(Disclaimer: this post is directed to families who have enough money to meet all or most of their basic needs, and some of their wants too.)
I have two elementary-aged kids. As a mom, I want to give my son and daughter everything they need to live a happy, full life. And they naturally gravitate toward thinking they need more and more and more stuff to find happiness.
And honestly, so do I.
Materialism surrounds us like the air we breathe. And it is SO hard to convince my kids (and myself) that the endless pursuit of stuff cannot fill their hearts and make them happy. More toys and technology will not give them meaning, purpose, or contentment.
The Secret to Happiness
In Philippians 4:11-13, Paul tells us how to the learn the secret to happiness and contentment. (And the key word is learn!)
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever
situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know
how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret
of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things
through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13 ESV
Paul endured some pretty crazy challenges in his life: hunger, thirst, homelessness, persecution, violence, shipwrecks, imprisonment, constant danger, barely hanging on for life (see 2 Corinthians 6:4-5; 11:23-28). Even in all this, Paul clung to contentment by remembering that when he was at his weakest, God’s strength took over in his life (2 Corinthians 12:9)—the strength to hold onto hope and faith in the face of suffering.
And I am not saying this is easy. But it is possible.
Our finite needs for food, clothing, shelter, love, laughter, entertainment, and on and on are valid and important to acknowledge. But ultimately, they point us to deeper, infinite needs that only God can fulfill. And when we realize that, and we start asking our heavenly Father to meet those deepest needs for love, purpose, self-worth, meaning, approval, and more, He will answer those prayers. Not immediately, but slowly, over time.
And not only that, eventually some of our cravings for material things will start to fade and the desire for deeper intimacy with God will increase. And that is where contentment starts to become a reality.
So, when my son wants more and more and more LEGOs, it’s my job to help him understand that his need for entertainment and purpose in life can only come through intimacy with his heavenly Father, made possible by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and by means of the Holy Spirit’s empowerment.
In other words, it’s my job privilege to help my son and daughter learn the secret to contentment—to explain to them that they can say no to their endless list of wants because they trust that God will meet all their deepest needs.
And when we trust God to meet our needs, we can start to release our grip on all our stuff.
Contentment Drives Generosity
Recently, a co-worker shared an article predicting that number of extremely poor individuals around the globe will skyrocket because of the coronavirus. The economic devastation cause by this pandemic could push 150 million more precious people into extreme poverty (living on less than $2.15 per day) by 2021.
Reading that statistic can make us feel overwhelmed, sad, helpless, or guilty. Or maybe, we don’t feel anything at all (and that’s not a good thing!).
But what one character-quality will determine how we act when we read that sad statistic?
As Christians, we can learn contentment. (Not perfectly, or once and for all, but daily.) And contentment leads to generosity.
When we trust God to meet our spiritual, emotional, and physical needs, we start to see our money, time, and emotional resources as God’s tools to meet other peoples’ needs—especially the basic needs of the growing group of extremely poor families around the world!