, in my current struggles, I find myself constantly looking past what is right before me. I can't see the blessings and opportunities that God has given me. I'm not blind to them, but rather it is as if I have chosen not to see them. I am walking with my eyes closed. How are we to thrive in light of these struggles?
Well, obviously I may not be the best person to provide wisdom and insight on this particular topic or else I may have solved it for myself, but I will do my best to distill some of the Biblical teaching on the topic. I know, as many of you may as well, that I still have much to learn on the subject. As Cody pointed out in his sermon by giving us several applicable cross references, this is a topic which God has spoken about at length through scripture. We can have hope in the gospel even in our discontentment.
In my own struggles, I typically try to start with a hard reset. We all know that the first step in fixing any issue with an electronic (computer, phone, etc.) is just to turn that sucker off and see what happens. I'm convinced this approach fixes like 95% of all problems with my devices, so I try to apply it to the computer in my own head. A hard reset is like wiping the slate clean and starting over from scratch.
For me, this involves trying to refocus my heart and mind on what is true. As I mentioned earlier, it isn't often that I don't know the truth, but sometimes I just need to be reminded of what I already know. Being reminded of the source of our hope (the gospel) and of God's promises in scripture (of his love for me, his providence in my life, his wisdom, his goodness, and his faithfulness to me) is the first step in re-calibrating.my thoughts and desires.
Additionally, I try to be on the lookout for tangible examples of these things in my life. What are some ways in which I see these truths from scripture practically playing out in my daily life? These aren't typically going to be hugely monumental in scale. It's often in little things that God is most at work. Likewise, these experiences won't always be positive in nature. It may be in our trials and struggles that he is teaching us something or growing us in maturity.
So, again, I will use myself as an example. I feel an irresistible calling towards vocational pastoral ministry. I love pastoring. I love teaching people the truths of God's word. I love seeing people's lives transformed by the gospel. And I strongly desire to see there be more healthy churches in our community and in the world. I want to devote as much of my time and energy as possible towards that end while the Lord has me on this earth. Specifically speaking, I feel a strong pull towards church revitalization (i.e. breathing new life into dead or dying churches). In my mind, I believe the most effective way for me do this would be if it was my vocation, because at the end of the day, I still have a family to provide for, which means I need to work in order to do so.
On the surface, this seems like a noble calling to many, I am sure. I often use that excuse myself when rationalizing my sin. Here's the problem...I am currently doing all of these things (minus the dead and dying church part) in my role as an elder at The Journey. Don't misunderstand me, I absolutely love serving at The Journey. If I spend the rest of my life pastoring here and nothing more, I will count myself blessed to have been able to partner with you all in the gospel. But I am guilty of often allowing my desires to look beyond what God has entrusted to me now to steward well for his glory, and coveting something more. God, if only I had more time to devote to this ministry, what more could I accomplish? God, what other avenues exist for spreading the gospel here in the MOV? God, isn't there something more you'd have me do?
Inherent in all of those questions is so much pride. I hate to admit it, but I know it is there. Clearly, I am saying, I know there is something better than what you have for me God. Right now I am blessed with a job that provides for my family and allows me the freedoms to also do ministry. I should be immensely thankful, and yet I find myself discontent. Right now, I have the opportunity to be a part of a team of men who desire to disciple and care for the families of The Journey in pastoral ministry, but I have convinced myself that God maybe needs me somewhere else...as if I am the answer to his problems. What pride! What arrogance! Again, I wouldn't articulate those things, in so many words, but in an honest moment, I know it lies below the surface in my heart and mind. How much am I missing out on right now? What is God trying to teach me that I am failing to learn? What dividends might the time, experiences, and training I am getting right now pay in the future? From time to time, I need a hard reset.
My intention of this reflection isn't to monopolize your time in a virtual therapy session, but I am hopeful that my own struggles in this area can minister to your hearts and minds. Clearly, Cody's message directly challenged and impacted me yesterday. I suspect I may not have been the only one.
Throughout our sermon series over the Ten Commandments, we have been confronted by all of the skeletons we keep neatly locked away in our closets, haven't we? I'll bet that at least one of those messages shined a light on a specific struggle that you are dealing with. When this happens, it doesn't feel good, but it is necessary, and immensely helpful. For one it may be anger, for another it may be greed, for another lust, and yet for another perhaps discontentment and coveting. At the end of the day, no one made it through unscathed I am sure.
But our main takeaway from the Ten Commandments series need not be an inventory of our failings, but rather a renewed hope in the one who perfectly kept the Law on our behalf. In Galatians 3:19, Paul asks the million dollar, "Why then the Law?" He then gives us the answer a few verses later in 21-22, "For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe."
In other words, the conviction we feel in our shortcomings is meant to direct our focus squarely on our desperate need for a Savior. That savior is Jesus and he has overcome the condemnation of the Law on our behalf, so that we might then join in asking, "Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?" (Romans 8:33). Some of these lessons from the Ten Commandments may have felt like a strong punch in the gut. I know they did for me! But rejoice in that, because it serves as a hard rest where we can refocus our hearts and minds on Jesus and the hope of his gospel.
If you missed this week's sermon (or just want to listen again), follow the link below to listen. Or subscribe to our podcast in iTunes.
Part 10 - The Tenth Commandment
Questions discussed in this sermon:
1. How do you know when you're coveting?
2. What are the consequences of coveting?
3. What is the source of our contentment?
Next week's lesson: 1 Peter 1:22-2:10