This past Sunday morning, we kicked off a brand new teaching series called Simplicity: Finding Contentment in a Busy Life. The fact is: We all have lives that are busier than we’d like them to be at times. We all have times when we are just discontent with the state of our situations. Trying to navigate out of and around those kinds of seasons can be tough. This series is all about how to avoid them in the first place. Don’t miss a single part of this journey as we talk about how to focus in, slow down, and live the kind of life we’ve always wanted to have.
A Centered Life
Do you ever want more? That’s kind of a broad question. More of what? Well, anything. If we’re going to stay that broad, then of course you do. I do too. Now, not of everything. But sometimes we want more, right? Maybe you want more to drink at dinner. Perhaps you want more dinner. Kids often want more attention. If you’re reading or watching a great story, you may want more when it ends; you may want to find out what happens next. There are all kinds of situations in which we want more.
Let’s get a bit more specific with our question then: Do you ever want more out of life? Have you ever been in a situation where you felt like your life wasn’t enough? You couldn’t necessarily put your finger on what was missing, but it felt like something was. You wanted more stuff, more money, more time, more friends, more attention…you just wanted…more.
What did you do with that feeling? Because, let’s be honest: All of us feel it from time to time. A big part of the reason for that is our culture drives the idea into our heads relentlessly. Everywhere we look we are told that we aren’t enough. We’re told that we need this or that product in order to make our lives more complete. We need to wear this or eat that, and we’ll be happier and healthier. No matter what it is we have, we need more. Or so our culture tells us.
So again: What do you do with that feeling? How much of a role do you allow it to have in the decisions you make on a daily basis? Perhaps for some of you it’s not very much at all, but I’d be willing to bet that there are more folks in the room this morning than would care to admit it who give it a whole lot bigger of a place than they’d confess to doing in polite company.
And can you blame them? Can you blame…us? Let’s say you save up your money to buy the latest smart phone. What usually happens the next day? Either the price drops or the new one gets released. I was talking with a friend the other day who had recently moved into a house they built. They had only been in it for six weeks and were already feeling the tug of, “I wish we’d done this,” or “if only the builder had done that.” Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing at all. When you do something like build a house, you really don’t know how things are going to work until you’re living in it. I think what that points to, though, is the larger tendency that all of us have to look almost immediately past whatever it is we have to what the next thing could be.
What is this? Why do we do this? Because we are, all of us, infected with a disease called discontentment. If contentment is being okay with what we have, discontentment is looking at what we have and wishing we could have something else. Discontentment is poisonous. It’s deadly. But oh is it prevalent. Discontentment worms its way into our hearts and then rears its head at the most unexpected times or places. We’re bopping along through life, perfectly happy with the way things are going, and then all of a sudden we see it. It could be a thing or a person or an experience, but it is something we do not have. In fact, it’s better than what we have. And we want it. No, we need it. We suddenly realize that our lives are empty, and we have to have it in order for our lives to be full once again. In some ways, this can be understood to be the root of all sin. Adam and Eve were perfectly content in the Garden until the serpent convinced them they weren’t. It was their newfound discontentment that made them reach for the fruit God told them not to eat. Remember what the text says there in Genesis 3:6? “The woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”
Discontentment shows up in all kinds of places in our lives. They may be small. They may be big. But wherever they exist, they cause problems. We may not see the problems at first, but the seeds have been sown all the same. For instance, let’s say discontentment raises its ugly head in some shamelessly materialistic way. We see something at a store that we have to have. Ever been there? I was in Walmart the other day and they had an old school arcade game with Galaga and Galaxian. I quickly texted Lisa a picture of it with two words: Need it. My life was not going to be complete without it. She wisely helped me see that it would be and so I kept shopping. But you’ve felt that, right? What did you do with that feeling (especially if you didn’t have a wise spouse or parent to tell you no)?
The odds are unfortunately good that you found a way to get it. Then what? Well, it could be that you spent money you didn’t have on something you didn’t need to impress people you don’t like anyway and now you have to deal with that issue. Maybe you had to work extra hours to make up for the expense which just took you away from people who were counting on you being there, making them discontent, and now you were too busy to make up for it. It could be you purchased something you didn’t really have room for and then had to get rid of something else, or else try and cram more stuff into a space too small for it. Or, maybe you didn’t get it at the time, but instead you just stewed. You let that thing take control of your thoughts. You started resenting folks who did have it. You became jealous in spirit.
What does all of this kind of stuff do in our lives? It makes our lives complicated. Being in debt is complicated. Having too much stuff can be complicated. Dealing with relationships that have been interrupted or broken because of jealousy is complicated. Discontentment makes our lives complicated, doesn’t it? How do we get rid of that? How can we live lives that are free from this plague? Well, that’s what I’d like to spend the next few weeks talking about together. This morning we are kicking off a brand-new teaching series called, Simplicity: Finding Contentment in a Busy Life. If that sounds at all familiar to some of you, it’s because that is the current series that many of our Sunday school groups are working through the hour before we get together in here. We are going to take those same themes and passages and dive in just a bit deeper together…one week behind the Sunday school lessons.
The idea that is really going to be driving this series of conversations is this incredible thing the apostle Paul said in his letter to the Philippian believers. Near the end of the letter, when he was wrapping up by thanking them for what they had done for him, Paul says this remarkable thing about his approach to his circumstances—which, at the time he was writing involved waiting under house arrest for his martyrdom at the direction of Emperor Nero. Listen to this: “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly because once again you renewed your care for me. You were, in fact, concerned about me but lacked the opportunity to show it. I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself. I know both how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need.” That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? The secret to being content no matter what is happening in our lives? You could probably make a fortune selling that one on Amazon. And yet it is right here in the Scriptures where it is been for hundreds of years. We just haven’t often really cared to pay much attention.
Now, we’re going to come back to that idea specifically in a few weeks, but the whole thrust of this series is that the secret to finding contentment in a busy life is not isolated to this one passage. It is written across the pages of the text. Each week of this journey, then, we are going to examine several different places where we can glean some truth that will help us live lives of simplicity and contentment if we will put it into practice. We are going to see how we can focus in, slow down, and live the life we’ve always wanted to live—you know, the one that looks so easy when we see someone doing it on Facebook, but we can’t ever manage to get what it looks like they have?
This morning we are going to start with a contentment killer that all of us experience from time to time. Let me set it up like this: What is the result of feeling like we need something, not having it, and not seeing any apparent way we can get it? What do we call the thing that often lies at the intersection of those three circumstances? Worry. Worrying is what we do to make up for a lack of control over something we feel like should be within our grasp. In school, you have a huge test coming up that you really haven’t invested the time during the semester to prepare for, and now you don’t have the time to cram everything you need to know into your head. Succeeding is out of your control. So, what do you do? Or, how about this: Your doctor calls and says you need to come in right away because he has something to share with you and doesn’t want to do it over the phone. Until the appointment day arrives, you have absolutely zero control over whatever it is going to be. What do you do? If you’re like most people, you stress about it. You worry.
Worry is common. It is natural. It is the natural human response to a perceived lack of control. You know this: We all want to be in control in our lives. We want the power to make our future happen. Unfortunately, while worrying is incredibly normal, it is also wildly unhelpful. The thing about grasping for control we don’t have and can’t get is that we don’t have it and can’t get it. It’s a little like pushing against a boulder. It will only ever accomplish nothing. It is fruitless in every way. Because of this and because of just how common it is, Jesus addressed the issue directly in the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. I want to look quickly with you at what Jesus had to say and land on a really important truth that will result in a simpler, more content life if we will put it into practice. Open your Bibles with me to Matthew 6:25 and let’s take a look at this together.
“Therefore I tell you…” Now, I know what some of you are thinking right out of the gate here: “What’s that therefore there for?” Well, in the previous section Jesus was making the case that living a life driven by material gain and trying to serve both God and stuff is always going to be a losing venture. And indeed, what is usually the result of a life focused on acquiring more than we currently have? Discontentment and worry. Thus Jesus says what He does here: “Therefore I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? Consider the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? Can any of you add one moment to his life-span by worrying? And why do you worry about clothes? Observe how the wildflowers of the field grow: They don’t labor or spin thread. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these. If that’s how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t he do much more for you—you of little faith?”
So, what’s He saying here? Listen: Our world is redundantly beautiful, isn’t it? I mean, there is elegance and beauty in all kinds of places. Places that almost no one will ever see are so beautiful they’ll leave your head spinning. And it works really smoothly too. Whether you believe it to be 6,000 years or 4.5 billion years, the earth has been spinning faithfully on its axis every single day since day one. Cellular division has been happening with breathtaking consistency since there were cells to divide. Animals have no one teaching them how to do what they do and yet they manage. Plants replicate themselves without fail nearly all the time. And there’s a beauty to it that leaves the best we can manage to do for ourselves far in the dust. Google “stunning nature imagery” sometime and let the results take your breath away. If God does all of that for something He doesn’t value as highly as He values you, by what logic do you have any doubts about both His ability and His willingness to do even more for you? Those doubts reveal a profound lack of trust in His character. They reveal a small faith.
Actually, it’s worse than that. Look at what Jesus says next. Verse 32 now: “So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” Not only is worry totally illogical in light of who God is and what He is constantly doing all around us, it’s actually a symptom of an incipient paganism. The “Gentiles” Jesus mentions were non-Jews. Anyone who isn’t a Jew is a Gentile. That’s a cultural distinction, but it’s also a religious one. In Jesus’ day, anyone who wasn’t a Jew was by default (with a few notable exceptions) a pagan. This is because there were no atheists then.
The thing about pagan worshipers is that their gods don’t care about them. Not really. Instead, the gods are powerful beings who can and will mess with your life if you don’t keep them properly sated with sacrifices. They may throw you a bone if you make them particularly happy somehow, but there’s no guarantee of that. Anything you need to survive you are going to be on your own to make happen. Have you ever lived before like your survival truly depended entirely on you and what you could do to make that happen? That’s quite a load to bear. But, when you don’t have any divine help in your corner, bear it you must. And so it’s no wonder folks who don’t have a relationship with the good heavenly Father who knows what you need have to eagerly seek after them. You see, worry is not merely a sign of a lack of faith, it’s a sign that we are worshiping something or someone on whom we cannot rely for help in making it through our day. Because that’s not the God of the Bible, worry is an indication we are worshiping someone other than God. That’s no way to live a simple and content life. It is instead a guaranteed way to live a busy and complex one. It takes a lot of work to be the sole provider of everything you need.
Fortunately, there’s another way. Listen to what Jesus says: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.” Now, many of you have heard that before. You’ve read it before. You’ve studied it before. You’ve heard sermons on it before. I’ve preached sermons on it before. But can you set that aside for a moment and just marvel at it with me? If we’ll put seeking God first, He’ll take care of us. If we’ll seek out a relationship with God and commit ourselves to the advancement of His kingdom in our circles of influence before even we seek out the meeting of our own needs, He will make sure all of our needs are covered. He’ll make sure we don’t lack for anything we need. What other God has said something similar? There isn’t one! Every other god says, “Do all of this or else…” Our God in Christ has said, “Do all of this and…”
And if it seems at all like God is saying we need to seek Him first or else He won’t meet our needs, let me assure you it isn’t like that. Remember: He already knows the things we need. He knows and He’s committed to providing them. Whether we seek Him or not. So, what’s He getting at here, then? The problem is not with God’s willingness to give, it’s with our ability to receive. Have you ever tried to help someone who didn’t want help? Have you ever tried to do something for someone who was convinced she could do it for herself? Not such an easy task. For God either. He can’t provide for us if we aren’t willing to receive from Him. But if we are committed to seeking His kingdom and a right relationship with Him, we’ll be willing to receive. We’ll put ourselves in a place where we can enjoy what He is giving. In other words: When our lives are centered in Christ, we find all we need.
“Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Makes a lot more sense to hear that now, doesn’t it? It’s a great slogan by itself, but the reason it is so good is because of what the “therefore” points us back to see. There is a God who is good and who loves us unconditionally. If we will seek Him out first and foremost in every situation we find ourselves in, we will get to enjoy to the fullest the bounty of His provision. That’s such a simple way to live. We don’t have to reach and strive and get our hands on whatever we can manage. We simply work hard at the work He has provided and enabled us to do all within the context of our pursuing a right relationship with Him, and He’ll take care of the rest. When our lives are centered in Christ, we find all we need. Now, yes, we need to redefine “need” using something other than our culture’s dictionary, but in Christ, every need will be met. Every need will be met and more so that we can be a part of His doing this very thing in the lives of others. When our lives are centered in Christ, we find all we need.
Here, then, is what you can do with this today. Are you still with me? You can commit yourself to the advancement of God’s kingdom over and above any perceived needs you might have. That means giving generously and sacrificially before you worry about your household expenses. It means committing your time and talents to kingdom advancing projects both in the church and out before giving thought to recreation or respite. It means being intentional about having Gospel conversations with your kids—even when they are uncomfortable to have—and continuing to have them with gentleness and respect until they cross the line of faith and begin to own it for themselves. It means making time to seek Him in prayer and through the Scriptures every single day no matter how busy your schedule gets because your relationship with Jesus comes first. The simple truth is that life is far too complicated and hectic on its own to not do any of these things. We pursue them earnestly because then we don’t have to worry about all the rest of it. He will take care of us. When our lives are centered in Christ, we find all we need.