Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | November 7, 2010

2010.11.07 Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity – Sermon 4: “Cultivating Contentment”

Central United Methodist Church

Enough: Discovering Joy

Through Simplicity and Generosity

Sermon 4: “Cultivating Contentment”

Pastor David L. Haley

November 7th, 2010

 “And [Jesus] said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessionsLuke 12:15


“I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. (Philippians 4:11-13, The Message).

In 2007, a large area of Southern California was ravaged by wildfires. Nearly a million people were evacuated from their homes. As the tragedy unfolded, it was a moment when many were forced to re-think their relationship to possessions.

Many people had little notice the fires were headed in their direction. One family was awakened in the middle of the night just in time to look out the back window and see the fire leap across the interstate and begin a rapid climb up the hillside toward their home. They and thousands of others had ten minutes to grab everything they could take from their homes and flee.


Of those who fled, Time magazine asked this question: “What did you save from the fire?”

Andrew saved his pillow.

Shervl saved her family pictures and a book by Dr. Seuss.

Angel saved the saxophone he had been learning to play.
Karen saved her two cats.

Michelle saved her her school diploma, and her Bible.1

What would you save? Imagine a wildfire is headed toward your home and you have ten minutes to grab what you can and flee. What will you take with you?

Whether our stuff is taken away by bankruptcy or plundered by thieves or blown away by a tornado or burned in a wildfire, we are reminded that these things are only temporary. In fact, we know when we’re gone, most of our stuff will be outdated, worn out, or of no value to anyone else; either hawked in a garage sale or thrown in the trash. This is why we nod in agreement when we hear Jesus say, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12: 15)

But there’s a problem: everywhere we turn, the world is telling us, our life does consist in the abundance of our possessions. We are bombarded with these messages daily, saying, “If you had a little bit more, you’d be happy.” “If you had this, you’d find more satisfaction in life. If you had a bigger house or a nicer car or more fashionable clothes, you’d be happy – at least happier than you are right now.


So we wrestle with this. Although we believe Jesus, we still devote a great deal of our time, talents, and resources to the acquisition of more stuff. We say that our lives do not consist in the abundance of our possessions, but we live as if they do.

This is because, in addition to being afflicted with affluenza and credit-itis (as we discussed in sermon 2), we are also afflicted with another dangerous condition, Restless Heart Syndrome. The primary symptom of RHS is that we are never satisfied, and perennially discontent. The moment we acquire something, we scarcely enjoy it before we want something else. This is the nature of RHS, and if unchecked, it can destroy us.

Now there is a certain discontent God intended us to have. God wired us so we would be discontent with things, causing us to seek the One who can satisfy us, God alone.

And, there are some things God intended us to be discontent with, and other to be content with. The Scottish philosopher, James Mackintosh, once said: “It is right to be contented with what we have, but never with what we are.”2


The problem is we get them confused. We tend to be content with those things we’re supposed to be discontent with, such as our character, our spiritual life, our desire for justice, or our ability to love. And we’re discontent with the things we’re meant to be content with, such as homes, cars, televisions, gadgets, clothes, and stuff.  

We buy our dream home, and two weeks later we notice the kitchen isn’t right and the appliances don’t meet our needs, or the builder’s-grade carpet isn’t nice enough. So we begin thinking about the improvements we’d like to make.

Then there’s the car we can’t wait to buy. We think it’s great, until we drive off the lot. Before the new car smell has dissipated, we are already thinking about the next car we want.

At some time or another, most of us find ourselves discontent with our jobs. In fact, some of us are constantly searching for a new job. Perhaps we don’t like our boss or the work environment or the pay, so we decide to look for something else. We’re searching for that perfect job that will make us happy.

Some of us do the same when it comes to church. We have an illusion that – at least at church – things are going to be perfect. So when we experience that not to be the case, we become discontent. There’s that usher who wasn’t friendly to us, and the time the pastor said something that hurt our feelings, and the incident when no one called after we volunteered for something; before long, all we can see is what’s wrong with the church. So we go church shopping and find another church. We hang around there for a couple of years until our feelings get hurt or we’re again disappointed, and off we go again.

It happens in our marriages. We’re in love at first, wearing those rosy colored glasses, seeing only the best in our future spouse. But after a while, we begin to see only the things that irritate us, frustrate us, and drive us crazy. Then one day we notice someone else and think, If only I had met this person sooner! If only my wife/husband was like so-and-so. Suddenly we find ourselves comparing our mate to others, focusing on his or her imperfections and imagining how much happier we would be if we were married to someone else. But just as it is with stuff and jobs and churches and parents and children, so it is with spouses: There are no perfect ones. The person we think would make us happy has his or her own idiosyncrasies that would drive us crazy after a while also.

When we were teenagers, some of us did this with our parents. We thought, “Man, I wish Mike’s mom and dad were my parents. If I had his parents, I wouldn’t have all these problems. I’d be really happy. His parents let him stay out until 12:30 A.M. My parents make me come in at midnight.” What we didn’t know was that Mike was thinking, “I wish I had her parents. If her parents were my parents, I’d be really happy. They’re so nice. Mine are so mean.”

Of course, once we become parents we do the same thing. We say to our kids, “How come so-and-so’s children are so respectful and you’re not?” Our kids bring their friends over to spend the night, and we joke, “Would you like to come and live with us?” The problem is, if they stayed, they’d become monsters in our house, too. That’s how it works.

This is what discontent does to us. Sometimes God must look upon us and feel the way we feel when we give someone a special gift, and they ask for the gift receipt. God must look at us and think, “What is it with these people? I give them all this, and they ask for the gift receipt?”

Clearly, we have Restless Heart Syndrome. So what can we do about it? I would like to suggest four ways we can cultivate contentment, followed by five ways to simplify our lives. The two go hand in hand. When we simplify, we are content; and when we are content, we simplify.

  1. 1.   Remember, it could be worse.


This first key to contentment comes from John Ortberg, pas-
tor at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California. He says there are four words we should say whenever we find ourselves discontent with something or someone: It could be worse.  

Ortberg suggests that when you are getting into your five-year-old car in the parking lot, say, “It could be worse.” As you walk into your apartment or condo or house in need of repairs, say, “It could be worse.” When you go to work and are faced with problems and difficulties and disappointments, say, “It could be worse.” And when you’re frustrated and disappointed with your spouse, say, “It could be worse.” (Actually, you might want to think the words this time, rather than say them out loud!)

This is essentially the practice of looking on the bright side, or for the silver lining. It is recognizing that no matter what we may not like about a thing or person or circumstance, we can always find something good if we choose to do so.

  1. 2.    Ask yourself, “How long will this make me happy?”


The second key to contentment is to ask this simple
question: “How long will this make me happy?” So often we buy something, thinking it will make us happy, only to find that happiness lasts about as long as it takes to open the box.

Adam Hamilton – who developed this series, is – remember – the pastor of Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, a 7,000 member church. But in this sermon, he told this story on himself:

“Several years ago when I was visiting my brother, I watched him playing a game on his Play Station 2 (PS2). Later I told my wife, LaVon, that I really 
wanted to get one. She said, “Who are you kidding? You’re not going 
to play with it. You don’t have time for that.” I assured her that I would. So I saved up, went to the mall, and bought a PS2, along with 
four video games. That was several years ago, and to this day I have 
played only half of one game. One day the whole kit and caboodle will be in a rummage sale for ten or fifteen bucks.”

Of course, we would never do anything so stupid . . . especially if we stop to ask, “How long will this make me happy?”

  1. 3.   Develop a grateful heart.


The third key to contentment is to develop a grateful heart. This is one of the most important keys to contentment and happiness in life. Gratitude is essential if we are to be content.

A grateful heart recognizes “All of life is a gift.” Contentment comes when we give thanks for what we have, rather than pining for what we don’t have. We can choose to focus on our disappointments, or give thanks for our blessings.   

When I do weddings, I like to tell the story about the 85 year-old man who was asked the reason for his good health and long life. He said, “My wife and I agreed sixty years ago that if she was mad at me, she’d tell me and get it off her chest. If I was mad at her, I would take a walk. I attribute my good health and long life to the fact that I have led, for the most part, an outdoor life.”  That’s an example of the gift of a grateful heart.

  1. 4.   Ask yourself, “Where do I find true satisfaction?”


The fourth key to contentment is to ask, “Where do I find true satisfaction?” The world answers this question by telling us that we find satisfaction in ease and luxury and comfort and money. Contrary to what we are told, however, the longings of our souls cannot be satisfied at the shopping mall. The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, tells us that we find satisfaction in God alone.

It’s because our restless hearts are meant to seek God. This is why Saint Augustine’s words, written more than 1,600 years ago, still ring true: “You have made us for yourself, 0 God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

Deep in our hearts, we desire to be connected with the Creator of the universe. We need to believe our lives have meaning. We need to know there is grace and mercy when fail.  We need to know there is hope in the face of despair. We need to know we are loved unconditionally by One who knows us better than we know ourselves. And we need to share this love in meaningful relationships with others. This is why Jesus said the two most important things we must do are “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37, 39). If we focus on these things, we have a far better chance at find satisfaction and lasting contentment.

Beyond this, I dare every one of us could take a short sheet of paper and make a list of the things in life that – we have found – give us true satisfaction. The older we are, the easier it will be. The task of life, then, becomes to get rid of everything else.

Which brings us to the need to cultivate simplicity. Because contentment and simplicity go hand in hand.

Simplicity says less is more. Simplicity says we do not need so much clutter in our lives.  In fact, the more we pursue “more,” the more stressed out we become, because more stuff means more maintenance, which involves more time, energy, and money. We become like a hamster running on a wheel; we don’t know where we are going, but we assume everybody else does; so we run faster and harder to keep up. Eventually, something is bound to break: either us, the system, or both. Many would say this is what is happening in our nation right now.

Because of this, some of us choose to embrace the idea of voluntary simplicity, choosing to take a step down in lifestyle rather than constantly pursue more. There are countless ways to do this; here are five ideas.

  1. 1.    Set a goal of reducing your consumption, and choose to live below your means.


Set a goal to reduce personal consumption and therefore the amount of trash produced. Of course, recycle.  When you go to the store, use reusable canvas bags rather than plastic. When you buy a new car, improve fuel economy over the old.  Switch to a household thermostat that drops down when you are away during the day and asleep at night, and throw an extra blanket on the bed.

There are countless other ways to reduce your consumption
and live below your means. Do some research, share ideas with others, or have a brainstorming session with your family.

  1. 2.    Before making a purchase, ask, Do I really need this?and “Why do I want this? 


Such questions will help you determine your true motivation. Is it a need, a self-esteem issue, or a symptom of discontent?

Use the twenty-four-hour rule. When you see something you think you must have, wait twenty-four hours before making the purchase. If you still feel you should buy the item after that, go get it.

“Try before you buy.” Rent the car of your dreams for a weekend or that vacation home, or borrow someone else’s gadget and see what you think. Then decide if you still want to buy.  By spending $100, you might save yourself tens or even hundreds of thousands.  Such habits will give you time to examine your real motives and make wiser purchasing decisions.

     3. Use something up before buying something new.


From household items to appliances to furniture to cars, wait until a replacement is necessary. Take care of the things you buy and use them until they are empty, broken, or worn out. Remember, the “stingy man pays the most”: buy things that are made to last; when buying things that have a short lifespan, spend your money wisely. Sell or donate things that still work. Who knows how many televisions and toaster ovens and refrigerators that still work are taking up space in the landfill, when somebody could have used them. These are things our parents and grandparents knew and practiced, which – in our disposable society – we have forgotten.

     4. Plan low-cost entertainment that enriches.


When it comes to choosing entertainment, pick things that are simple and cheap. We’re sometimes amazed at how much more pleasure we derive from low-cost, simple activities, rather than extravagant, expensive ones. How often do we spend thousands of dollars on a vacation, only to come home and realize we need a vacation from our vacation?  And really, when we consider the simple things we do with family and friends, they don’t cost a lot of money to make us really happy. 

For example, in our house Friday night in our house has always been movie night. We gather what family members are available and will consent to watch whatever movie we’ve picked.  Over the years, when people ask me, “What’s your favorite night of the week,” without missing a beat I say, “Friday night.”

  1. 5.   Ask yourself, ”Are there major changes that would allow me to simplify my life?”


Some of us are living beyond our means, and the stress is killing us. We have it in our minds that we can’t possibly sell the house or the car. But we can.

Have you hear the story of the Salwen family, of Atlanta? Fast-track careers afforded parents Kevin and Joan a beautiful home, luxury cars, world travel and private school educations for their teenage children, Hannah and Joseph. In their affluent neighborhood, new was better and more was the norm. But one day, witnessing the sharp social contrast between a homeless man and a man driving a Mercedes, Hannah experienced an “aha” moment that sparked a family dialogue, ultimately leading the Salwens to sell their Atlanta McMansion, downsize, and commit half the proceeds to a development project in Ghana. They have written a book about their story, called The Power of Half.3

Obviously, asking such questions can help us identify significant changes that will simplify our lives, give us more contentment, and more money to spend on what’s important.

To sum up, choosing contentment doesn’t mean we stop buying things or move into cramped homes or apartments. Rather, it means we look to God as our Source, giving thanks for what we have. It means we ask God to give us the right perspective on our money and our possessions, day by day, as necessary. It means we decide to live simpler lives, wasting less and conserving more. And it means we give more generously, the final topic we will examine next week.

In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul wrote:

“I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. ” (Philippians 4:11-13, The Message).

When Paul wrote these words, he was likely sitting in a prison cell in Rome, waiting for the news of whether or not he would be executed. On a trip to Rome, I visited this prison – the Mamertine prison – and discovered that Paul was lowered through a hole in the floor and dropped into a cavernous, damp pit.  This is where he sat when he wrote his Letter to the Philippians, known as his letter of joy.

Like Paul, we too can discover the secret of contentment, by saying “Enough,” and discovering joy through simplicity and generosity.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

This series, “Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity,” was developed by the Rev. Adam Hamilton and the staff of United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, and then made available to the larger church through Cokesbury. As such, these sermons are my versions of Adam Hamilton’s original sermons, for my congregation.

1“What They Saved From the Fire,” Time magazine,,29307,1675264_1472476,00.html





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