This sermon is by Rev Robert (Bob) Smith and is based on Philippians 4:11
Have you ever asked yourself how much money you need to call yourself rich? Well, opinions vary between 3 and 12 million dollars in assets. The interesting thing, though, is that according to a survey conducted by investment managers Neuberger & Bergman, fifty five percent of those whose assets were in that range didn't consider themselves wealthy.
John D Rockefeller, once the World’s richest man, summed it up when asked how much one needed to be happy; “Just a little bit more,” he said. But compare that with the Apostle Paul who said: I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.’ Which of them really was the rich man?
I think that a far better measure of wealth is not the value of the things you have, but rather the number of things you have for which you would not take money. The Bible says: ‘There are those that make themselves rich yet have nothing; and there are those who appear to be poor yet have great riches.’
I believe that in real life terms – I mean quality of life terms – there is only one standard of wealth; and that is contentment. You are only as rich as you are content. What other purpose is there for the pursuit of wealth?
The Bible says: ‘Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.”’
It’s not money that the Bible warns against; it’s the love of money, which becomes an obsession that leads to the very opposite of what we desire. It does not lead to contentment; it actually drives us further from it; just as drinking saltwater doesn’t quench our thirst, but actually increases it.
G.K.Chesterton, one of the greatest writers of the 20thCentury, got to the heart of the matter when he said that ‘happiness is not in having more, but in wanting less.’
That doesn’t make sense to most people. It makes no sense because we have been brainwashed by those thousands of advertisements that bombard us every day, whose one purpose is to increase our dissatisfaction. And so, we vainly search for that illusive happiness in another round of retail therapy, often made possible by digging our way deeper into debt; or else we retreat into resentment because we haven’t the money to buy our way to contentment.
Meanwhile the Bible keeps telling us that Godliness with contentment is great gain.”It’s not how much money you’ve got that makes you rich; it’s how content you are with what you’ve got. The secret of contentment is not in having more, it’s in wanting less. That’s what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”That’s why he felt rich and most of us don’t.
Contentment is very much a matter of keeping things in balance. The Book of Proverbs says:‘Give me neither poverty nor riches…’In other words, ‘Give me just as much as I need’. That’s where contentment is found; in realizing how much is enough. Anything more is superfluous; great if you receive it, but your happiness doesn’t depend on it. Anything less is a cause for anxiety. But knowing how much is enough is contentment.
I don’t see any blessing in poverty. But neither is there any virtue in the compulsion to keep on acquiring more and more things beyond our capacity to use, let alone enjoy them. The deep spiritual malaise of Western society is that it has lost the concept of enough.We are wedded to a mentality that keeps us thirsting for more and more while appreciating things less and less.
Preserving a sense of balance is part of the process of contentment. It’s not how much you have that makes you rich, it’s how much you appreciate what you have. The problem with affluence is complexity. We assume that more is better, but it overwhelms us. What our souls long for is simplicity.
Richard Foster wrote a book called ‘The Freedom of Simplicity’. The title appealed to me because the thing I have always desired most is freedom. He pointed out that ever increasing levels of accumulation do not make us feel freer, but actually enslave us. Whereas, it is in simplifying our lives that we find freedom.
You are only as rich as you are content. Your life is only as free as it is uncluttered. That is one of the forgotten principles of life. But recapturing the freedom of simplicity and the riches of contentment is not easy. It requires a re-education process that goes against the brainwashing of consumerism.
Even the Apostle Paul says that he had to learn it: ‘I have learnedto be content’ he said. Let me suggest a couple of ways to do it.
The first is to identify what and what is not essential to our wellbeing. Obviously, this begins with our basic material needs. The Bible says: ‘Having food and clothing Let us therewith be content.’Well, having grown up in the modern world, we’d certainly want more than just food and clothing, but the principle is the same; we need an adequate standard of those things which we acknowledge to be the basic essentials of life.
But then we need to identify the things that truly make life worth living,and these are neither complex nor expensive. They include relationships in which we are loved and love in return, meaningful work and activity to fill our days, recreational activities that do re-create us, and a faith in God that gives us a sense of connectedness to the cosmos and assures us that we have significance in the great scheme of things.
The second thing is to cultivate the habit of awareness and gratitude.In Oliver Cromwell’s era it became the custom to inscribe on the walls of English churches the words “Think and Thank.”It was an encouragement for people to be aware of how much they do have and to discipline themselves to give thanks.
Schopenhauer said ‘we rarely think about the 95% we have, but always about the5% we lack’. And I have to admit that the times in my life when I have been most contentment have been those times when I have disciplined myself to think and thank; or as the old hymn put it, ‘to count my blessings and name them one by one’.
The third thing is to cultivate the habit of simplicity, and that is much easier to do when you have identified those things that really do make life worth living. It is easy then to desire simplicity because you are so conscious of the way that complexity takes you away from what brings joy.
I don’t mean becoming a dour, sour-faced ascetic. I mean developing our own understanding of what is important and when enough is enough, so that we can, on the one hand, avoid the misery of keeping up with the Jones’s, and, on the other, still have the time and energy to enjoy what we do have.
There’s an old Yiddish tale about a wealthy man who asked a wise rabbi to explain how we could be expected to give God thanks for our troubles." The rabbi knew he could never explain this with mere words, so he sent him to Isaac the water-carrier, a poor man who had worked in that backbreaking job for fifty years.
Well, the rich man asked Isaac the question and, after thinking carefully, Isaac said: "I know that the rabbi is the wisest of men, but I can’t understand why he would send you to me with that question. I can't answer it because I've never had those troubles. God has been so good to me."
The truth is that life is not in what we see, but in how we see it. Wealth is not in how much you have, but in how much you appreciate what you have. And contentment is not in having more, but in wanting less.