August 18, 2019: The Four Secrets of Life Abundant: The Conduit to Contentment
August 18, 2019 Rev. Rhonda Blevins, DMIN
The Four Secrets of Life Abundant
Secret Three: The Conduit to Contentment
I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Welcome to part three of our four-week series, “The Four Secrets of Life Abundant.” We’ve been digging into the final chapter of Paul’s letter to perhaps his favorite church . . . the church at Philippi. This closing section of Paul’s letter to his friends is rich, and he offers them some guidance . . . some lessons he’s learned along the way.
· In week one of this series, we talked about the pathway to peace from verses 4-7. Banish worry, embrace peace.
· Last Sunday (week two) we talked about the journey to joy. Banish darkness, embrace joy.
With both of these lessons on life abundant, I’ve offered practical ways to live into the peace and joy of life abundant.
· As a way to banish worry and embrace peace, I suggested that any time you start to worry about whatever it is—the source of your worry—to stop and pray for someone else’s worry. We wrote down our worry on an index card and traded with someone. The idea was to get past self-centered thinking and think about someone else in a spirit of empathy and compassion. A simple step on the pathway to peace.
· Then last Sunday, my “pro tip” on the journey to joy—a practical way to banish darkness and embrace joy—was to give up cable news. I offered that as a suggestion, an experiment. Some of you were like, “What?!? Give up cable news? Have you lost your ever-loving mind?” Some of you started having “dt’s” at the mere suggestion. Smokers trying to quit cigarettes have “the patch” to help them wean off. Someone needs to invent a “patch” to help folks quit cable news.
And then on Wednesday, I walked into my living room, and there was my husband watching cable news. I looked at him as if I’d caught him with another woman. With a tormented, broken expression I said to him, “Et tu, Brute?”
Let’s see what the Apostle Paul dials up for us this week in his letter to the church at Philippi. A pathway to peace, a journey to joy, and today, a conduit to contentment. (Might I add how proud I am of my alliteration?)
Are there clues Paul offers about the secret to being content no matter the situation. Here’s what he wrote to his friends:
I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
As I reflected over Paul’s suggestion that he could be content no matter the circumstances, I decided to argue with him a little bit. The argument went something like this:
“Seriously, Paul? Do you really expect me to believe that you have found a way to be content no matter your circumstance? I don’t buy it. Why, just a few verses before, you don’t seem very content with Euodia and Syntyche for them causing conflict in the church. And a few verses before that you wrote, ‘I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.’ Doesn’t sound like a guy happy with the status quo.”
But at last, Paul won the argument as I began to understand the difference.
· On one hand Paul was a confirmed malcontent when it came to the cause of Christ.
· On the other hand, Paul was perfectly content when it came to his own circumstance within that cause.
It’s perfectly acceptable, in fact it’s imperative to be a malcontent when we’re talking about the Gospel . . . about salvation . . . about wholeness and wellness for all God’s creation. We should all be malcontents when it comes to liberty for all people, justice for all people. We should all be discontent when we see people refused basic human rights, when we hear the powerful trampling the weak, the esteemed taking advantage of the marginalized. That’s Sermon on the Mount 101.
That’s not what Paul’s talking about when he declares he’s learned the secret to contentment.
The secret lies in the phrase that follows his bold assertion: 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.
He’s talking about material things. Food, stuff . . . material things. The secret to contentedness—the Conduit to Contentment—is simple. Banish materialism. Many of us spend way too much time wanting . . . the newest cell phone . . . the most stylish purse. More this, more that . . . gotta-keep-up-with-the-Joneses. Wanting more wealth . . . even more health. This constant wanting and comparing leads to life repugnant instead of life abundant. This type of “grass-is-greener” somewhere else thinking is like the “thief who comes to kill, steal, and destroy.” But Jesus came that we might have life and have it to the full.
An 8-year-old girl named Natalie, after listening to a fiery evangelist on the radio, turned to her 6-year-old brother, Max and said, “Max, do you know about Jesus?” Expecting a slant on the old story, Max said, “No.” So Natalie continued, “Sit still because this is really scary.” After explaining the gospel as only an 8-year-old could, she popped the question. “Now, Max, when you die do you want to go to heaven to be with Jesus, God, your Mommy and Daddy, and big sister, or do you want to go to the lake of fire to be with the Devil and bank robbers?” Max thought a moment, then replied, “I want to stay right here.”
Contentment is recognizing that right here, right now, is perfectly OK. Nothing I could ever buy will bring lasting joy or peace. And food? A moment on the lips, forever on the hips. Fleeting pleasure. Momentary happiness. And like they say about sugar, when it’s in your system, it makes you crave it all the more.
We all have cravings. It is human nature to seek out things to fill up the emptiness we all experience from time to time.
· Some try to fill up that emptiness with a relationship. Somehow, that relationship never quite does the trick. And then there’s discontentment with the relationship.
· Some try to fill up that emptiness with drugs or alcohol, which just leave us in want of the next buzz . . . a better high.
· Some try to fill up that emptiness with wealth and things . . . there’s not enough money in the world to fill up the human heart.
· Some try to fill up that emptiness with success or power . . . there’s always going to be someone more successful . . . more powerful.
· Some try to fill up that emptiness with busy-ness . . . so they go and they go and they go until their body won’t go anymore and they burn out.
· Some try to fill up that emptiness with knowledge . . . but knowledge is limited and there’s always going to be someone smarter.
There are so many more ways that people try to manage their discontentment. What form does “materialism” take in your life?
So how can we do it? Banish materialism? To get rid of those crutches we use to fill up the emptiness? Doesn’t that leave us feeling exposed, vulnerable? I would say yes, it might. But listen to the secret Paul discovered—what enabled him to rely less on the things of this
world: I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength (v. 13).
My good friends were working with their little girl, Kayleigh, in memorizing scripture. Kayleigh was probably four-years-old at the time. They were teaching her this powerful verse, I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. So before bed one evening, my friend sat down with Kayleigh and slowly began teaching her the verse: I can do all things . . . and before she could finish, Kayleigh butted in and said, “by myself!”
Somehow that’s the opposite of what Paul was communicating. We start gaining this independence when we’re three or four, and the great task of the spiritual life, a task that takes a lifetime, is to relinquish our independence that we might find ourselves dependent on Christ.
Richard Rohr suggests that perhaps the only way to achieve that kind of self-emptying, free from our attachments to this material world, is through suffering. When we lose the things we value—money or possessions, relationships through death or division, mental or physical health, our jobs or reputation—when we lose the things we’re attached to, we suffer. This “necessary suffering” as Rohr calls it, is requisite for spiritual growth. I wish he weren’t right, however, I believe he is.
The Apostle Paul, by the time he writes to his friends in Philippi, has known his share of suffering. When we first met Paul in the scriptures, he’d lost his vision. At first, he was hated and feared among Christians. Eventually he would lose his reputation among the Romans. He lived as an itinerant preacher; he had to depend on the generosity of people along the way. And now he’s in prison. Paul is in chains. And to that humiliation, Paul says, “So what? My spirit is abundantly free and strong!”
Child of God, that same Spirit resides within you. Yes, there are times when life sends a dark cloud over your head. Your relationship can’t make it go away. Alcohol can’t drown it. Money and things make no difference. Whatever success you’ve know, whatever power you’ve had, no matter how busy you try to keep yourself, the dark cloud remains. The tricks you’ve always used to get by have become impotent. Maybe you wonder how you’re going to get through the day.
Into that darkness, hear the voice of the Apostle Paul speaking from across the ages, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength (and so can you).” Say that with me? “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
The next time you face doubt, uncertainty, despair . . . don’t waste your time looking for your help from the material world. Turn to God, and there find your contentment in any and every situation.
Now for the practical tip:
· Week 1 was pick up a habit of prayer as a way to banish worry
· Week 2 was kick out cable news as a way to banish darkness
· This week, the challenge is to banish materialism, our dependence on the material world, as a conduit to contentment. The practical tool is to pick up a scripture, one that reminds us where our dependence should be
In your bulletin, you likely saw the bookmark with Psalm 121 written on it. Let’s read it together:
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.
The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.
The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth,
and even for evermore.
This week, I invite you to read the words of this Psalm daily. Maybe in the morning as you drink your coffee or tea. Maybe at night before you go to bed. Read the words of the Psalmist to remember that the way to contentment is to fix our gaze on the Lord.