Do you want great wealth? 1 Timothy tells us great wealth doesn’t come from adding more money or material possessions to our lives, but in living for God and being content.
As Christians, I think we understand the call to live godly lives, even if we struggle to do so consistently, but contentment seems to be much more difficult. Enjoying the kind of rich lives spoken of in 1 Timothy, though, requires we foster both godliness and contentment.
As I’ve been giving thought to the discontentment with which I contend, I realize so much of my struggle has to do with the disappointments and brokenness of this life. God has shown me three ways to grow in contentment, and it has a lot to do with what I focus on. Much like in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, I have found that heart change requires I look at the past, the present, and the future.
Remember who God is and what He has done.
Over and Over again, God calls His people to remember.
In the Old Testament, God’s people are told to remember who God is and what He has done for them with feasts, sacrifices, standing stones, and by repeating the stories to their children.
And, in the New Testament, we are also called to remember. As Jesus spends His last meal with His disciples, He teaches them to remember with bread and wine.
Do this in remembrance of me (Luke 22:19-20).
Every time we take communion we are remembering Christ, His finished work on our behalf, and all God’s promises fulfilled in Him (2 Corinthians 1:20).
Inherent to contentment is thankfulness, and inherent to thankfulness is remembering. We actively bring to mind God’s goodness and faithfulness which naturally brings forth a spirit of gratitude. To be thankful, we count our blessings, and in order to count our blessings, we must remember.
Often, we think counting our blessings is simply to list all the earthly gifts with which we have been blessed: our homes, food, health, friendships, clothing, etc. These are all good gifts, and it’s right to give thanks to God for them, but earthly comforts and provisions make up only one category for which to give thanks.
The blessings of food on our table, a roof over our head, and a beautiful sunset aren’t going to be enough to carry us through the great sufferings and difficulties of this life. No, the blessings we count must run much deeper than mere physical comforts and fleeting beauty.
Remember who God is. Remember His faithfulness. Draw to mind His mercy and grace. Meditate on his steadfast love.
One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 103. Here, David is calling us to remember.
…may I never forget the good things he does for me. Psalm 103:2b
And he gives us a list to bring to mind.
- God forgives all my sins
- He heals all my diseases
- He redeems me from death
- He crowns me with love and tender mercies
- He fills my life with good things
- He renews my youth like the eagle’s
- He gives righteousness and justice to all who are treated unfairly
- He revealed His character to Moses and His deeds to the people of Israel
- He is compassionate and merciful
- He is slow to anger
- He is filled with unfailing love
- He does not punish us for all our sins
- He does not deal with us harshly though we deserve it
- His unfailing love toward His people is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth
- He removes our sin from us as far as the east is from the west
- He is a tender and compassionate father to His children
- He remembers we are weak, only dust, and though our lives are short like that of wildflowers, His love remains forever with those who fear Him
- His salvation extends to our children and our children’s children
- He rules over everything from His heavenly throne
David is counting his blessings by remembering who God is and what He has done for His people. And, as David calls us to remember with him, he calls us to give praise.
Many of the blessings we experience in this life are momentary and can be lost. We should be thankful for them when we enjoy them, yes, but we need to anchor our gratitude in God Himself.
Dig below the loose sand of immediate comfort and material possessions and place the anchor of your hope in the rock of Jesus Himself in whom all God’s promises are yes. And when the loose sands of immediate blessings are blown, shifted, or crumble away, the rock anchoring your hope will hold you steady and be the conduit through which gratitude and contentment flow.
And praise God. We cannot grumble and praise at the same time. Remembering leads to praise and praise helps us remember.
Release your present expectations to God.
Unmet expectations are a burden too heavy for us to carry. They lie upon our backs with such force we become folded over unable to see anything but the ground immediately before us and unable to feel anything but the crushing weight pressing against us.
We all have them…expectations…the way we hope our life will go. We have a plan running in the back of our minds, and we think if we just work the plan, we will find happiness. Our happiness becomes tied to our expectations being met.
I love the book Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. It’s the story of a boy named Billy and his two hound dogs, Old Dan and Little Ann. This trio form an impressive hunting team. To train his dogs, though, Billy needs a raccoon skin. He can’t afford any fancy traps as times are tough, but his grandpa tells him about a simple method he used to employ as a boy. It involved a brace and a bit.
Billy was to place something enticing that would capture the raccoon’s curiosity into the brace. The raccoon would have no problem getting his open hand into the brace, but once he clenched the object in his hand, he would not be able to get his round fist back out.
Of course, all he needs to do is open his fist, release the object, and his hand would easily slip back through, but the raccoon won’t do that. He won’t ever release the object. Therefore, he is caught, trapped by his own desire for the object, and will eventually meet his end.
Our desire for a certain expectation to be met can work similarly. The desire itself may not be wrong, but once we wrap our hearts around the expectation of it, it becomes a trap. We end up in bondage to this unmet expectation when simply releasing it to the care of our Father, to give in His time or to withhold in His goodness, would set us free to enjoy the rest of our lives and the various gifts we are at liberty to partake in.
Releasing such burdens involves action. We are to be actively giving all our worries and cares to God because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).
Unmet expectations and current hopes and dreams are a part of the burdens and cares we release to God. He made us. His knows our desires even better than we do for He understands our hearts from the vantage point of infinite knowledge and wisdom.
We can trust the Lord to work out His plan for our lives because of His faithful, enduring love for us and in this trust is true freedom.
The Lord will work out his plans for my life—for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever. Don’t abandon me, for you made me. Psalm 138:8
Just as the raccoon must open its fist and release the object to be free, we must open our hearts and release our present expectations and our hopes and dreams to God. He who gave us His own Son will not hold back any good thing from us (Romans 8:32).
Rest in the good future to come.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus said only those with the faith of a child will enter the kingdom of heaven (Mark 10:13-16)? Consider the faith a child has in his parents. He looks to his parents for everything he needs. When he is afraid, he rests in the comfort of his parents’ protection and love. When he is hungry, he trusts his parents to feed him. He doesn’t wake up in the morning worried about his needs being met because he knows his parents will take care of him.
A child can seem to ask his mother and father a hundred questions a day because the child trusts his parents to have the answers and to lead him in the right way. A child has absolute faith that his parents are good and that they love him and his whole life revolves around this faith.
Of course, due to sin and the brokenness of the world, not every child is raised under kind parents or without suffering and lack, but every child is born with faith in the love and care of his or her mother and father.
We are to have that kind of faith in God. We are to place our hope in His love and provision for us. When He says yes, it is because He is good, and when He says no it is because He is good, and when we can’t understand the mixture of yesses and nos that come to make up our stories, we can anchor our hearts in the fact that He is good. His love for us is unfailing, and His faithfulness is without end.
As Christians, we may be tempted to look at the list David gives us in Psalm 103 and become disillusioned because we don’t see the completion of God’s promises in the immediate story before us, but this life is only the first few chapters. Our stories continue beyond the passing from this realm into the next.
I recently finished a book that broke my heart. It was the story of a woman’s life, and it was wrought with loss and danger and disappointment, but at the same time, there was this thread of enduring love woven throughout that carried the heroine through all the hard and carried the readers, too. Then, at the end of the book, the author brought that thread of love to an abrupt and tragic end, and that is where the reader is left.
For those who have placed their faith in Christ, the story never ends that way. Instead, the thread of God’s enduring love woven into our stories only grows and grows until at last all the hard, all the pain, all the danger, all the fear, and all the disappointments are swallowed up forever in that beautiful, glorious, unbreakable love.
I never judge an entire story by the first few chapters. I judge a story by the way the author completes the tale.
This life here is important, but it is not ultimate. It is important because it is a very real part of the story, but it is not ultimate because it is not the completion of the tale. We are only in the first few chapters, but the author has given us a preview of the completion, and it is more glorious than we can imagine (Romans 8:18).
Our hearts will not be left broken but will be mended and restored and somehow, in some mysterious way, the completion of the tale will be all the more glorious because of the difficulty of these chapters we’re working through in the here and now. The author is good, and He is faithful, and the love He weaves is forever.
The best endings to stories are those that leave the characters with a new beginning. That is the hope embedded in the phrase, And they all lived happily ever after.
In Christ, And they all lived happily ever after isn’t a fairy tale; it is the new beginning guaranteed by His death and resurrection for all those who place their faith in Him.
Do the work, and God will bring the change.
In Psalm 136, the refrain, His faithful love endures forever, is repeated over and over after instances of remembering God’s good character and his mighty acts on behalf of His people.
Again, we see this pattern of remembering God’s past faithfulness, resting in His goodness, and trusting in His forever love. It is this pattern put to practice that is able to carry the weight of our present contentment.
It would be a valuable activity for each of us to add to this list in Psalm 136 from our own experiences and stories allowing each point or memory to lead to reflection on God’s steadfast love. As we do so, I believe we will find our present contentment growing and maturing.
I’ve thought of a few to add…
- who forgave my sin and made me alive in Christ, His faithful love endures forever.
- who comforts me in my griefs and disappointments, His faithful love endures forever.
- who strengthens me by the power of His Spirit, His faithful love endures forever.
- who hears my prayers and answers me according to His goodness and righteousness, His faithful love endures forever.
- who works all things for my good and His glory, His faithful love endures forever.
The list can go on indefinitely and can be general as well as intimately specific. The fact that it can is itself a cause for praise. Indeed, God is good. He is faithful. And, His steadfast love endures forever.
But don’t stop there. The practice of remembering, praising, and resting in hope begins in our individual hearts but flows out into our relationships and corporate gatherings. We help each other grow in contentment when we remember and praise together and when we carry each other’s burdens and cares to God in collective prayer.
Let’s start a list today. Let’s share it with God first, and then find someone else to share some part of it with inviting them, in turn, to share with us, too. As we do so, we will find ourselves growing in contentment and the great wealth of which 1 Timothy speaks.