Learning to Be Content!
I'm going to be honest with you all; this is the time of year when it's harder for me to control my desire for things, my lustful feelings and my envy! Let me explain why....
As you know, with what's been labeled as a "polar vortex", it's been extremely cold here in Chicago, which means my workload and the intensity of my job has greatly increased; there's a heavy weight placed upon my shoulders, knowing homeless folk, especially those sleeping "rough", could literally freeze to death tonight! I was born and raised in New Zealand, so right now, they're all enjoying a beautifully warm summer. This is the time where I see photos posted on Facebook and the internet of my family and friends cruising to beaches, relaxing, enjoying their holidays and spending precious time with their loved ones. When I see and hear all this, it's easy to compare, to easy feel sorry for myself, desire what they have and look across the ocean with envy.
Don't get me wrong, I love my life here in Chicago, I love what I do, I know this is where I'm supposed to be, I feel very "content" most of the time, but there are periods when I find myself desiring or coveting more money, more stuff, a bigger space, warmer weather, more time to relax and just being able to chill out with my New Zealand family.
Following Jesus and being his disciple means we're going to live in conflict, because we need to discern between what He wants and what we want, and then act accordingly. Let's face it; when we find ourselves being tempted by our desires, lustful feelings and envy and if we don't take positive steps, they can be extremely difficult to get under control. If we surrender to them, they can quickly pull us under. The gospels are very clear; Jesus calls us to forsake our natural desires, by embracing his, and His Kingdom contradicts and challenges every other kingdom of this world. In the light of all this, we are in a daily battle....
The Apostle Paul knew this very well, he called this a battle of the mind; a battle between our flesh and the Spirit, or a battle between what "we desire" with "what God desires". In fact, just like Jesus, Paul boldly claims, that as believers, this is a vicious battle we all have to fight. In Romans 7, Paul admitted his own struggle; he states how "he often did what he didn't want to do" and how "he didn't do what he should have done!" Near the end of this chapter he cries out in desperation, "What a miserable man I am! Who will save me from this body that brings me death? I thank God for saving me through Jesus Christ our Lord!"
Remember this personal struggle of Paul's, as we turn our focus on something else he wrote, this time to a different church; we're going to look at the book of Philippians: "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 all this through him who gives me strength." (4:11-13)
As we contrast these 2 passages, we see and recognize both struggle and victory. Paul saw and recognized how any victory over his flesh could only come through Jesus, who delivered him and gave him strength! Paul's journey is also our journey, because as followers of Jesus, our lives will consist of having deep wounds of struggle, but also knowing the wonderful relief of victory.
The world is going to keep on telling us lies, claiming that fortune and fame will help us overcome our desires and we'll end up satisfied and content. Advertising and the media tells us we'll be happy and blessed as long as we keep getting "more, more, more"! It also teaches us to envy and lust over those who have it all! All this is a lie! Jesus negated this, we just need to read the beatitudes in Matthew 5 to see how happiness and blessings don't come through having more stuff! Paul also negated this! In fact, I can testify that some of the most content people I've ever met, are not our celebrities or the ultra rich, but rather, some of the homeless people I have the pleasure of working with every single day! Here they are, not knowing where they'll lay their heads at night and not possessing a dime to their name, yet they possess remarkable peace and an unmistakeable joy!
So how do we become content, no matter what our circumstances may be? How do we get these desires under control?
I want to quickly look at why I believe the Apostle Paul was content. Remember who Paul was, he wasn't making this claim from some lofty castle, but he was a man who suffered much pain; he was incarcerated, shipwrecked, whipped by authorities, hungry, poor and frequently persecuted. "Having what we want" and having wealth has absolutely nothing to do with being content or controlling our desires, lusts and envy, in fact, it often magnifies the desires. In contrast, as you'll see, Jesus and His Kingdom has everything to do with us being content!
Just before Paul made the claim that he had "learned to be content whatever the circumstances", he had encouraged the Philippians with 4 brief words. I want to go back to Philippians 4:4-8 and quickly look at how these exhortations can encourage us today, so we can also "learn the secret of being content in any and every situation".....
- Firstly, we must look to The Lord, in verse 4 we read; "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" Celebrate The Lord; look toward The Lord with positivity, why? because he's with us, he's got our backs, he loves us deeply and He's the One through whom we can say, "I can do all this through him who gives me strength" Rejoice in what he's done for each of us. Rejoice in the fact that he died and rose again, for us! We must keep our eyes on Him. If we're holding a grudge against Jesus, because things aren't going our way, because he doesn't seem to be answering our prayers the way we want, we're going to gravitate to desiring more things and we going to end up seeping with envy. Paul suffered many hardships and things didn't always go his way, but he knew, the first step to being content is to always fix our gaze upon our Lord and Savior!
- Secondly, we must put others before ourselves, we read in verse 5: "Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near." Too often we become obsessed with ourselves and our own problems! I know I can struggle with that; I often find myself wishing I was living another persons life or just had what they have. I become self centered and filled with envy, but this verse is saying, "become selfless, look out for others." He wants our gentleness and kindness to be evident to all, not just to people we like or to just our friends. It's very similar to when Jesus told us to "love our neighbors as ourselves". This is a lifetime commitment! When we take our eyes off ourselves and show love and compassion to everyone we come in contact with; our desires, lusts and envy will start disappearing.
- Thirdly, we must pray, we read in verse 6: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." The message here is simple; when we feel anxious; pray! God is with us and he'll go into battle with us! He's telling us to pray about everything. In fact, he's telling us to be positive, and pray with thanksgiving! We don't need to struggle alone; God is with us. Anxiety can be vicious, it can easily take us away from God and toward the things we think will comfort us. Anxiety will draw us to things like alcohol, sex, drugs, depression, comfort food, gambling and technology, but Paul is saying to let our anxiety draw us to Jesus. We do that by praying, and when we do it, we receive this wonderful promise found in verse 7; "the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
- Finally, we must dwell on uplifting things, we read in verse 8: "Finally, brothers and sisters, 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." Let's face it; when we start dwelling on all the negatives, that is when we start desiring "more, more, more". That's when we compare ourselves with others, that's when we end up being filled with envy. Paul is telling us to transform our minds from a "life sucks" attitude into a "find the good" attitude. For those of us, like me, who have the tendency to be very pessimistic, we need to flood ourselves with thoughts of positivity, so our negativity doesn't take us into the pits of despair. We need to pray that our minds will be transformed from the bitter curses of depression and into the light of what's excellent and praiseworthy. When our minds are saturated with the 8 things mentioned in this verse, we're going to feel content and those nagging desires and cravings are going to be subdued. When our minds are focused on the positive, we'll feel content!
As I've repeated throughout this message, this is a battle we're all facing and it's also a battle we'll continue to face as followers of Jesus, but we do not need to be defeated by it. These final 4 points remind us, as believers, that we must keep our eyes off ourselves and on the One who can give us victory, and he'll walk along the road with each and every one of us!
*A brief summary of why I wrote this: There's a ministry on the West-side of Chicago called Mission:USA; every Tuesday night they have a Church service called The BRIDGE. Their services are open to everybody, but especially those who find it hard to gel in their local congregations! Or to put into cruder terms; a lot of these men and women are ex-offenders, homeless and low-income folk who have felt ostracized and rejected by many churches, so their mission is to be a bridge between prison, the streets and the Church. The Bridge helps these wonderful men and women find churches that will welcome them with open arms.....
And isn't this exactly what the Gospel and the "Kingdom of God" is all about?
This was a sermon preached on 1/21/14, in response to this question; “Controlling my desires”
How do we control our desires for things? How can we control lustful feelings? And how do we control envy?