On Contentment

by Dr. William Utech

Sometimes, in pursuit of the things of this world, we risk sacrificing the good gifts our heavenly Father has already given.

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There’s a beaver living in the manhole of the storm sewer in my backyard. This is noteworthy for two reasons. First, there’s the historical significance. Given the thousands and thousands of Lutheran Witness articles that have been printed over the years, this is most likely the first and only one of them that has begun with the sentence, “There’s a beaver living in the manhole of the storm sewer in my backyard.”

In other words, you’re reading history as it is being made!

Second, there’s the contextual significance. You see, although it might seem irrelevant at first glance, the fact that there’s a beaver living in the manhole of the storm sewer in my backyard is extremely important for what we will be talking about here. Allow me to explain.

A Root of Evil

I have a beautiful and talented six-year-old hunting dog named Lucky. Lucky is an English setter, and, much to my joy and satisfaction, she is extremely proficient at doing and being what our heavenly Father created her to do and be. She is a bird-hunting machine, and every fall she and I and usually one of my seminary colleagues, enjoy one another’s company, companionship, and cooperation as we successfully hunt the wily ring-necked pheasant, the explosive bob white quail, and the illusive northern ruffed grouse. Lucky was made for bird hunting. That’s her God-given vocation. So it should come as no surprise that she is most happy and most content when she is doing what she was made to do.

And then a beaver moved into the manhole of the storm sewer in my backyard, and it would appear that for a hunting dog, at least, the aroma of a nearby beaver is both enticing and addictive—a sort of doggy crack cocaine, if you will. That beaver is on Lucky’s mind all the time! She doesn’t want to eat. She doesn’t want to sleep. She doesn’t even want to come inside where she can hang out with her family. She just wants to sit next to that manhole and smell that beaver and think about that beaver and dream about getting that beaver. Never mind that that beaver is living in an impregnable concrete pillbox. Never mind that it is always just out of her reach. She is focused on it. She is obsessed with it. She is target-locked on it, and life is passing her by.

Sound familiar?

“People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Tim. 6:9–10 NIV).

It could happen to you. It could happen to me. In this country and in this culture we are all at risk. Oh, sure, during times of economic downturn when historically rock-solid businesses are filing for bankruptcy and people are losing their homes and their jobs and money is hard to come by, it’s tempting to think that we’re above temptation. But it is precisely at times like these that a sinful love of money can lay hold of us.

We look at our 401Ks and 403Bs and we see how much we’ve lost, and we’re sick about it. There’s red ink everywhere, and it doesn’t seem possible that a whole decade of hard work and disciplined planning for the future could disappear just like that! “It’s not right, and it’s not fair,” we say to ourselves. And we feel cheated and put upon.

But are we? Really? In Jesus Wants to Save Christians, Rob Bell offers some startling statistics about America’s affluence:

    • America controls nearly 20 percent of the world’s wealth. There are around 6 billion people in the world, and there are roughly 300 million people in the U.S. That makes America less than 5 percent of the world’s population. And this 5 percent owns a fifth of the world’s wealth.
    • Every seven seconds, somewhere in the world a child under age five dies of hunger, while Americans throw away 14 percent of the food we purchase.
    • Nearly a billion people in the world live on less than an American dollar a day. Another 2.5 billion people in the world live on less than two American dollars a day.
    • More than half of the world lives on less than two dollars a day, while the average American teenager spends nearly $150 dollars a week.
    • Americans spend more annually on trash bags than nearly half of the world does on all goods.

We’ve been cheated? I don’t think so. We’re disadvantaged? Not likely. We’re put upon? Not hardly. On the contrary, in this country and in this culture we have more than most, and the problem with that is that when fallen, sinful people have more, they also tend to want more.

Wanting More

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It happens every spring. I go to the St. Louis Auto Show. I see the shiny new cars. I run my hands across their curvaceous and beautifully sculpted flanks. I plop my backside down on firmly bolstered seats. I carefully caress the steering wheel and close my eyes. The heady aroma of leather and wood fills my nostrils. My heart palpitates. And it’s not long before I’m thinking—no, I’m planning—no, I’m plotting— no, I’m scheming, “How I can get me one of these for myself?”

And you are just like me. It may not be cars, but it is something. You, me, all of us have this innate ability to be dissatisfied with what we have and to always want more. In a recent Christmas movie based on Dr. Seuss’ book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, there’s a scene where the Grinch, who lives up on the same mountain that also serves as Whoville’s landfill, confronts all the Whovillians with their sinful need for more.

“Gifts!” the Grinch shouts. “Gifts! Gifts! Gifts! Gifts! Gifts! Do you want to know what happens to your gifts? They all come to me in your garbage. You see what I’m saying? In your garbage! I could hang myself with all the bad Christmas neckties I found at the dump! The avarice! The avarice never ends! ‘I want golf clubs. I want diamonds. I want a pony so I can ride it twice, get bored, and sell it to make glue!’”

The avarice never ends. And if that wasn’t true about you and about me and about all of us, then it wouldn’t get so deathly quiet in our worship services whenever our pastors talk about tithing. Just like my dog, Lucky, we get so focused, so obsessed, so target-locked on stuff, that it hardly occurs to us that the good life God wants for us may be passing us by. For example, the joy of being a son or a daughter, the joy of being a husband or a wife, the joy of being a mother or a father, the joy of being a friend and colleague, the joy of being part of a Christian church that changes hearts and changes lives for eternity, the joy of being a child of God. Are you missing out on the joy of life—on the joy of all your God-given vocations—because you want more stuff?

C.S. Lewis observes that “prosperity knits a man to the world.” St. Paul, as we’ve noted, said it like this: “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” And the answer, the antidote, for all of this? It is, as St. Paul says in 1 Timothy, the great gain of godliness with contentment.

Everything We Need

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Now the godliness part, as you well know, comes from the person and work of Jesus, who, as St. Paul sings, “appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16).

This Jesus did all of this for you so that you have life, and have it to the full. By Him and through Him the God of gods and Lord of lords, the Creator and Master and omnipotent Ruler of the whole universe is your heavenly Father, and you are His own dear child. You can wake up every day and say to Him, “Good morning, Dad, it’s me,” and He loves it! He absolutely loves it! Because He absolutely loves you!

So, I have a question for you: “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).

The dictionary defines the word concupiscence as “powerful feelings of physical desire.” Following St. Paul’s lead, St. Augustine goes farther and defines concupiscence as “a misplaced love of God, a disordered desire for earthly things, which, though good, become evil when they are wrongly loved.”

Brothers and sisters, our heavenly Father simply loves us too much to allow this to happen to us, so He gives us our deepest desires, but He does so in a way that resources our faith, our relationships, and our vocations in just the right way and at just the right time. No, we won’t get everything we want, but we will get everything we need.

And that is all we really need to be content, whether in times of economic uncertainty, this season of Thanksgiving, or all the days appointed for our earthly life.

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