- Image courtesy of http://ninemagazine.org
Today’s blog will conclude our series on how we as Christians can work on reaching financial maturity. We started our series this week examining gratitude. Keeping a grateful heart is a very amazing and wonderful way to live. We should be thankful everyday for the work Jesus did on the cross. Without Him we would be destined for hell and damnation. He came to our rescue, and He saved us from certain calamity. We also looked at Biblical generosity. God is generous to us, so He can be generous through us. God gave us His one and only Son, Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus had open arms and accepted the nails and gave His all–His very life–so that we may live forever, He asks us to have open arms and give everything over to Him and to the work of His kingdom.
Today we will conclude our series with a discussion on contentment. There is an old Latin phrase that says, “A harvest is always more fruitful in another man’s field.” In 1927 a writer from the Chicago Tribune found this phrase and was stunned by the truth of it. He modernized the phrase and wrote an article about it. Now more than 80 years after the phrase was first coined, we have all come to know it well: “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Is it true that your grass isn’t as good as your neighbor’s grass? No, of course not. We live as though this is an absolute truth. It can be a tangible fence between you and your neighbor next door, or it can be just a glance into other people’s lives. We form a list of comparisons in our minds. We walk up to this real or imaginary fence and think, “They have a nicer house than I do. They have far more superior vehicles than I drive. Why is their family so much more stable than mine? Why is their dog more well behaved? Why do they have better hair and whiter teeth? Why do they dress better? Why do they take better vacations than I do?” It goes on and on and on! Even quite literally we may silently wonder why their grass really is a whole lot greener than ours.
It is a very destructive focus to look into the lives of others, start the comparison, and to let it play out. After a while you not be grateful. You will be envious and jealous. You will see your portion as small and feeble. You will never be free because you feel you have to do just as well as your neighbor, if not better. You probably won’t be generous. In fact, the opposite it true. You will probably tend to hoard and protect. What if we all did this to each other all of the time? None of us could say he is happy with his portion. We will go to extraordinary measures to get what someone else has over there. This is an exhausting way to live!
What can we do to become more grateful, generous and free people when it comes to our finances and every area of our lives? Today we will look at Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Paul, Timothy, and Silas were having a very hard time knowing where to go to preach. They would go over here and be shut down. They would go over there and the Spirit of God would say no. Then they would go to another place and try again. Finally, in the dead of the night Paul had a vision of a Macedonian man. The man basically pleads for Paul to go to Macedonia and to help the people. Paul says okay I will go, and off they went. Where they landed was Philippi and this church was born. This was a church with people for whom Paul was crazy in love. It is a unique epistle. There is not a lot of faulty doctrine he is trying to correct or interpersonal relationships that have gone sour. Paul is just kind of spurring on the people. In the letter he shares some of my favorite words in the New Testament in Philippians 2:1-3 saying, ”If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” This can feel good to do every now and then, but to make it a part of your everyday, hour-by-hour spiritual journey is hard. It is hard to put the needs of others above our own needs. We are called to do this because it is the mind, attitude and heart of our Savior.
In verses 5 through 8 Paul goes on to say, ”Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” God wants us to be concerned with others more than ourselves. Can you imagine Jesus coming down from heaven where He was celebrated and loved and worshipped and living on Earth as one of us? What great love He had for us in this moment! The Almighty Creator of the world and of time and space made Himself like His greatest creation: human. He was not born and raised in a palace. He humbled Himself and become a servant. He then demonstrated His own love for us and sacrificed everything for our eternal salvation at the cross of Calvary. He become NOTHING. He gave up EVERYTHING. We are called to love each other with the same kind of love Jesus demonstrated to us. Jesus had selfless and unconditional love, compassion and generosity for other people.
Paul learns to be content no matter what is going on in his life. In Philippians 4:10 he says, ”I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Paul was sent an offering and received some goods to further his mission, and he writes to say thank you. Let us take a moment to further examine the pearls of wisdom Paul shared above in the space below.
“I am not saying this because I am in need.” Paul knew He had everything He already needed. He had Jesus Christ and that was enough. Everything else was secondary. He was not desperate or in a panic. He was not choked out. He could use the help given to him and he was certainly grateful for it, but he was not in a needy state of mind.
“For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it means to be in need, and I know what it means to have plenty.” Paul learned to be a student of God’s purposes and the things going on around him. Wisdom did not just fall out of heaven and hit him on the head. He did not stumble upon it across the road. He learned how to be content. Contentment simply means being satisfied with who one is and what one has; not wanting more or anything else. If you are not content, you cannot be grateful. Paul is not telling us we should not better ourselves or advance in life. He says that as we go through the process and we learn, we should not be discontent where we are right now. We are to learn from the all-sufficient God how to navigate through our circumstances. If we do not, we will take shortcuts to get over there or to get out of our situations. What did Paul learn, and how did he learn it? He knows–he has lived it and worn it. He has been in it. He knows what it means to live in the extremes. This way and that way. This helped him to make sense of the middle.
Jesus had a heart for those who are struggling. Jesus tells us that if we see someone who does not have enough food or clothes or is in jail or is sick we should help them. If we help them, we are actually helping Jesus. Jesus takes it very personally. Some people are struggling in chronic poverty and in sickness and in need. Some people do not even know if they will eat one week to the next. There are people around the world that live this reality everyday. Poverty in and of itself is not the enemy. The love of money is the root of all evil. Poverty can be as simple as saying, “In this moment, on this side of the fence, I don’t have the resources I need. I do not know where they will come from. I do not have the network or know who to call. Right now, I will have to do one of two things: 1) I will have to default to faith. I will have to trust my all-sufficient God because I do not have the resources to fix this right now. 2) I will have to do something immoral. I must take a shortcut. Break the law. Do what I must do to get out of my situation.” Paul tells us he learned from this.
Paul knows what it is like to go hungry. Paul knew what it was like to be beaten, abandoned, shipwrecked–all kinds of things. He learned from all of them. He didn’t curse God. He acknowledged to God that he was coming up short. By learning from it, he knew what it meant to be satisfied and content with nothing. He was authentically happy. God knows about the needs of the birds of the air, and He feeds them. Paul did not know on any given day from where his sustenance would come, but he trusted God. He was not bitter. Far from it! Paul was at peace.
We get distracted. We get so concerned that what is on this side of the fence does not match up with what is on the other side, so we chase, run and exhaust ourselves. We leave people counting on us in the dust. Did you know that most Americans today are so grossly rich compared to people in other parts of the world? Many people in the world will never, ever have what we have right now in our lives. It will never happen. What happens when we have so much that we have far more than we will ever use? Paul has been in this place too, and he has learned from it. We could start by saying, “Lord, I cannot use all of this right now. What do you want me to do with it? Who can I bless with these resources? Who can I help push a little further down the road? How can invest what you have entrusted to me?” Paul learned to be benevolent and generous. Paul knew how to navigate from here to there and to still have his faith for God in tact.
“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Who does not like to hear a secret? It is nice to be privy to information that hardly anyone else knows. There is something very enticing about the word “secret.” Everyone wants to know the secret to a happy marriage, to a healthy and slim body, and to success and wealth in today’s economy. People love secrets! Paul says he has learned how to navigate every circumstance and every situation while being satisfied with who he is and what he owns. Paul’s big secret: I can do everything through him who gives me strength. We need to depend on God with every fiber of our being. In every circumstance, we know our God will be faithful to us. The scripture does not say I can do some things for Him. God never asks us to do anything for Him. He wants us to do it through Him.
Why is the best kept secret of modern Christianity Jesus Himself? One of my favorite modern preachers named Dwight L. Moody once said, “A rule I have had for years is: to treat the Lord Jesus Christ as a personal friend. His is not a creed, a mere doctrine, but it is He Himself we have.” Do you want to be grateful? You can do everything through Jesus Christ! No matter what you have right here and right now, you have been forgiven. You are free because of Jesus. Why do we always insist on becoming re-entangled to keep up with the Jones’? How can we not be generous? Jesus gave up everything! Jesus became NOTHING–for us. How can we not do the same? How can we not be content when there is nothing better that will ever come our way in our lifetimes than Jesus Christ. If you can find contentment in Jesus Christ, you can do anything!
- All to Jesus I surrender,
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.
- I surrender all,
I surrender all.
All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.