The Secret – sold more than 19 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 46 languages. We seem to love the idea of being able to control our own happiness and prosperity. (**note – The Secret does not work. Putting positive thoughts into the world does not mean that good things are going to happen. There is no cause and effect that will make The Secret actually work. I will concede that positive people are more likely to have positive interactions with others, making people more likely to be around you or to help you out, but it’s not about your positive energy – it’s your attitude. Who wants to hang around someone who has a crappy attitude?)
We live our lives talking to ourselves about “If only” – If only I had this that would make me happy. If only I could do that then I would be happy. In the Western world it is amazing that we can be so blessed and so unhappy at the same time. We start to believe some major lies about what would make us happy and why we are unhappy.
God is withholding from me – this was Adam and Eve’s big problem; they thought that God was holding out something better – they compared the life they had with what they thought they could have if God wasn’t holding out. Comparison robs many of us of our potential happiness. I’m not satisfied with my 32 inch beast of a tv because my friend just got a 46 inch flatscreen LCD. Before I started thinking about what I could have I was perfectly content with my tv, but when I start comparing my life to other possibilities I start to become unhappy.
God owes me – I put in my time, I’m in church, I tithe, I do my best to forgive people when they are rude to me… I’ve done my bit – why doesn’t God reward me? This is the person who does something in order to get something. But God isn’t like that. You don’t get rewarded for being good. You don’t get punished for being bad. Sometimes bad things happen to people who don’t deserve it. Sometimes good things happen to horrible people. God doesn’t owe any of us anything. If this is how you think about religion, it might be time to move on. God’s blessing and favor is not a commodity.
If I get it, I’ll be happy – Prosperity and contentment don’t always go together. Rich people are unhappy, too. “They say money can’t buy happiness, but I’d rather cry in a mansion…” When your circumstances change, your discontent will change along with them! (see above about God owing me…)
I know what is best for me – We get into trouble when we try to plot our own course to happiness. No matter how much you try to navigate your own course you don’t ultimately know what’s best. We really have very little control over this world. Some people try to control through accumulation. Some try to control through asceticism (denying themselves.) But contentment isn’t about controlling ourselves. Self-denial doesn’t equal contentment – contentment is inward and cannot be touched by circumstances, can’t be stolen by sickness or poverty, cannot be ruined by the loss of a job, friends, or house.
The Bible does talk about contentment, though. In Philippians 4:4-13 Paul writes:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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 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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were 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 all this through him who gives me strength.
Paul isn’t crazy; he says it twice – Rejoice! What gives Paul joy is not things or circumstances. Paul’s relationship with God gave him a sense of contentment that transcended his immediate circumstances
The prophet Isaiah says
Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Isaiah 43:6-7)
You were made for one purpose – for God’s glory! Discontentment begins when we put ourselves at the center of the universe and remove God. It’s a big view of me and a very little view of God. Christian joy is independent of all things on earth because it has its source in the continual presence of Christ – not on temporary things or circumstances.
We can recover our joy – we need a commitment to contentment. Contentment is a disposition of the heart that freely and joyfully submits to God’s will, whatever that will may be. It’s easy to submit when God’s will involves large amounts of cash, perfect health, exotic vacations, or unlimited vanilla chai lattes. But a commitment to contentment embraces both prosperity and pain as from the hand of God.
So ignore the lies and, like Paul, understand that Jesus is enough – even in the tough times. Then count your blessings – it’s amazing what blessings and grace we have in our lives that we simply ignore or gloss over. Find them. Look for them. Thank God for them. Finally, focus on helping others. Practically speaking, if we get our mind off of our own troubles and try to find ways to help others then our own suffering diminishes and we can focus on the good things in life.
I believe God wants us to live joyful lives. That does not mean he’ll give us all luxury cars and full bank accounts. We can learn to live lives of joy no matter what our worldly situation may be.
So clap your hands…