Learning to be Content in a Culture of Discontentment

    November 03, 2017 | Articles by Rev. David Bodanza

    What the world needs now is contentment. It is a rare find. "People buy things they do not need with money they do not have to impress people they do not like,” quips George Fooshee. "One man pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth." (Proverbs 13:7) We Americans are spending beyond our means to get that which is beyond our grasp—a false image set up by media and advertisers. An idol of the heart. We are renting a lifestyle that we cannot afford on a credit card or with a loan. Americans have even coined the term "retail therapy" evidencing the therapeutic effect many feel by shopping for the sake of shopping. Overconsumption, particularly through credit, is enslaving.

    If your children didn't watch television, I suspect that they would be content with playing with their toys. Yet, note the difference when they have a steady diet of television and, like adults, endure the commercials aimed at them. They will be wanting things they never wanted before. Their Christmas lists will suddenly grow long. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (age 70 and 69, respectively) have been singing their Rolling Stones' hit song "I Can't get No Satisfaction" for the past 48 years, with no signs that one of its themes of commercial frustration has been resolved. You would think that 48 years of royalties would have helped!

    Consider what author John Cummuta calls the "Coalition of Four:" Merchants, the Advertising Industry, the Media, and the Credit Industry. Cummuta explains, "The Merchants depend on human urges to be insatiable and operate on the premise that you and I will never be content with lives we live and the things we have." Overspending is often the result of an inability to delay gratification. The Coalition of Four works together to manipulate the maximum "Lifetime Value" out of each of us, Cummuta maintains. Merchants proliferate things, while the

    Advertising Industry builds a perceived value for the thing. What makes advertising effective is the natural human trait of accepting things at face value. The Media’s part is to create a reality in your mind that generates an apparent need for products and services that the Coalition of Four is selling. You know, implied peer pressure. You need this to keep up with the Joneses. The Credit Industry makes it all possible. If you had to use money from your wallet or purse for each purchase, you would be much less impulsive in spending. Credit removes the inhibition from impulse. By buying on credit, you end up paying more for every purchase that you make.

    Excessive debt is modern day slavery. (Proverbs 22:7) One of the reasons for this is compound interest. Compound interest is interest computed on the unpaid interest and principal. It has an exponential effect. Albert Einstein was once asked what was the greatest invention he had seen in his lifetime. His answer: "compound interest." If you are saving, the interest earned this month is itself earning interest next month. And the cycle snowballs. While savings interest rates are in the tank at present, lending rates are low but much higher than savings rates. Moreover, the problem is that when you have debt "you’re on the paying side of compound interest. Its power is working against you. It is diminishing your financial resources, not multiplying them," Cummuta points out. An undisciplined use of unsecured credit will lead one into buying things he or she cannot now afford at a much higher price, due to compound interest. The result is a reduction in cash liquidity (due to debt payments) which leads to further credit use and deeper debt. The snowball effect will eventually strangle the vitality from one's resources.

    Incurring debt is often presuming upon the future; we presume we will have enough in future months or years to repay the debt. A lottery ticket or a trip to a casino will usually result in disappointment if you are hoping that a jackpot will pay your bills.

    The Bible warns the Christian, “You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.” (1 Corinthians. 7:23) There is such a thing as Christian contentment. The Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs referred to it as a "rare jewel." Burroughs instructs us that "Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God's wise and fatherly disposal in every condition." "Instead of complaining at his lot, a contented man is thankful that his condition and circumstances are no worse than they are. Instead of greedily desiring something more than the supply of his present need, he rejoices that God still cares for him. Such a one is 'content' with such as he has (Heb. 13:5)", says Arthur W. Pink.

    The Bible says, " But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." (1 Timothy 6:6-10)

    Contentment is satisfaction with God’s sufficient provision. It is a settled sense of adequacy, a settled sense of enough. You came into the world with nothing, and you were taken care of. You will also leave the world with nothing. Whatever you have amassed here on earth won't help you a bit in the next life. You can't take it with you, and you will not live forever. Let enough be enough. Be content with your needs being met. We can learn much from the experience of men who made millions. John D. Rockefeller lamented, “I have made millions, but they have brought me no happiness.” Cornelius Vanderbilt observed, “The care of millions is too great a load. There is no pleasure in it.” John Jacob Astor sadly stated, "I am the most miserable man on earth.” Henry Ford said he was happier working in a mechanic’s shop.

    Solomon wrote this years ago, but it could have been written today:"Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them? The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep." (Ecclesiastes 5:10-12) Basically, money is like seawater. The more you drink, the thirstier you get.

    It is better not to let your income dictate your lifestyle. Living just below your means may be the wisest course. Moreover, having an attitude of gratitude will keep you from the tireless but ultimately unrewarding pursuit of wealth. When you count your blessings, you can enjoy what you have rather than grow bitter over what you think you need. Often times, we have trouble distinguishing between need and greed.

    The psalmist wisely prayed, “Two things I ask of you, LORD; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God." (Proverbs 30:7-9) Amen.

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