The following is an excerpt from the book Christ-Centered Contentment.
“There’s nothing to eat,” I murmured to myself as I stood staring endlessly into my kitchen pantry. You know the position—arms braced on each side of the door, slightly leaning back, gazing deeper and deeper into the dark recesses desperately hoping for something to appeal to my appetite. No luck. “Ehhh, there is nothing to eat,” I muttered under my breath hoping perhaps the fridge would host greater luck. Then God spoke to me. As I was walking to the fridge, He urged me to look in the pantry again. The items listed below are the contents of my pantry at that moment of despair:
4 boxes of cereal, 2 containers of oatmeal, box of pancake mix, large bag of raisins, bag full of leftover Christmas candy, 1/2 bag of chips, 1/2 bag of beef jerky, peanut butter, ready to make soup, jar of roasted peanuts, box of apple cider mix, hot chocolate mix, green tea, travel coffee singles, honey, syrup, salad dressing, potatoes, 2 sweet potatoes, crackers, cinnamon raisin bread, 2 packages of flour, 4 varieties of oil, rice, wheat, coconut, corn syrup, chocolate chips, nuts, brown sugar, sugar, baking powder, granola bars, canned food: chicken noodle soup, beef broth, chicken broth, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, chili, cream of chicken soup, cream of mushroom soup, navy beans, green beans, and re-fried beans.
It hit me like a ton of bricks: “Is this what I have come to call an empty pantry?” The realization left me humbled. Three-fourths of the world’s population would be ecstatic to see such abundance. I sheepishly found something to eat and with a little bit of embarrassment gave thanks for my food. Similar arguments could be made for those of us who stand in our over-stuffed, walk-in closets claiming we have “nothing to wear,” or those of us who have heard our children say they have “nothing to play with”! These are perfect examples of the paradox of prosperity.
We go about our lives believing that if we had this or that, then we would be content. In this scenario, contentment more or less is having what you want (whatever that may be at the time). It seems logical, but the Bible and experience have taught us otherwise. Contrary to our innate instincts, the evidence clearly indicates that contentment is not the natural result of prosperity. Ironically, accumulation often does more to drive our discontent. The confusing and alluring nature of prosperity often clouds our understanding of true contentment.
We must look at the unique challenges of prosperity to walk wisely. Paul said: “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity.” (Phil. 4:11-12) Paul explained that he had learned how to be content in poverty and prosperity. This dichotomy is enlightening. It eliminates the prospect of prosperity as the pathway to contentment, yet it clearly states that contentment can be found amidst affluence. We, like Paul, will only understand how to live in prosperity with contentment by learning.
Affluence = Amnesia?
The first danger prosperity poses in our pursuit of contentment is what I like to call “affluence-induced amnesia”. We have to recognize this reality to walk wisely through prosperity. The Bible makes a clear connection between money and memory loss.
“Feed me with the food that is my portion, that I not be full and deny You and say, ‘Who is the LORD?” (Prov. 30:8-9)
“Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God…otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God.” (Deu. 8:11-14)
“As they had their pasture, they became satisfied, and being satisfied, their heart became proud; therefore they forgot Me.” (Hos. 13:6)
We have to recognize that the Bible clearly states that it is the tendency of humanity to walk through prosperity with a sense of forgetfulness. To our shame—as soon as the going gets good, we forget the Lord. This is a sad condition, but it is something with which we can all identify. When facing difficulty we live in close communion with our Maker, but when life is going well we are quick to turn our attention off of Him.
Why does this happen? The answer is given in the passages above—our heart becomes proud. In our poverty, humility stays close by our side. However, when we begin to become successful, we are susceptible to the sneaky suspicion that we are the reason for our success. The first step of living in prosperity contently is remembrance: “But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth.” (Deu. 8:18) As we become more intentional to maintain a sense of remembrance, thankfulness, and awareness in our affluence, we begin to close the door on the awful sin of forgetfulness.
This concludes part 1 on this topic. Come back next week to read part 2.