Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Contented Living

Pastors Blake and Andrew Cromwell

Ask yourself this question: Am I unsatisfied with my life? If your answer is "yes" the follow up question should be, "Why?" The truth is, we are often so used to being discontent with our lives and surroundings that we generally forget what living a life of contentment would be like. We often focus on the thing we don’t have (but would make life so much better if we did) or the situation we’re in (when I get out of this situation I’ll feel better), and fail to realize that contentment is a decision, not a response to one’s surroundings.

We learn from the Scriptures that when men and women do not know God, they are cursed with the inability to be satisfied with what they have. What a perfect description of how most of us live our lives! Here in the United States we are blessed with so much, and yet we are able to appreciate so little. We have the world’s wealth, but lack the ability to enjoy it because we attempt to fill a God-shaped hole with things made by man.

But how do we go about living contented lives? Well, first we must be clear about what contentment isn’t before we can understand how to go about obtaining true contentment. First, we must recognize that contentment cannot ever result from stuffing one’s feelings. At times there is a tendency to act as though we are content, when the truth is we are just pushing our emotions to the side. This fa├žade usually results in a passive aggressive anger that can turn into deep bitterness. We must recognize that we cannot gain true contentment by ignoring our emotions.

Second, we need to understand that contentment does not mean standing still. In other words, we can never attain happiness by choosing not to set any new goals or cast new visions. Contentment does not equal quitting the race. It does not necessitate complacency with the current state of our lives. This type of false complacency is nothing more then a victimization mentality. True contentment always involves stretching toward higher goals and purposes.

Third, contentment cannot be won by storing up possessions. It is clear things can never make us happy. I have learned an important thing about possessions: the more stuff I own, the more stuff I have to insure, maintain, pay taxes on, and wash and wax. We’ve all heard stories about people who had everything but happiness. In general, people who look for happiness in this way end up working more hours to pay for what they’ve already bought but couldn’t afford in the first place.

As you can see, looking for contentment in all the wrong places can actually be detrimental to our emotions, our goals, and our finances. But if we follow the right steps we can achieve true contentment. True contentment is one that is long lasting and beneficial to your life and the lives of those around you.

Let me outline five steps from the Bible to help you obtain contentment in your life:

1. Know that attitude is everything. Contentment is a learned art developed in the midst of negative feelings and emotions (Phil. 4:11-12). Maintaining a positive attitude necessitates a conscious decision on our part. My wife, Rena, has thoroughly developed this skill. I constantly find her humming happily during her daily activities no matter what has gone on during the day. It is so frustrating to find her humming away happily at the kitchen sink just moments after a disagreement I am still stewing over. Rena has learned that contentment is a choice and that one’s attitude is a result of that choice. She simply chooses to be content, and she is.

2. Know that the circumstances aren’t everything. Very simply stated, one’s contentment is not dependent on one’s circumstances. Victor Frankl, the famous psychologist, discovered this truth early on. As a young man interred in a holocaust camp during World War II, Frankl made a mental decision not to let the filth of the Nazi’s overtake him. He chose to rise above the most terrible of circumstances and demonstrated that one’s internal state does not have to be controlled by what is going on around him. The truth is that we can spend all our lives waiting for our circumstances to make us happy, but without success. Instead of waiting, we must choose contentment no matter what is going on around us.

3. Know that there is gain in pain. Part of choosing contentment no matter what the surroundings, is having the ability to see God’s hand in the midst of our negative circumstances. Too often we forget that God has us in the palm of His hand and our surroundings can be part of His plan for our lives. The all too familiar adage, "No pain, no gain," applies to more then just muscles. Who we are as people, our character and our personality, undergo change when we embrace a painful situation and decide to reap the benefit from it. When we choose to look at our daily lives through "what could be" lenses instead of "what is" lenses, we gain perspective and contentment because we know that God is working in us and making us into better people.

4. Know Christ is the only true contentment (Phil 1:2). Christianity is a relationship religion. It is about relationship with Jesus Christ. He is the source of joy and peace, and He offers these gifts to you and I without hesitation or limitation. True contentment comes into our lives when we accept the free gift of Christ. He infuses us with His peace and joy as we give Him our worries and frustrations. Altogether too often we try to carry the burdens of life alone, Christ offers us His shoulder to not only lean on, but to help carry that which is weighing us down. The relationship that Christ offers is one that revolutionizes our life for it changes everything.

5. Know life is living for others (Phil. 2:3-5). There are two things in our life that we can take to heaven with us: our character and our relationships. The beauty is that the two are so closely intertwined. When we build relationships with others, our character develops and matures. But living for others is not just about having lots of friends, it is much more then that. Living for others is about dying to our self and our wants and desires. When we live for others we have to let go of all those things that make us discontent with our lives. There’s no time to be dissatisfied with the color of my car when I’m busy meeting the needs of others. Things like that simply fall to the wayside. Serving others releases a heartfelt joy in our lives. This is because we were born to serve others. Our goal in life should be to see the needs in others and meet them.

I challenge you to practice these five steps in your life and watch and see what happens. My belief is that you will begin to see a change in your heart. You will become a more satisfied and joyful person. You’ll discover what Christ meant when He said, "I came that they might have life, and have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). The pastors in Kings County look forward to seeing you this weekend. God bless you.

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