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The quest for contentment

God wants us to be content with what we have.

New Zealanders are one of the world’s highest per-capita consumers of magazines, so high that Kiwis have been labelled ‘God’s gift to magazine publishers’.

The 2009 Nielsen Readership Survey says New Zealanders spent over $88 million on magazines from June 2008 to July 2009, buying more than 20 million copies in supermarkets. Lynley Belton, General Manager of Fairfax Magazines, commented: ‘Magazines are widely regarded as a trusted and relevant friend, and that creates a powerful environment for advertisers.’

Well, I’m not a big friend of the magazine industry, but I did sit down and flick through a few women’s magazines and some home decorating titles recently. Belton is right, these are powerful advertising environments!

If I want to feel healthier, I need to join Jenny Craig and I could drop three dress sizes in just four months! My now fortnightly (at best) efforts at the gym don’t seem to stack up.

If I want to be stylish, I need to buy this season’s latest glamour trends and spice up my autumn wardrobe. My plans to splurge on a brightly-coloured pair of gumboots to watch my son play rugby on cold Saturday mornings no longer excite me; I find myself wondering what it would be like to possess all the latest fashion styles and accessories instead.

It didn’t get any better. I opened NZ House & Garden and learnt that despite planting lettuces and tomatoes in my garden and doing quite a bit of tidying up (an achievement for a city girl from London), without the water feature, the outdoor fire and the chess set my garden really isn’t anything to write home about.

Even more disturbing was the endless array of recipes that made my cooking look like stodgy, boring muck. On top of that, I discovered that without the latest in kitchen appliances and hardware my time in the kitchen would only ever be second best anyway.

I thought my Mum and I were close until I read about TV personality Pippa Wetzell’s relationship with her mother. I even thought my husband loved me, but since he hasn’t bought me a piece of diamond jewellery from an exclusive Auckland store, I’m having doubts there too. After all, if we were really in love, surely he’d whisk me away to a tropical island?!

By the time I had finished with those magazines, I wasn’t just depressed, I needed counselling! Everything in my life seemed second best and the grass was looking a whole lot greener on the other side.

Looking for the ‘next best thing’

We’ve all wanted things we don’t have, and we all know what it is to set our minds and hearts on the next best thing. The Bible calls this ‘coveting’. God expressly forbids coveting in the Ten Commandments, which essentially are a radical call to live for God. These commandments are the foundational laws on which God wanted the Israelites to build their nation and community life and they are still his framework for us today.

The word ‘covet’ means ‘to desire greatly’. It typically refers to desire for an object of some kind. Exodus 20:17 says, ‘You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.’

Coveting breeds dissatisfaction and depression, and God’s counsel to avoid it is worth paying attention to.

Since the beginning of time, humans have wanted what they don’t or can’t have. It all began in the Garden of Eden when Eve coveted the forbidden fruit. Her sin of then taking what she desired but what God had forbidden brought sin and death into the world. By nature, humans are greedy and self-centred; always trying to grab more than we can hold. But, the more we have, the more we want.

If we are guilty of coveting, it is also highly likely that we are guilty of materialism: of wanting and desiring material things more than we want and desire God.

Are we always looking for a way to increase our possessions/material wealth? Are we always looking at others wishing we had their life instead of our own? Do we find ourselves thinking, ‘I wish I had this thing, or that job, or this much money in the bank’? Do we reason, ‘If I had that thing then I would be happy’?

A covetous, materialistic attitude poisons life and creates a sourness of heart and a bitterness of disposition: a continual dissatisfaction with the way things are. It breeds dissatisfaction and depression and leads to a life lived without a sense of fulfilment and contentment. 

Coveting is something that we have all done or do but it is a serious sin that diminishes the role of God in our lives as our provider and the source of our fulfilment. Coveting arises from a deep insecurity. It comes from an unordered private world where the desire for things is greater than the desire for God.

Keep coveting in check

To counter covetousness, we must make Jesus our vision. Jesus must intentionally and continually remain in our line of sight so that he fills our thoughts and desires above all else. Unless that is so then everything else in life will be out of balance.

When we have Christ as the vision for our lives, we will learn to be content with our circumstances. As Paul says in Philippians 4:11–12, ‘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.’

We need to learn to find our security and identity in Christ alone. When we have ordered our inner world with Christ at its centre, the rest of our inner world will become aligned to God’s ways and our external actions will follow.

Being a Christian does not guarantee us material wealth and comfort. In fact, if you look at the way most followers of Jesus lived or ended up it was anything but comfortable. Anyone who tells you that the more you give your life to God, the more he will materially bless you is lying.

We give our lives to God and are called to work for his Kingdom. This may or may not involve material blessing. We give to God because he is God, not for what we can get in return. We give to God because we love and trust him with our lives and want to live our lives with everything that we have and are being submitted to his will and purpose.

What are you looking for? Who or what are you holding up in your line of vision with a covetous heart? Keep your sight set firmly on Jesus—that’s the way to learn contentment in life whatever your circumstances. The heart that is content has no need to covet.

Personal Reflection

  • Coveting is not only a personal issue; discontent is a reality in church life as well. Too many Christians—Salvationists included—fall into the bad habit of coveting the good things they see in other churches.

    What are some of the things churchgoers could covet in other churches?

  • Being impressed by another church’s strengths can be good; it can lead us to strengthen weaknesses in our own community and become more effective for the Kingdom. But it can also lead to a negative, critical outlook about what’s happening in our own backyard. Read Ephesians 4:26-27.

    How could harbouring a critical outlook ‘give the devil a foothold’?

  • The New Testament talks a lot about unity within the Church, with individuals fitting together to serve as God intended. Read Ephesians 2:11-22 Ask God to give you a clearer picture of your church as ‘a holy temple’ held together by Jesus.

    What is God saying to you about the strengths of your church?

  • Sometimes we look at our church community through purely human eyes. We might become disillusioned or disappointed and feel like going in search of the non-existent ‘perfect church’. But everyone in our church is there because God chose them, and God wants us to love one another. Read Romans 12:9-16; esp. v 10.

    How might you express love to people in your church this week?

  • Read Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21.

    Express your own prayer thanking God that he is at work in your church.

By Jenny Collings (from War Cry, 8 May 2010, p12-13)