More Stuff Will Make Me Happy…Right?

Do you want to be happy? I do. In fact, most people I know desire to be happy. But so many of us aren’t. Usually our happiness is linked to one of two things: 1) our possessions and 2) our position/circumstances in life.

Free-StuffWhen it comes to our possessions, the idea is that stuff will make us happy. If I could only have that new iPhone. If I could only acquire that special __________ – you get the idea. The problem with linking our happiness to stuff is that they’re ALWAYS making new stuff! What good is getting a new phone when they’ll make a new one next year? Pursuing the latest stuff is only a temporary fix. But stuff will always leave us sad. The new thing breaks or becomes outdated.

But the character of the believer is supposed to be opposite of this. Jesus himself said:

Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions. (Luke 12:15)

The idea of guarding against stuff even made into the 10 Commandments when God told Israel not to covet anything that belonged to their neighbors. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think God is telling us that having new and nice things is wrong. But we get into trouble when stuff and the pursuit of it possesses our hearts. Filling our lives with stuff leads to only temporary happiness and is never permanent.

When it comes to our position in life, we often think that we can only be content of we just had a better job or more social standing or ___________________ (again, fill in the blank). But our life’s circumstances don’t have to determine our contentedness. In a very difficult passage to wrestle with, the Apostle Paul writes:

 Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. (1 Corinthians 7:20-22)

Paul is NOT advocating for slavery. In fact, notice that he says a slave should gain freedom if he is able to do so. The heart of what Paul is talking about is really finding life contentment in Christ WHEREVER you are. Our position does not dictate our contentment. This is why Paul can write that he has learned to be content no matter his situation. He can starve or be full. He can be free or beaten and in chains. His contentment comes from his rock-solid faith in Jesus.

We’re never promised happiness. We’re promised that God’s grace is sufficient for us. That is real contentment – resting on God’s sufficiency no matter what life throws at us.

Paul reminds us:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

But how can you work on getting over the stuff? How do we let go of the world’s understanding of happiness and pursue contentment? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Memorize some Bible verses about stuff and/or contentment. If you’ve got the words of Jesus easily accessible when you’re walking through Best Buy, maybe you’ll be able to get out of the store without caving to the “gotta have it” mentality so pervasive in our culture.
  2. Practice giving something away every week. Make a habit of refusing to let stuff control you – give something away. It breaks the power of stuff over your life and allows you to brighten someone else’s day.
  3. Serve people who are worse off than you are. Nothing puts our lives in perspective like helping others who have it worse than we do.serve

You can do it. You can find real contentment. It’s not found in stuff or circumstance. You can be dead broke in a dead-end job but still experience godly contentment. Let God help you find it.

Discover Your Key to Happiness

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

The Lies

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…

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