BEING CONTENT DURING COVID
In seeing the title of the sermon you may be thinking, "he can't be serious. Content during COVID? How?" Before the holidays hit we were making strides. The numbers were going down, businesses were opening back up, etc. We may have started to get our hopes up that we would be out of the woods before long. Then the next wave hit.
The numbers became worse than they were back in March and April. Talk about being discouraged. The air was taken out of our balloon. We went from climbing up and out to sinking deeper into it. Now they're talking about a new strain that's making its way across the U.S. And even though there's a vaccine, right now the numbers are high, schools and businesses are still closed and frustration and despair still looms.
"And you want us to be content with all that?" No, that's why my sermon is titled being content during COVID, not with COVID. None of us are content with having COVID around. But despite the long and arduous pandemic it doesn't mean we can't be content in our current situation. Paul said that he learned the secret to contentment. With the way things have been going it would do us well to learn that secret.
1) The illusion of contentment.
Many people think the cure for discontentment is to have more. The more I have the more content I will be. But that's an illusion. The reality is the more you get the less satisfied you will become. Why? Because the more you get the more you want.
Ecc. 5:10, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.”
John D. Rockefeller, often regarded as the richest person in history, was asked, ‘How much money is enough? He answered, “Just a little bit more.” Charles Spurgeon said, “You say, ‘If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.’ You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled.”
And there it is. The illusion of contentment is in thinking if you have more you will be content but for a person who's not content, having more will just add to your discontent, not help it. I've known people who have gotten more. And by my observations they are not content; in fact they are miserable.
One of the reasons a lover of money never has money enough is because the more he gets the more he spends. Easy come-easy go. The windfall is gone with the wind. And many times after the money is gone there's nothing to show for it. And shortly thereafter, they're crying the blues.
The illusion of contentment is that you think whatever you buy with your money will make you happy and fulfilled. "If I just have this, I'll be happy". And you are-for a minute. Then that wears off and your eyes spot something else that you can't live without. After a while you have all these things that you just had to have but now are looking at with discontent. We don't need more in order to be content; we don't need more in order to enjoy life.
Once a rich industrialist was disturbed to find a fisherman sitting idly by his boat. He asked, "Why aren't you out there fishing?" "I've caught enough fish for the day." "Why don't you catch more than you need?" "What would I do with them?"
"You could earn more money and buy a better boat so you could go deeper and catch more fish. You could purchase some nylon nets, catch even more fish and make even more money. Before long you'd have a whole fleet of boats and be rich, like me." "Then what would I do?" "Then you could sit back and enjoy life." "What do you think I'm doing now?"
Not that it's wrong to be industrious, but we don't need a better boat in order to enjoy life. As the saying goes, “Contentment is not having everything you want, but wanting everything you have.”
Sometimes it's not about money. If we're in a frustrating situation or going through hardship or sickness we can be discontent. We're disappointed, frustrated and unhappy. We're not satisfied with our situation. That's understandable. But if we think we would be content if our situation improved we have a problem.
There's another illusion of contentment. We think the secret to being content is not having any problems. It's true that if we're suffering and that suffering ends we're going to be happier. But what about when the next trying situation comes?
Contentment doesn't come and go; it's not something that is here today and gone tomorrow. Contentment is constant; like joy. Joy doesn't depend on our circumstances, it's continual. Joy is a state of being, not an emotion. It's dependent on a relationship with Jesus not circumstances.
The same goes for contentment. Contentment is dependent on having a relationship with Jesus. How can I be content when I lose something or when something bad happens to me? Because my focus goes from what is gone to what is left. It shifts from what went wrong to what is still right.
When Robinson Crusoe was on a deserted island after his ship had wrecked, he found a bible among the chests he had salvaged. His heart was changed upon reading it and he uttered these words.
“I learned to look more upon the bright side of my condition, and less upon the dark side, and to consider what I enjoyed, rather than what I wanted; and this gave me sometimes such secret comforts, that I cannot express them; and which I take notice here, to put those discontented people in mind of it, who cannot enjoy comfortably what God has given them, because they see and covet something that He has not given them.”
The illusion of contentment is that if I have everything I want and when everything is going right in my life then I'll be content. But that's deceptive because there will always be something else I will want and there will always be some new difficulty coming into my life at some point. Don't believe the illusion.
2) Great gain.
1st Tim. 6:6-8, "But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that."
In context, Paul is teaching about the error of someone who teaches false doctrines and causes problems. Vs. 5 describes these people as having a corrupt mind, been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. We see that today.
Last week I mentioned a video that promoted a certain teaching known as the health, wealth and prosperity gospel. One of things associated with that false doctrine is the idea that the more godly you are the more financially well off you will be.
But Paul would make it clear that one doesn't lead to the other. He would also say that one who practices such teachings would not be content. I don't see how you would be. If I believe that godliness leads to financial gain then I will think the more I have the more godly I must be and vice versa. How content could I be when I believe my level of godliness is contingent on how materially blessed I am?
Paul counters that by saying godliness with contentment is great gain. He wants us to realize that our financial status is not a reflection of our godliness. In fact, the reality is the more I reflect on the heavenly treasures verses the earthly ones the more godly I will be.
That's why Paul highlights in vs. seven that nothing in this world is going to make it out of here. We've heard sayings like, 'You can't take it with you' and , ‘he who dies with the most toys; still dies’. This is true.
So why would God want us to focus on the temporary over the eternal? He wouldn't. Why would we associate wealth with godliness? We shouldn't. If this is our mindset then we will not find the secret to contentment; we won't discover what leads to true godliness.
Paul said we should find contentment in having the basic necessities. And notice he doesn't mention transportation, not even a roof over his head, just food and clothing. We've conditioned ourselves to believe that certain things we’ve gotten used to having are basic necessities; things we can’t do without.
Discontentment blurs the line between needs and wants. We need to know the difference. Cable TV is not a necessity. Having the latest I-Phone is not a necessity. Not that having material things is wrong, but the question I should ask myself is, could I still be content if I didn’t have them?
Quote, “The itch for things is a virus draining the soul of contentment.” During COVID we started having to go without. We couldn't go to the movies, the mall or other stores, we couldn't go and eat at our favorite restaurants, we couldn't go to the places we normally would be able to. That set the stage for discontent.
But we didn't have to become discontent. We don't have to be miserable because we can't go where we would like to. We could still be content despite being deprived of these things. Why? Because these things are luxuries, not necessities. If we could be content with basic necessities then when we had to go without the things that are not necessities we could be able to say, that stinks, but I'm still content because I have what I need.
Ben Franklin said, ‘Contentment makes the poor man rich. Discontentment makes the rich man poor.’ Discontentment is never satisfied; never fulfilled. Being discontent is built on selfishness and breeds misery and strife.
But when I combine godliness with contentment there's great gain. I'm at peace when I don't get what I want. I'm okay when a non-necessity gets lost or broken. When I'm content with the basics then I will appreciate it more when I'm blessed with more. When I'm content I'll thank God more. Godliness with contentment is great gain.
3) Learn the secret.
Phil. 4:10-13, "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 wasn’t just spouting off a nice principle. No one could say to Paul, “Yeah, easy for you to say, you haven't dealt with any troubles like I have.” Paul spoke from his life experiences. Paul knew what it was like to have more than what he needed and he was in situations where he was in great need.
His current situation was being in prison. Yet in this prison letter Paul talks about doing everything without complaining or arguing. He talks about rejoicing in the Lord always. He talks about the peace of God that transcends all understanding. Paul was able to be content despite his circumstances because he relied on the strength of God.
Bob Reccord, in his book, Forged by Fire: How God Shapes Those He Loves, writes, “As I write this book, I'm having to exercise the faith of dealing with the prison of pain. Unexpectedly, I suffered a severe cervical spinal injury. The pain was so excruciating, the hospital staff couldn't even get me into the MRI until they had significantly sedated me.
The orthopedic surgeon's assistant later told me, "Bob, your neck is a wreck." He said there was hardly any way I could avoid surgery. Because of the swelling of injured nerve bundles, the only way I could relieve the pain was to use a strong, prescribed narcotic and to lie on bags of ice. Sleep, what little there was, came only by sitting in a recliner.
I lost about 80% of the strength in my left arm. Three fingers on my left hand totally lost feeling. The slightest movements would send pain waves down my left side and shoulder. I had to step away completely from my work (which I love), and begin to wear a neck brace 24 hours a day for five weeks.
About halfway through that experience, I was sitting on the screened-in porch behind our home. The day was cold and blustery, but I was committed to being outside, just for a change of scenery. A bird landed on the railing and began to sing. On that cold, rainy day I couldn't believe any creature had a reason to sing. I wanted to shoot that bird! But he continued to warble, and I had no choice but to listen.
The next day I was on the porch again, but this time the atmosphere was bright, sunny, and warm. As I sat, being tempted to feel sorry for myself, the bird returned. And he was singing again! Where was that shotgun? Then an amazing truth hit me head on: the bird sang in the cold rain as well as the sunny warmth. His song was not altered by outward circumstances, but it was held constant by an internal condition.
It was as though God quietly said, "You've got the same choice, Bob. You'll either let external circumstances mold your attitude, or your attitude will rise above the external circumstances.”
We're dealing with the pandemic. We're also dealing with plenty of other things that are not enjoyable. What can we do? We can be miserable and discontent or we can be joyous and content. How? Because of Jesus and the perspective he gives us to be able to see what matters most.
Phil. 4:6-8, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."
Are you anxious about the virus or that upcoming appointment or whether your situation will improve? Are you at peace with your current situation? Have you been thankful lately? Have you been able to focus on positive things lately?
Do you think Paul was tempted to be anxious about his release from prison? Do you think Paul's surroundings promoted peace? Would you think Paul's situation produced much of a reason to be thankful? Do you think his living environment in prison was lovely, excellent or praiseworthy?
But here are the nuggets of truth that reveal how Paul was able to endure all the fearful, degrading, life-threatening situations he faced as a servant of Jesus; not begrudgingly-but with joyful contentment. Did he get frustrated? Yes. Was he ever in despair? Yes. But I guarantee he didn't stay there for very long. His focus and perception shifted from the negative to the positive as he dealt with the reality of the situation.
In an article on what contentment is not, Melissa Kruger writes, "Contentment isn’t having it all together and finding a life of perfect balance. Nor is it an idyllic moment spent swinging on a hammock, sipping lemonade and reading a book on a cool fall afternoon, while all the world around you falls apart.
Paul learned the secret of contentment not by freeing himself from earthly struggles or burdens but by experiencing the power of Christ’s presence in both his times of plenty and times of want. He embraced Christ’s goodness in the midst of life’s hardness."
The secret of contentment isn't pretending everything is okay; it's accepting that even though everything is not okay, I will be okay because I have Jesus. What and who we chose to focus on will determine our attitude in dealing with our less than admirable circumstances.
The bird in our story sang despite the weather. Can we "sing" despite the pandemic, despite the illness, despite the setback, despite the loss? Yes we can. How? Because we can do anything through him who strengthens us. We, like Paul, can learn to be content in any and every situation. The secret to being content is godly trust, appreciation, humility, joy and love. The secret is out.