Northwest United Methodist Church
Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Pastor's Sermon Notes

Cultivating Contentment
Ecclesiastes 2:10-11
Hebrews 13:5-6
Luke 12:15
In recent years we have witnessed a number of devastating natural disasters, including hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and wildfires. Natural disasters remind us that everything in this world is temporary. This is why we can say with Jesus, “[My] life does not consist in the abundance of my possessions” (Luke 12:15). I believe this not only because Jesus said it, but because I know it intuitively within my heart. Yet the culture is shouting that it’s not true. Everywhere I go, everyday of the week the world is telling me something else. Your life does consist of the abundance of your possessions. If you had a little bit more you’d be happier; if you just had this thing that you currently don’t have, you’d have more satisfaction in your life. If you just had a bigger house, a nicer car, or cooler clothes. . . why, you’d be happy! At least happier than you are right now. So while Jesus is telling me this, the whole culture is telling me it’s not true. The result is a wrestling in our hearts that fuels a discontent in our hearts.  Despite the fact that we say we believe Jesus’ words, we still find ourselves devoting a great deal of our time, talents, and resources to the acquisition of more stuff. We say that our lives do not consist in the abundance of our possessions, but we live as if they do.
This struggling within our hearts fuels what’s already there. All of us are born with a certain discontent in our hearts. I think we suffer from. . .  you’ve heard of restless legs syndrome (RLS), a condition in which one has twitches and contractions in the legs. Well all of us in this room suffer from Restless Heart Syndrome.  (RHS) works in a similar way, but in the heart—or soul. Its primary symptom is discontent. We find that we are never satisfied with anything. The moment we acquire something, we scarcely take time to enjoy it before we want something else. We are perennially discontent.
There is a certain discontent that God intended us to have. God actually wired our hearts so that they would be discontent with certain things, causing us to seek the only One who can fully satisfy us. We are meant to yearn to know God more, to cultivate a deeper prayer life, to pursue justice and holiness with increasing fervor, to love others more, and to grow in grace and character and wisdom with each passing day.
The problem is that those things we should be content with are the very things we find ourselves hopelessly discontented with. For example, we find ourselves discontented with our stuff, our jobs, our, our children, and our spouses. We buy our dream home, and suddenly we notice that the kitchen isn’t quite right and the appliances really don’t meet our needs and the builder’s grade carpet isn’t quite nice enough. So the moment we move in, we begin thinking about the improvements we’d like to make. We’re just not completely happy with the house of our dreams. What about the new car we just couldn’t wait to buy? We think it’s great until we drive it off the lot. Before the new car smell dissipates we’re already thinking about the next car we want. . . maybe it’s the one we just couldn’t quite afford this time. We seem to look for reasons to be unhappy with our stuff so that we can go out and buy new stuff!
We did this with our parents when we were teenagers. We thought, man, I really wish Mike’s mom and dad were my parents. If I had them for parents I wouldn’t have all these problems. I’d be really happy. His parents let him stay out until 1230. My parents make me come in at midnight. His parents are sooo nice and mine are sooo mean!
Of course parents, don’t you do the same thing? “How come so and so’s children are so respectful and you’re not?” Your kids friends come over and spend the night and you joke, wouldn’t you like to come and live with us?” The problem is, if they stayed, they’d become just like your kids. . .disrespectful at home and respectful to their friend’s parents. It’s just how it works!
And what about our spouses or significant others? We’re in love, all we can see are the wonderful attributes. But after awhile, we begin to see only those tings that irritate us, frustrate us, and drive us crazy. Then one day we notice someone else and think, “if only I had met this person sooner! Or if only my wife/husband was like so and so. Suddenly we find ourselves comparing our spouse to others, focusing on all those things that drive us nuts. Just as it is with our stuff, our kids, our parents, our jobs. . . THERE ARE NO PERFECT ONES. The person we think could make us happier has their own idiosyncrasies that will eventually drive us nuts!
This is what our discontent does to us. God must look down on us and feel the way we feel when we give someone we really care for a special gift and he or she asks for the gift receipt. It’s as if we’re saying to God, “I don’t like what you have given me, God; and I want to trade it in and get something better than what you gave me.”
Clearly, we have Restless Heart Syndrome. We struggle with discontentment. So what can we do about it? How can we cultivate contentment in the things we’re supposed to be content about?
The Apostle Paul is an excellent example of contentment. In his letter to the Philippians, that he wrote from a prison cell in Rome, he wrote of the “secret” to his contentment (Philippians 4:11-12).  He’s waiting on news to find out if he’s to be executed. He was lowered into the cell by a whole through the floor, dropped into a cavernous, damp, pit and it was there that he wrote these words. It’s known as his letter of joy. Keep this in mind. . . listen to these words. “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.”  That’s the secret we want to find in our lives. Like Paul, we can learn to be content in whatever circumstances we may find ourselves. I want to point out four keys, which include the “secret” Paul referred to in his letter, that can help us to do that.
The first one is from John Ortberg, pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California. He says there are four words we should say whenever we find ourselves discontented with something or someone: “It could be worse.”   CAR, HOUSE, JOB, SPOUSE (better to say it in your heard) This is essentially the practice of looking on the bright side or finding the silver lining. It is recognizing that no matter what we may not like about a thing or person or circumstance, we can always find something good to focus on if only we will choose to do so.
The second one to ask is: “How Long Will This Make Me Happy?”
So often we buy something, thinking it will make us happy, only to find that the happiness lasts about as long as it takes to open the box. How many things you just thought you had to have. . . and once you got them, well, they just weren’t that fun after all. ******
There is a moment of satisfaction when we make the purchase, but the item does not continue to bring satisfaction over a period of time. Is it really going to make you happy? Many of the things we buy are simply not worth the expense. This is why it is a good idea to try before you buy.
The third key is:"Develop a Grateful Heart"
Anyone who teaches on this subject of contentment is going to teach you that gratitude is essential if we are to be content. We have two choices in any situation, we can either complain or be grateful.   Sort of like the “it could be worse” kind of thing. I can look for all the things I don’t like about something or I can begin to search for the things I do like. The Apostle Paul said that we are to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). A grateful heart recognizes that all of life is a gift. Contentment comes when we spend more time giving thanks for what we have than thinking about what’s missing or wrong in our lives. When we begin to be grateful and express gratitude to God, over time, we find our hearts have changed and we are grateful for what we have. It is then that we are able to be content.
The 4th key is: “Where Does Your Soul Find True Satisfaction?”
The world answers this question by telling us that we find satisfaction in ease and luxury and comfort and money. The Bible, however, answers the question very differently. From Genesis to Revelation, it tells us that we find our satisfaction in God alone. We are wired for God. All the stuff that you want and need deep down inside you can’t buy at the mall; you’re in need of being connected to the one who is the creator of the universe, you desire that even if you don’t believe in God, there’s something inside of you that needs that. You need to know that you are loved unconditionally by someone who knows you better than you know yourself. You need to know that there’s grace and mercy when you’ve blown it; there’s hope in the midst of the darkest circumstances; and you need other people. You need relationships with other people. You need that prayer and praise with God. That’s why Jesus said there’s only 2 things you need to remember fundamentally about being a human, “love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and love your neighbor. 
If you do these two things and you remember this is your focus, you’ll find what you’re looking for. The Apostle Paul says it this way, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. That is how he found contentment; that is how he could be content no matter his circumstances. 
Our restless hearts are meant to seek after God. Just like Augustine said, “thou hast made us for thyself. O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee”.
The only real satisfaction of our souls is Jesus Christ. We can be content because we know Jesus is by our side no matter what we’re walking through. Hebrews says it this way. “Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have for Christ has said, I will never leave you or forsake you. So we can say with confidence, The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid.   With this assurance, we can face whatever each day brings with contentment and joy!       

And now I want to shift gears as I close and talk about simplicity. Simplicity says that sometimes less is more. Simplicity says we don’t really need so much clutter in our lives and the more we pursue this relentless pursuit of more the more stressed out we become by all the stuff we have to maintain. We have to take care of it; there was a day that the average house was 1200 sft and not it’s 2400, that’s twice as much to clean, to pay taxes on, to heat and cool; you get the idea. And so we’re in this mode where we’re always longing for more and yet this more makes us less happy. There comes a time when you have enough and everything beyond that creates stress. 
In addition to cultivating contentment in our lives, we need to cultivate simplicity. Contentment and simplicity go hand in hand.
Set a Goal of Reducing Your Consumption, and Live Below Your Means.
Set a tangible goal to reduce your own personal consumption and the production of waste in your life. The US represents 5% of the population yet generates more than 40% of the worlds waste! What can we do to reduce our waste? For example, use canvas bags when you go grocery shopping and refuse any extra packaging. Whenever you are making purchases, look at the mid-grade instead of the top-of-the-line product. When buying a new car, aim to improve fuel economy over your existing car by at least 10 percent. Reduce your utilities by 10 percent by setting the thermostat back a couple of degrees when you are away during the day and asleep at night. Find other ways to reduce your consumption and live below your means. Do some research, share ideas with others, or have a brainstorming session with your family.
Before Making a Purchase, Ask Yourself, Do I Really Need This? and, Why Do I Want This?
These questions will help you to determine the true motivation of your desired purchase. Is it a need, a self-esteem issue, or something else? You may find yourself wrestling with your true motive and decide that your reason for purchasing the item is not a good one.
Use Something Up Before Buying Something New.
Take good care of the things you buy and use them until they are empty, broken, or worn out. Buy things that are made to last; and, when buying things that have a short lifespan, spend your money wisely.
Plan Low-cost Entertainment That Enriches.
When it comes to choosing entertainment for your family or friends, plan things that are simple and cheap. You’ll be amazed at how much more pleasure you derive from low-cost, simple activities.
Ask Yourself, Are There Major Changes That Would Allow Me to Simplify My Life?
Consider selling a car and buying one you pay for in full, downsizing your home, or getting rid of a club membership you don’t use. Ask yourself questions related to your home, possessions, job, and activities to identify some significant changes that will simplify your life. Remember, if you cannot do all the things God is calling you to do and you’re unable to find joy in your life, perhaps it’s time to simplify in some major ways.
The Power of Self-Control
Simplifying your life requires the practice of self-control. Solomon wrote, “Like a city whose walls are broken down / is a [person] who lacks self-control” (Proverbs 25:28, NIV). When a city’s walls are broken through, the enemy can march right in and destroy it. There is no longer any protection. Likewise, self-control is a wall around your heart and life that protects you from yourself, from temptation, and from sins that are deadly and ultimately can destroy you. Self-control comes down to making a choice between satisfying an impulse to gain instant gratification and choosing not to act upon the opportunity for instant gratification for some higher cause or greater gratification later. Self-control is about forgoing instant gratification by stopping to think about the answers to three questions:
·        “What are the long-term consequences of this action?”
·        “Is there a higher good or a better outcome if I used this resource of time, money, or energy in another way?”
·        “Will this action honor God?”
Conclusion: Which Tent Will You Live In?
Will you live in discon-tent or con-tent-ment? You and you alone determine which “tent” will be yours. You choose it in large part by deciding what life is about. If you decide that “life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions,” then you are choosing contentment. Choosing contentment means we look to God as our Source, giving thanks for what we have; we ask God to give us the right perspective on money and possessions and to change our hearts each day; we decide to live simpler lives, wasting less and conserving more; and we choose to give more generously.