Do you want to know the secret of contentment? It's hard to be content in an economic downturn. Still harder if you have cancer. Is it knowing you've done your best? Is it in providing for your family? Is it becoming a household name? Is it making enough money that you never have to work again?
I heard a story of a fisherman basking in the afternoon sun, enjoying the warmth and resting contentedly as the evening drew on. He was approached by a young man who asked why he was not out fishing. He replied that he'd been out this morning and had a good catch, sold his produce at the market and now he was relaxing.
"I can see you need someone like me in your business," said the young man, "if you'd gone out this afternoon you could have doubled your profits. Before long, if you kept up the practice of going out twice a day, you could have expanded your business, bought a second boat, then a third and so on. You could have employed other fishermen and eventually you would have made so much money you would never have to work again."
"And what would I have done then?"
"You could sit in the sun and enjoy God's beautiful creation."
"And what do you think I am doing now?"
The myth of more tells us that there is always something better round the corner. A better address, a better car, a more glamorous wife, smarter gadgets; the grass is always greener. In truth, such an attitude leads to discontent.
In Philippians chapter 4 Paul tells us the secret of contentment. "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances," he says(v 11). "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." (v12)
What is that secret? "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (v13)
Relying on God is seen as a weakness in this world. It's OK for those who need a crutch, but I can stand on my own two feet. No, actually, you can't. I have seen so many who thought they could, brought low. Beware of the media; they will only build you up to knock you down. Every political career ends in failure, said one very wise man. Obama beware! Look at the ignominy of your predecessors. Bush was caricatured as a monkey, Clinton as a lecher, Bush senior as a time server, Reagan as senile, Carter as naive, Ford as an idiot, Nixon as a crook, Johnson as a warmonger, Kennedy as a womaniser. In the UK Brown is seen as incompetent, Blair as a liar, Major as a no-hoper, Thatcher as bully, Callaghan as worse than useless, Wilson as a crook, Heath as a humorless robot, Douglas-Home as a simpleton, Macmillan as an old dodderer, Eden as a self-serving snob. Only Churchill maintains his reputation, despite his drunkenness, bad judgement and betrayal of his party. Still Churchill was himself a journalist, so perhaps he was immune to criticism.
I have before commented on the hollowness of fame on this blog, but still it is the ambition of young people to be famous. How I wish that young people aimed for Godliness.
In today's paper is a story about Kaka the Brazilian soccer player who has just been transferred to Real Madrid for a huge sum. When he scores a goal Kaka is given to pulling up his shirt to reveal a message on his T-shirt that says, "I belong to Jesus." FIFA has objected to this show of religion. Apparently, too many South American footballers have been making too much of a show of their faith. The majority of those accused are Pentecostals who have abandoned Roman Catholicism. I always warm to them. Why should these young men not display their trust in the Lord? If only more young people would. And old people.
To trust in God is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Paul goes on in the letter to extol generosity. The Philippian church, probably the first European church, had been one of Paul's most faithful supporters. What an example to us! How many years are you away from relying on your income? How much do you have saved against a rainy day? It may be fine in your home, but there is plenty of rain outside. Obama, rightly told African leaders in Ghana that they must take the blame for the poverty in Africa. Corrupt government is rife and most aid is subject to a large surcharge that goes straight into Swiss bank accounts of crooked leaders. That doesn't negate the poverty in Africa. The only hope for Africa is a change of heart of its people. But that can only come if we in the West show winsome ways.
At the G7 meeting in Italy last week the great powers admitted to falling short of the Gleneagles commitment to the third world by $15 billion. We know that politicians are not to be trusted, but for Christians generosity with their time, their service and with their pocket-book should be a watchword.
For why? Because Jesus himself told us, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21)
Where is your treasure? Where is your heart?