Enough: Chasing Contentment
Topic: Contentment Scripture: Philippians 4:8–4:13
Have you ever been chased before? Was it a positive experience or a negative one? Kind of depends, right? When I was a teenager, my friend Tim was having a big sleepover party for his birthday. Tim lived in the outskirts of town, and his place was surrounded by trees and trails where we could look for frogs and salamanders. I’m not sure if Illinois is a creek or crick state. What I mean is a small stream. Anyway, Tim’s house was the best, and for his birthday we decided we were going to play a game of Manhunt after it got dark. If you’re unfamiliar, Manhunt is a combination of tag and hide and seek. A bunch of teenage guys running around the woods chasing each other at night. What could go wrong?
So, we’re playing this game and running around, and Tim and I end up at the end of this long path near his house, and we’re both paused and standing still to see if we can hear anyone walking around looking for us. And I see Tim’s eyes go wide as he looks past my shoulder and behind me. I turn around, and there, in the darkness, is a set of gleaming eyes and a growling sound. This was literally one of my worst nightmares. I hear Tim whisper to me, “Matt, don’t move.” I nod a little and then I hear him take off running. Yeah, you heard me. Tim took off and left me as the bait. Maybe you’ve heard the saying: you don’t have to outrun the bear, you just have to out run the person next to you. Well, Tim put that into practice. So, I take off running and hear this ferocious beast chasing me from behind. It turns out it was a dog who belonged to one of Tim’s neighbors. What I thought was the white wolf of my demise turned out to be a furry friend who wanted to play. Still, from that day forward, I never went anywhere with Tim alone.
Chasing after something requires a commitment and an expenditure of energy. Whether it’s burning a few calories chasing your shopping cart as it rolls away from your car, or, the time and dedication it requires to chase a dream you’re pursuing, chasing is an active and engaged effort.
Sports teams and players state year after year that they are chasing a championship. Parents, we say all the time that we are chasing after our kids. A spouse feeling romantic might say they are chasing after their lover’s heart. It shows that some things in life are truly worth chasing after. Sometimes, it’s a goal, a person, or quality, or a way of life like contentment.
We’re almost finished this message series focused on helping us look at the reality of money and finances through the eyes of our faith in Christ. We’ve been using Adam Hamilton’s book, Enough, has a helpful guide in enriching that exploration. And this morning we’re going to talk about contentment. In some ways, contentment is the Holy Grail of our society. At least, perhaps a misunderstanding of what contentment is. True contentment is not something we achieve, and it’s certainly not something we earn or purchase. Contentment, rather, is something we chase. And the apostle Paul spoke about his own experience Chasing Contentment. Let’s look at Philippians 4:8-13.
Paul’s words here come from the letter he was writing to the church in the city of Philippi. Throughout the letter, Paul has spoken about several important subjects. He’s addressed the humility of Jesus. He’s talked about his own challenges of being in prison and trying to support and care for churches just like this one he is writing to. He’s touched on what we can do when we experience loss and the importance of not grumbling but, instead, displaying joy to the world around us. The book of Philippians is a rich well to draw from. And these words from chapter 4 that we just heard come from Paul’s closing remarks. In it, we get a few lines of how Paul has sought contentment, no matter what circumstances he faced. He says, “I have learned to be content” and this verse reminded me of something I heard my freshman year of college.
My wife and I attended a Christian school called Eastern University located outside of Philadelphia. The mantra and banner for Eastern is Faith, Reason, and Justice. Those three tenets represent the values and efforts of the university, and all it hopes to accomplish. One of the core classes every student at Eastern has to take is focused on exposing, understanding, and demonstrating those three values. When I took that class, my professor said this: Faith, Reason, and Justice are not things I want you to learn. They can be taught and shown, but your responsibility is not to learn them like you did the multiplication tables or the state capitals. Your job and the reason for this class is to pursue and chase after these ideals. My professor went on to say how none of those values were things we could learn to the point of mastery. Our faith could always grow deeper, our sense of reason continuously expands wider, and our shout for justice always be louder. And all three of them would be challenged. That resonated with me and helped me frame my understanding as a follower of Jesus from that point on. And I believe the spirit of those thoughts apply to contentment. Paul tells us that he learned contentment. I believe it was something he worked toward, pursued, and chased after.
And I don’t think it’s hard to admit that in our culture of Chasing Contentment is a lost practice. Instead, the pursuit of true contentment is replaced with the faux and deceitful accumulation of more. Adam Hamilton calls it Restless Heart Syndrome in his book. He describes it as the reality of rarely, if ever, being satisfied with anything. Instead, the moment we acquire one thing, we begin wanting more of it or something else. That’s not contentment. Getting more is not the cure. Contentment is not a container we fill, it’s a virtue of our lives that we practice. So how did Paul do it? How did he fare Chasing Contentment?
It begins, according to Paul, with what we surround and fill ourselves up with. I think about my friends who have trained for marathons and other challenging races, some even here this morning. When you know you’re going to be enduring a race like that, you condition yourself. One of my pastor buddies talked about how it was the change of his diet and the amount of sleep he got that was the hardest thing to lock down, but what he felt really put him over the edge for that race. What he filled himself with, nutrition and rest conditioned him to succeed. Paul talks about much the same thing in the opening sentences of our text.
Paul tells followers of Jesus to fill ourselves with whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. To take in whatever is praiseworthy or excellent. How did Paul manage to maintain his energy and his commitment to Chasing Contentment? He filled himself and surrounded himself with that which conditioned him to be able to endure that lifelong pursuit. This, my friends, is not as simple a task as we might think. We are constantly bombarded with everything that threatens our desire to find true contentment. Instead of life-giving nourishment and peaceful rest, our culture pushes the fast food of negativity and cynicism coupled with the compulsion to never stop, to always keep going-going-going.
This is why we encourage you to be a part of a small group or a Bible study. Find a space where you can intentionally draw in the encouragement of godly teaching and real community. It’s why we must be cautious what voices we allow space in our mind and hearts. It’s why we have to be vigilant with what we consume through the screens we have constant access to. What we fill ourselves with impacts the way we think, how we feel, what we believe, and who we become.
So, what we fill ourselves with matters. Who we surround ourselves with also matters. Paul talks about how the friendship and concern of the church in Philippi brought him great joy and encouragement. Surround yourself with people who fill you with joy, who lift you up and encourage you. We all have that friend or acquaintance who is negative all the time. We’ve all had someone throw cold water on our enthusiasm or excitement at some point. We know what a wet blanket feels like. This isn’t to say that we can’t be free to experience sadness or grief. Not at all. Those are legitimate expressions of the human existence. But, there’s a difference between one who is grieving and someone who makes every room feel like a memorial service. Surrounding ourselves with people of hope challenges us to hope, even when we’re hurting. Being in relationship with people who show concern for us and reach out to us reminds us to be there for others as well. Who we surround ourselves with has a profound impact on our effort in Chasing Contentment.
And, finally, Paul reveals to us that one more thing that matters, maybe even more than what we consume and who we invite into our lives, and that is where we get our strength from. Or, rather, who we get our strength from. Paul says, in that classic line, that “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” This doesn’t mean that every Christian should be able to tear a phonebook in half like a bodybuilder. It's an encouragement that if we place all our trust, confidence, and hope in God, that we will never be disappointed. And again, this is easy for us to derail from.
I love my wife - more than any other human being on the planet. But if my strength and my hope is fixed on and within her, I will end up wanting just as she would if I were her strength. Our friends and family can be those life-giving relationships we surround ourselves with, but they cannot bear the weight of being our foundation. No human being can. But our Creator? Our Savior? The Spirit who calls us? Yes. Our God can bear that weight and even invited it upon His shoulders when Christ went to the cross for us.
Paul shows us what we can do if we truly want to find contentment. And did you notice something about my message this morning? I made mention of finances only once this morning when I described the series we’re in. And that’s because ultimately, my friends, this thing we’re talking about isn’t only about money. Finding the kind of peace that Paul demonstrates in his writing to the Philippian church goes way beyond how we use dollars and cents. Sure, it would absolutely play a role in that aspect of our lives, but it’s not the focus. We gain so much when we begin this pursuit, and it truly can impact every corner and devotion of our lives — everything changes when we’re Chasing Contentment.