Have you seen anyone using one of these lately?
It’s been a couple of years, but I have, and I’ve got to tell you, it caught me off guard. I sat down for a quick phone charge in the ATL airport between flights, and a nice fellow from a few decades back plopped down next to me and plugged up his really old vintage Blackberry.
I looked over but evidently not discreetly enough. He caught me looking and began selling me on his personal mobile device. He was a man not moved by latest trends, any marketing campaign by Apple, or the fact that he could afford something different. He, and I quote, was a man who knows what he values and will not be swayed. My only response was to ask if I could take a picture of that device (and I really wanted one of him as well).
Just so you know, I did not throw away my iPhone.
But it did make me think about the idea of being grounded in a practice, habit, or just a particular belief.
Finding your footing regarding money and contentment is one of the most stabilizing underpinnings you will ever construct. To not find it keeps your heart swirling between voices in your head, marketing messages by the millions, the appeal to be self-absorbed (again), and to live only for today, not for eternity.
I don’t know of another virtue that can ground us better in today’s society. I have found the most help personally with this issue in a small portion of a letter Paul wrote to his young understudy Timothy and then in another phrase from a letter to a small startup church at Philippi.
“Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.” (1 Tim. 6:6-8 NLT)
“I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.” (Phil. 4:11 NLT)
Contentment is a skill or virtue to be learned. Contentment is more valuable than a big bank account. And contentment will serve you until the very end.
Here are six affirmations to test my contentment.
1. While wrestling with the bottom line, I focus on the eternal.
Sure, my bank account, net worth, and 401(k) balance are all important. But it is not the whole accounting of a life and it can’t deliver life’s entire request. Be careful!
As the apostle said “we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” Until we figure out that most of the things we focus on—iPhones, stock options, professional status, and the like—are temporary, we will never find true satisfaction. Jon Bloom calls it “The Secret to Peace and Contentment.” It’s about trusting God, not having stuff.
2. I know the difference between essentials and non-essentials.
In an age of consumption, it’s often extremely difficult to draw a line between what we truly need—for ourselves, our families, and our businesses—and what we simply want. We are the “Treat Yo’ Self” generation.
Many times, therefore, our line of consumption is attached to our income rather than to a rational decision that caps our lifestyle and answers that crucial question, “When is enough, enough?” Typically, the more we earn, the more we spend.
Scripture offers a different perspective. As 1 Timothy 6:8 states, “If we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.”
3. My ambition is set on something other than getting rich.
There are plenty of wealthy people in the Bible (Job, Abraham, Boaz, and Lydia, to name a few). But getting rich was never their goal. Instead of having a deep desire to get rich, we should pour our energy into: establishing a good name for ourselves and for our family, advancing in godly wisdom and understanding, and daily being salt, light, and the sweet perfume of the gospel story.
Along the way, we might be rewarded financially as a result of our efforts. But that cannot be our-end all, above-all goal.
4. I continually evaluate whether I love money.
Maybe you’ve heard, “Money is the root of all evil.” Maybe someone even said that came from the Bible.
That’s a lie.
In fact, 1 Timothy 6:10 says “The love of money is the root of all evil.” It goes on to say, “Some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” That’s a very different thing.
Answering the following can help us determine whether we’re flirting with disaster in this area:
- What am I sacrificing to build my wealth?
- Do I regularly feel the pendulum swing from quick fulfillment to buyer’s remorse over my purchases?
- Am I unable to stop counting my money, sorting it, evaluating it, etc.?
- Is my spiritual condition getting better or worse?
5. I aggressively assess whether my hope is in God or my holdings.
As Paul wrapped up his first memo to Timothy, he gave a few last words of instruction regarding the wealthy entrepreneurs and business people in the congregation:
“Command those who are rich in this present world not be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (1 Tim. 6:17-18 NIV)
Money is a vital part of life, of course, but economic prosperity can easily lull us into forgetting about God. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “One of the dangers of having a lot of money is that you may be quite satisfied with the kinds of happiness money can give and so fail to realize your need for God.”
6. My giving stretches my faith to the limits.
The final ingredient in the recipe for contentment is giving, and not just giving 10 percent. Our same writer, Paul, gives us six filters for giving: regularly, systematically, in proportion to our income, voluntarily, cheerfully, and sacrificially.
Would your giving meet those instructions? Most Americans would answer “no.” The 2016 Philanthropy Roundtable Report said giving was better in the U.S. than ever, but still, 33% of people gave nothing, and the other 67% of people gave an average of 4% of their income. Even the super-wealthy (those making more than $10 million) gave less than 6% of their income.
So how did you score? It’s never too late or too early to learn contentment. It doesn’t matter if you are in your first job squeezing nickels together to pay rent or you just sold your company and stuck $50mm in the bank.
Contentment is a lost virtue in need of a serious comeback.