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About this series
I Choose Peace
How to Quiet Your Heart in the Chaos of Life
Why is it that as soon as we get that house, that job, that car, that, "you-fill-in-the-blank," the shine wears off so quickly - the horizon just keeps moving, and we never really experience peace? In this series, Chip unmasks a vicious opponent that's constantly poised to steal our peace and create an all-consuming discontent. If you’re ready for a spiritual journey of adventure and an intimacy with God like you’ve never known before, this series, from Philippians, Chapter 4, is the road map you're looking for.More from this series
Webster, if you’re wondering exactly what contentment is, says that contentment is “happy enough with what one has or is; not desiring something more or different.” In other words, you’re satisfied. When you’re content, it’s not just you’re happy with what you have; you – you’re happy with who you are. You wouldn’t want to be three inches taller or seven inches shorter or . . . You know? You’re content. You would say, “It’s enough; it’s good.” And I want you to think back to what is it you believe would really help you be content, and the clearer that you can get on that, I believe, the more powerfully God is going to speak to you.
‘Cause in human terms, the problem with contentment is that the horizon is always moving. There’s a time in your life when you say, “If I ever get a car, any kind of car, a beat-up junker, just a car, that I’d be happy.” You know, then you get that car and you want one that really runs, and then you get that car, and then pretty soon, you want one that it runs and looks nice, and you get that car. And pretty soon, now you want two cars, and . . .
You know? It goes on and on and on and on. The horizon always keeps moving. “If I ever get married, God, I’d never ask for another thing.” Three years later, “Oh, God, if You could ever work out this marriage, I’d never ask for another thing!” “God, if You’d give me – give us a child! Oh, Lord, how did You bring that last one?” You know. The horizon keeps moving.
And so, being human nature what it is, philosophically, people over the ages have tried to solve this contentment issue in – in two drastic ways. One group has taken that contentment will be found by conquering, achieving, acquiring until satisfied. That was the Roman Empire: You know what? We got part of the world; we’re going to get the whole world.
We’re going to own, acquire, have, get, bigger, better, more, and then as soon as we get that, there’s got to be just a little bit more, and when we do, then we’ll be content.
But we know, from our personal experience, that that doesn’t work. Sure, it’s nice to have nice stuff, it’s nice to have a better job than the one you used to have, et cetera, et cetera, but that horizon keeps moving. And it’s kind of a funny thing: You think to yourself, I liked this watch until we went to the mall yesterday. I mean, this was a great watch – you know? You – hypothetically? And then you walk by and you see Bulova, Rolex. Oh, I guess it’s an okay watch. And so no matter but if I turned this one in and got another one, I could go to the mall next week, couldn’t I? And have the exact same problem.
And so, in philosophic thought, one group of people thought, that’s not the way to go. It’s not about getting, getting, acquiring, and having, because there’s no end to it. A group called the Stoics turned it around and said, “We’re going to desire less and less, until it doesn’t matter.” In fact, Eastern and Buddhist thought goes along these lines: I want less, less, less, less.
And so, the Stoic philosophers got where they could emotionally detach. They would take a – a vase or a cup that they liked, and as a part of the process of their thinking, they would throw it to the ground, watch it break, and say, “It doesn’t matter.” And then they would literally allow – this is historical – they would get a pet that they were fond of and kill the pet, and then say, “It doesn’t matter.”
The only way to have peace is get less and less and less. And then when one of their children died or something happened, it would be . . . It can’t impact me. I like the quote of T.R. Glover, said, “The Stoics made the heart a desert and called it peace.”
And I don’t know about you, but we got a little problem here. If getting more, more, more, more can never bring contentment, and if desiring less, less, less, then the question is, how can we be satisfied today?
And the answer to that is from the apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and he’s going to tell you, and he’s going to tell me, how you actually can be content, not when this, this, th – You can be content today. You can actually live your life in a way, empowered by the Spirit of God, so that when things are great or when things are terrible, you can say, and mean it, “It is well with my soul.” And you’re going to learn it today.
In fact, when I got thinking about this, we should have charged people to come in. It can have such a profound impact, in terms of the whole world’s looking for happiness, and today, God is going to teach us, His children, how you can experience a “it is well with your soul,” 24/7, 365, 24 hours a day.
Now, it’s a journey; it doesn’t happen all at once.
Well, let’s find out where that answer is found – Philippians chapter 4, 10 to 13.
If you have your Bible, you can track along with me, but I put the text in, so we could be in the same translation.
Here’s the occasion: The – the occasion is the apostle Paul is in prison. So, you’ve got to remember he’s writing a letter, and this church – the Philippian church – they’ve got this great relationship, and the theme of this whole letter that he writes to them is about joy, and it started in such a way where there are not a lot of problems in this church, maybe one little relational problem toward the end, but . . .
But he – he’s built this bond with them, and things have gone a little bit south for him. He’s ended up in jail; he’s in a Roman prison. And I’m not exactly sure what all that, but I know that every four to six hours, a new guard is chained to him. The food is not real good. He’s got scars on his body. He’s had a very difficult life. This is toward the latter parts of his life. So you’ve got bad food, it’s cold, it’s damp, there are rats, there’s probably the smell of excrement. I mean, his situation is really bad.
But Epaphroditus, one of the church guys, found out, finally – ‘cause they’d lost track of one another – where he was, and they came and brought him a gift. And what you’re going to read is his literal thank-you note. He’s just writing a thank-you note. So listen to what he says in verse 10. He says, “I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.”
And circle the word renewed. This word, renewed, is used for when a flower or a plant that has been dormant is now beginning to bloom.
And the apostle Paul is saying, “We had those great times together, and God birthed the Church, and we were that band of brothers and sisters, and then I ended up in prison. We lost track of one another. I knew you cared about me, but now you have opportunity –” And it’s like the relationship has bloomed again.
And notice the phrase: “I greatly rejoice… I’m happy! I’m sitting in this prison, but I greatly rejoice in the Lord.”
And then, notice he’s going to clarify his motives, ‘cause I don’t know about you, sometimes if you’ve helped someone – this is the only church we know of, early on, that financially supported Paul. It was the first one. And so he wants them to know – now, this is not, one of those thank-you letters, “Thank you for this great contribution to the ministry. Now, let me tell you how much money I need next.” He says, “My motives are just from the heart.”
Picking it up in verse 11, he says, “I’m not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” He goes on to say, “I know what it is to be in need . . . I know what it is to have plenty. 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.”
Now, would you go through and take the word learned and put a box around it, and then skip down where he says, “I’ve learned,” again. It’s very interesting. This isn’t a tense of the verb – it’s not present tense, “I am learning to be content.” This is a tense of the verb that’s punctiliar, seeing something. He basically is saying, “In this journey with God, I’ve had mountain peaks and low times. I remember when I had a lot; I was a young man.”
Some say he may have been the most brilliant mind of his time. He got his MBA and his doctorate at Harvard Business School of his day and graduated number one. He was a Pharisee. He came from an upper-crust family. He was a Roman citizen. He was from this place called Tarsus.
Barnabas, early friend, was very, very wealthy. He knows what it’s like to drive the nicest cars, have the nicest clothes, be esteemed by people, live in a nice house, go to any restaurant whenever, and have a fat 401(k). He knows what that life’s like.
But he says, “I’ve had plenty,” but he also says, “The ups, I’ve also had downs, night and a day in the deep. I’ve been beat within an inch of my life” – the 39 lashes – “three times. I’ve been left for dead once.” In this current situation, one of his closest friend named Demas betrayed him and left. He’s by himself. His body is marked with the scars. He’s had times where he has had no food for days at a time.
He’s lived as high as you can live in his day, and he’s lived as low as you can live. And in the ups and downs, there’s a thread that connects all of them, and it’s a supernatural relationship with Jesus.
And he says – he looks at that whole thing, and he says, like he’s taking a photograph – snap – “I have learned.” Now, this is – this is what he’s saying – like, I learned to ride a bike, okay? I’m not learning to ride a bike.
If you put a bike up here, trust me, I can get on it and I can ride it. I can get better, but I have learned to ride a bike. You know what he’s saying here? “I’ve learned to be content,” which means it’s possible.
“I’ve learned to have a ton of money in the bank, to go to the finest restaurants, have everything going my way, and I’ve learned, when my physical body didn’t work, when my closest friends betrayed me, when people walked out on my life, and when it seemed like things could not have been any worse, I have learned already, out of my relationship with Christ, to say and to actually experience, ‘It’s well with my soul.’ No fake, no artificial...”
And then in verse 13, he tells us how it occurs. He says, “I [actually] can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.”
So, this is by way of an overview of what’s happening, and by way of conclusion, contentment is not a thing to be achieved but a secret to be discovered. As we’re here today, you can actually discover a secret. There is a way – he said, “I’ve learned the secret,” and he says, “I’ve got it! I am content.” It’s not something to be achieved; there is a pattern of things that you can learn, that you could walk out that door or one of those doors out of here, and you could start a journey, and you could come to the point in this life that, regardless of your circumstances, you could be fully satisfied, content, not want for anything else and be satisfied and content with who you are, where you are, what you’re doing.
And this word means – the word content means “self-sufficiency.” This is not the removal of – I love what one commentator says: “He learned the secret of deep peace based on detachment from his outward circumstances.” And then he goes on to say, “This is not a fatalism which cuts the nerve of ambition or smoothes endeavors. No, it is a detachment from anxious concern about the outward features of this life.” This kind of contentment doesn’t mean you – “Well, I’m going to lay back on the couch and –” This is pressing on, being all you want to be. And in the midst of the ups and downs of life - a veritable peace in your heart, a satisfaction that’s supernatural.
And the question I want to ask is, how do you get that? Paul knew it was a moving target. Paul knew from his experience that getting more and more and more wouldn’t do it. Paul knew – the philosophers of his day – there were multiple Stoics. He knew pretending that relationships don’t matter and saying, “Less and less,” isn’t it. And the apostle Paul is gonna say, “I’m going to share the secret. I will show you, in this text,” he’s saying to us, “how you can be content.” So let’s dig in.
Four principles and four practices. Okay, this isn’t idealistic. This isn’t, one of those messages, somewhere, someday. He’s going to walk you through and walk me through four specific practices that there’s a principle behind them, that if you understand the principle and start to progressively begin to practice it, you can come to a day in your life where you could say, “I’ve learned to be content.” Just like you can say, “I can ride a bike,” just like you can say, “I’ve mastered this or that,” you can learn to be content. That’s pretty exciting. The question is – how?
Contrary to the lie that I’ll be content when my circumstances align with my desires, the first secret of contentment is learning our contentment –
principle number one – is not dependent on our circumstances. See, unconsciously, what you’ve been taught, what I’ve been taught, what the world teaches us, what each commercial says is, here are your circumstances over here, and here are your desires. Someday, some way, through lots of things, when your circumstances and desires align, then you can be happy, then you can be satisfied.
I call it the “when/then” syndrome. Here’s the when: When I get married, then I’ll be happy. When I have a great job, then I’ll be happy. When my marriage is on all cylinders, then I’ll be happy. When we have a child, when we have more money, when we have a second house, when we remodel the bathroom, when I make the cheerleading squad, when I finally score this on the SAT, when I get into this college, when, when, when, then, then, then, then! It’s a lie.
The people that have the “then” are not happy. And yet we, like cats chasing their tail, just increase the speed of the “when/then” mentality. Paul says the answer is to break the power of this lie, and he gives us the practice: Be grateful. Be grateful. Be thankful. Put another way, develop the discipline of thanking God for what you do have instead of focusing on what you don’t have.
You understand that billions of dollars each year coming across the screen, in every magazine ad are designed specifically to make you - what? Discontent. In other words, that set of cloths will make you . . . So, I gotta go get that. This food will make you . . . This drink will make you . . . This job will make you . . . This surgery will make you . . . This diet will make you . . . When/then, when/then.
Paul says human nature, as we focus on what we don’t have, don’t have, don’t have – he says, “Here’s what I’ve learned: I habitually, relentlessly, obediently thank God, moment for moment, for what I do have.”
And this is not a nice suggestion, you know, the power of positive thinking. Jot down, if you will, 1 Thessalonians 5, verses 16 through 18. Sixteen says, “Rejoice always.” Seventeen says, “Pray without ceasing.” Eighteen says, “… giving thanks in all things, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” The giving of thanks in all things, and for all things, it’s God’s will.
Let me give you a picture. By the way, Christian or not – you can be a Christian and be a very ungrateful, crumbling person, and it can be very, very subtle and destroy your contentment.
I married a wonderful, wonderful woman named Theresa, and we had no premarital counseling, and she loved God and I loved God, and within six months, we were in seminary. And everything about her was – she’s east, I’m west; north – I’m south. We don’t – we only have to take one test on all those inventories. Whoever takes the test, then whatever that person is you just put the exact opposite, and that’s what you are. Saves a lot of time. And so differences attract – like two magnets, it was, like, Woom! Oh, man, this is awesome!
But about nine months into our marriage, or a year, year and a half, as we kept going, those opposites - she was very, very faithful; now she’s rigid. She has great integrity; now she’s just picky over little things. And so, I had a list, after about six or eight months in our marriage.
I’m thinking, “This is a good marriage, but . . .” I focused on the five percent. I just unconsciously said, There are five or six things that she can improve, and when she improves, we’ll have a great marriage.
So, I started the self-help program of how to make Theresa who she needs to be. You know, if she was a little more that way, a little more that way, a lot less that way, if she would do this, stop doing this, this is going to be great.
So – it’s a project, gotta do what you’re supposed to do.
So I decided to focus on those areas she needed to develop. Now, a lot of times I never said anything, but this is what’s going through my mind. And it comes out in my habits. And pretty soon, we’re – you know what? We really love each other, we really love God, and I’m in seminary preparing for ministry, and we’re making each other nuts.
And I got to tell you something: Not only did God provide some wise pastoral counseling – and we went to some counseling and worked through some of our baggage and we learned all that – but I’ll tell you, at the heart of it – and I still do it, you know. Almost, I don’t know, 27, 30 years later, I still do it. I begin the process of being grateful and thanking God for what I did have in my wife and stop focusing on the five percent that I didn’t have.
It’ll change your world. To this day, I’ll still go out to a coffee shop, and sometimes – just when I’m struggling emotionally – and every – everyone does, and you have these little, kind of, distances in your marriage – I will often get out a napkin and start writing down, “She is faithful. She’s an awesome mom. Man, she prays for me. She is beautiful.”
And I’ll just write down all the things, and I’ll thank God, thank God, thank God, thank God. You know what happens? My emotions change. And when my emotions change, I treat her differently, and when I treat her differently, that five percent keeps shrinking.
What’s your situation? What relationship, what issue in your life are you constantly focusing on what you don’t have, instead of thanking God for what you do have? The apostle Paul says if you want to experience contentment – it is well with your soul – practice number one: Be grateful.
The second secret to contentment dispels the myth that contentment is a future event. Somehow, in America and – and multiple places around the world, we think there’s some future event – not just a when/then, but it’s like there’s a lotto out there. The lotto might be a person, the lotto might be the actual Lotto and I’m going to get 35 billion zillion dollars, but there’s this event, and when it occurs, [gasps] “Ahhh!”
Notice what the apostle Paul says, principle number two: Contentment is an attitude we learn, not a thing that we achieve.
You say, “Well, where do you get that?” Well, look at verse 11: “I have learned.” Look at verse 12: “I have learned.” You might circle those, if you have it. Contentment is not out there, external. Contentment is God doing something in you, through you, so it’s in here. Epicurus said, “To him who little is not enough, nothing is enough.” The practice: Be teachable. Be teachable. If you really want to learn to ride the bicycle of contentment as a way of life, you learn to practice gratefulness, thankfulness, and then, be teachable. Ask God what He wants you to learn in your present circumstance, instead of telling God what you want Him to change.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if we put a little recorder under your pillow or someplace where you pray – if you pray out loud – where we could record your mind and we could listen to your prayers? My prayers? I wonder how many of our prayers are totally about, “God, I want You to change my boss, I want You to change my wife, I want You to – actually, I’d like to change something, ‘cause I don’t have a wife. Uh, I want You to change this; I want You to change that. I want You to change this about me; I want You to change this about that.
God, here’s Your agenda. I know You’re the great self-help genie and Your whole goal at being the Creator of all that there is, is to make me happy, fulfilled, warm, and fuzzy every day and every way, so here’s my list. Take care of it, will You?” See, unconsciously, that’s the lie we’ve believed.
People that are content first say, “Thank You, Lord.” Not pie in the sky, “Thank You, God. It’s hard, it’s difficult, I don’t like it, but I choose to say thank You.” And then they’re teachable: “God, because of these circumstances, what do You want to teach me? Instead of asking You to do something out there, what is it You want me to learn?”
I’ve got a good friend, and we have some similarities. He’s kind of an intense guy, and he has a lot of responsibility in his job, and he’s stuck. Some of you are stuck in your marriage, some are stuck in your jobs, some are stuck with your parents, some are stuck at school, but you know what it’s like when you’re trying, trying, trying, trying, trying – bam! And no matter what you do, you can’t break through. And you’re just bummed out, and you say, “Unless this changes, unless this changes, unle –” That’s where he’s at. He’s tried everything. He’s got a lot of wherewithal to make things – he can’t make it . . .
And he sat down and he said, “You know something?” Said, “God spoke to me.” Pulled out this pen and – we were meeting the other morning, having a little coffee. Said, “You know what I did?” He said, “You know what? God, I can’t change that. I’ve done all that I can.” And he took out a pen and then he wrote – he said, “Okay, here’s what I did. I wrote down God, family, me,” and then he put lines through them like this, then he put a line underneath.
He said, “Now, in my heart, what I – what I say is that it’s God first, family, then me.” And he said, “I looked at that, and I did a little P&L. You know, I kind of did a little inventory and said, is God really first in my life? In other words, I can’t change; I’m stuck. I’ve hit this thing that I can’t move, and so I’m saying, ‘Okay, God, You can move it.’ So, if it’s not moving, maybe You want to teach me something. What do You want to teach me about my relationship with You, about my family, and about me?”
And he said, “I literally wrote down where I thought I was at.” And he said, “I have the saying ‘God’s first,’ but I looked at all my activities and my energy – a lot more me than God. I was saying, ‘Oh, honey, family, you’re really what matters,’ but when I looked at my life . . .” And then he just told me, “You know, I reorganized, reprioritized, and I moved some things to say, ‘Okay, I want to learn. I want to learn.’”
See the difference? God’s number one agenda, His number one priority – this is going to be hard to take – it’s not to make you happy. It’s not so you’ll be self-actualized, at the top pinnacle of Maslow’s Hierarchy. It’s not so you’ll be fulfilled and everything’ll go your way, every day and every way.
His primary agenda in your life is to make you like His Son, to use the ups of His blessing and the struggles and the down of a fallen world, to take the thread of a vital relationship with Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, rooted in His Word, in authentic community, to little by little by little make you more and more like Jesus, so there’s a mom in the house that thinks and talks and serves like Jesus, so there’s a dad who talks and thinks and lives…
So, there are kids in the house, so that you go to work and people don’t understand how this attitude, that is amazing, can be tied to the injustice you’re getting at work, how this attitude and response is tied to a very frustrating marriage, how this attitude that you have with regard to your life can happen when I know how much you got hurt by the market’s last dip.
See, that’s what God’s about. And you can be content in the ups and the downs when you say, “Lord, I’m going to choose to thank You for what I do have, not spend all my time focusing on what I don’t. Then I’m going to step back and say, ‘Lord, I – I don’t know the agenda for the world, but I know Your agenda for me. What do You want me to learn? What do You want me to learn? Because I can’t – I can’t change her. I can’t change him.
I can’t get inside this kid’s head and – and rescrew things so that they’ll respond in a way . . . You know what? My boss looks like he’s going to be here for a while. This economy’s not going to change… you know? I’m stuck, so . . .” Be teachable.
The third principle that Paul gives us: The secret of contentment challenges our basic American value that more is better. And Paul says, first, our contentment, it’s not based on your circumstances; second, it’s an attitude you learn, not a thing you achieve; and now he says prosperity does not have the power to give us contentment, nor poverty the power to take it away.
Notice, he illustrates that in verse 12. He said, “I have had a lot; I’ve had nothing.” He uses the word plenty, and he talks about – it’s literally what they would do with cattle or livestock that was fat, fattened. He said, “I’ve lived in the lap of luxury; it can’t deliver.
And I’ve been where I didn’t know if they were going to pull me out of the ocean and proverbially, I’ve been on the other end of biopsy reports, when – either for me or someone I loved desperately, it comes up with a big capital ‘C,’ called cancer, and I don’t know how I’m going to make it without this person, or I don’t know what my family or friends are going to do if I leave prematurely.”
Paul’s saying, in both those things, prosperity is unable to deliver contentment, and poverty doesn’t have the power to take it away.
And so notice his practice here is, be flexible. Be flexible. See, it’s one thing to be grateful; it’s another thing to say, “Oh, God, teach me. I want to learn.” Well, once God shows you, knowing what you’re to do, and doing it, are two different things, aren’t they? Saying, “Oh, God, I want to be teachable. Oh, thank You for showing me that.” Being flexible is – change! Ask God, not just, “What do You want me to learn?” Then go to the next step, like my friend: “What do You want me to change?”
This guy sat down at the table, he took his priorities and he went shoom! He told me, “I’ve got one of the biggest presentations to these big corporations that I’ve got to make, and there’s a lot riding on it.” And he said, “My wife wanted to go out and have some fun, and it was like, oh, there’s no . . .” And he said, “Oh, wait a second, okay? I said, ‘God… her . . .’” He said, “So I did it. Then I got up in the wee hours of the morning, and I had this much work to do, and I had about two hours to do it, and I said, ‘God, You got to show up.’” And then he talked about how God did and how the presentation went better than if he had 10 or 12 hours.
See, you got to be flexible. You gotta say, “God, I’m grateful.” You gotta say, “God, I’m teachable.” Then you say, “God, how do You want to change me? What’s the next step to whatever You want to do to make me more like Your Son?” But you gotta push away from the lie that prosperity will deliver it.
Had a young guy named Todd, worked in Santa Cruz. And, you know, I’m just one of those weird people that, you know how the world works, my body clock is just the opposite. So, when you’re just getting fired up and thinking it’s going to be a great night, I’m going to bed. And while you’re sleeping, I’m working. It’s just how God made me. And the problem is finding a good place to work in the wee hours of the morning.
And in Santa Cruz, I found this little coffee shop – because they cook donuts and bagels all night, so they open by about 4:00, and then a little Cambodian lady became a good friend - she made the kind of coffee I like. And so I would go in there, and then, you know, by 4:30, 5:00, a couple of guys would come, and they’d be doing some studying, and you realize they’re probably as weird as you are, and so maybe we could become friends.
And so we did, and this one guy was always doing some work, and eventually, we got to know one another. And Todd ended up coming to the church and got involved, and he came out to work at a Christian camp as a volunteer at, basically, minimum wage. And he was working on something.
I said, “What are you doing?” He said, “Oh, I’m – I’m finishing up a book,” and then I later saw the book, called True Riches. And I said, “Well, what’s the book about?” He said, “Well, here, you can have a copy.” And I just read the back: “Todd Sinelli, a graduate MBA, Wharton Finance, da-da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da, da-da-da.” I mean, he had every business thing you could ever get.
At 23 years old – I don’t suggest anyone do this – he had three credit cards. He got as much cash out of each one – got a thousand dollars out of them, had a three thousand-dollar stake, went on the trading floor in Chicago, became friends with the big guru of trading who was in Chicago at the time, went into the pit. At 23, he’s dead broke, borrowing off his credit cards. At 24, he’s a millionaire. At 25, he’s a multi, multi, multi millionaire – 25 years old. He’s taking the vacations to Tahiti, he can do anything, any time, and he – he’s a believer. And everything the world has to offer has been in his lap.
At 26, he’s dead broke. At 27, he earns it all back again, and now he has it all back again, and he says, “God wanted to teach me something. Anything I wanted in this world I could get.” And he said, “Do you understand how scary and shocking it is to know Christ and Christ alone can only deliver, but unconsciously, you do believe these other things? So, I had anything that I wanted,” and he said, “I went into the deepest depression I’ve ever had. And so, I came here to serve people, and I wanted to do it at minimum wage, because I want to be content.”
And you know, how many of us who know Christ, whose Spirit lives in our hearts and lives, who say we believe what this Book says, if the truth were known and the smoke were pulled back, we really – our lives reflect it’s, “I gotta get that SAT score, and when I make that squad and when I’m first team, and when I get the corporate ladder, and when I get this house, then we get the other house, and if we can position this, this way, and you know what? You know what? That is a lousy watch compared to that one that I really want. I got a picture on the refrigerator of that Porsche, and someday, some way, I’m going to get that, and . . .” unconsciously’d bought the lie that prosperity can deliver. And Paul says it can’t. But you gotta be a radical Christian to believe that, don’t you?
But he says not only that it can’t, but he turns it around and says, “Poverty – poverty doesn’t have the power to take it away. I’ve been in need. I’ve had times when I have nothing.” And I’ll never forget the time that I was in the Philippines, and it’s the classic picture. And I was involved in a basketball team that was sharing Christ and had a good friend, who’s a missionary, and he knows a little Filipino guy – our hearts bonded – named Alex. And Alex was married, and he was probably early 30s at the time, and Manila, it’s a crazy, crazy... No rules, no anything.
So, I get on the back of his motorcycle, and he wants to show me his home. And he’s just so proud. He says, “Chip, you’ve got to come to my home, and you’ve got to see it.” And I said, “Okay.” And so we’re driving in and out of traffic, and I’m praying, Lord Jesus, that I might see my wife and children again. You know?
And so Tom says, “Now, he lives in the slums.” And you don’t know what slums are until you go to these kind of countries. And so we pull up, and there’s a hill, and as far as the eye can see, there are cardboard shacks against one another.
And then the upper-level, middle class has a few wooden crates along with the cardboard, and then the elite areas, they have a little corrugated tin roof on top – it would help for the rain. And as far as the eye could see, there’s no plumbing, there’s no – thousands and thousands of people.
And Alex, because of Tom’s connections, Tom figured out there was one light pole, and he had a wire that went about a hundred yards, and one person, out of all these thousands of people, had a little wire that went through the top of his, and had one little light bulb. And Alex would open his home and read the Scriptures at night, because he’s the only one that had light.
And he came in, and we walked through this maze of people and poverty, and you know, it’s like watching one of those World Vision commercials on TV, and my heart’s going out. And Alex’s chest has kind of – and I went into about a nine-by-six room, and then he had dug out - it was a dirt floor (a three-by-six area) where he cooked. And he looked at me and he said, “This is my home. This is my wife” – and she had number three on the way – “and these are my little boys, and Chip, I’m so glad you would come to my home.”
And you know what? I’m telling you, you’d think he owned the Taj Mahal. See, poverty doesn’t have the power.
And then I said, “Well, Alex, where do you sleep?” And he had a little cot that was at about two and a half by about four and a half or five feet. And he looked at me like, Where do we sleep? I mean, we have a king-size bed. Look – look at this! He says, “Chip, you see, instead of being on the dirt, I curl my body this way, my wife curls her body this way, and we put our two boys in the middle. And that’s where we cook.” In other words, “We’re a two-level house, and we have a light bulb. Isn’t God good?”
Paul says you can learn to be content and come to a point in your life, where you can say, “I know how to ride a bike. I know how to hit a golf ball.” Can I get better? Sure. But he says if you will practice being grateful, if you will be teachable and say, “God, what do You want to teach me?” and if you will be flexible and say, “Instead of changing that out there, show me anything in my life or relationships You want me to change,” he said you’ll be about 75 percent of being there, 24/7, 365, 24 hours a day of having a soul and a heart that is content as though you had millions of dollars in the bank, every relationship was intact, and life could be not more wonderful, because those things can’t deliver it.
The final thing he says to you and me is the principle number four, that only Christ has the power to give us contentment that transcends all life’s variables. Only Christ. Even among us, as believers, the lie is that contentment can be found apart from God.
Now, that’s what unbelievers think: I mean, “I’m going to get this car, this house, this relationship, this jewelry, this fame, this success,” and everyone has a unconscious or conscious little box, and they drive toward it.
And the problem is, it’s kind of like this rainbow that we have, and there’s a golden pot at the end, and we work and work and work and work and work and work and work – zzzzzz – and we finally get on top, and we slide into the golden pot. [Gasps]
And maybe it’s fame or maybe it’s success or maybe it’s that perfect little house or maybe it’s the financial success, or maybe we finally get to make our first CD, or maybe we’re an artist or maybe our family is ooey-gooey and we’re sitting around the table, singing “Kumbaya,” and I – I have this little picture. But then, when you get it, you realize it doesn’t deliver. It’s an empty bucket.
You’ve given your life, your time, your energy, your focus… many people come to Christ after extraordinary success and realize it is empty. Others come to Christ out of extraordinary pain. But both have come to the point of their need. And my observation is, what the world’s system really is, is that’s how unbelievers think, and what happens to me – and I think what happens to a lot of you – is, I know that’s wrong and that’s not really true.
And what I say is, it’s Jesus plus a great family. It’s Jesus plus a great body. It’s Jesus plus a good job. It’s Jesus plus . . . But it’s that “plus” that always gets me in trouble, and I say to Jesus, “When You can deliver the plus, then I’ll be satisfied, happy, fulfilled,” and so I have made a spiritual version of the when/then syndrome, and the enemy has fed me a lie, and I end up as empty – almost – as those without Christ.
And the energy and the skills and the money and the resources and the gifts that God gave me to do something great with my life very subtly got turned inward, and I spent it all about chasing something that doesn’t exist, only to come up empty.
The fastest-growing profession in Christendom in the last 30 years is Christian counseling. We have never had more Christians with more problems. And by the way, I’m glad we have them. I’ve been there. I’ve done that, and it helped.
And so the final practice is to understand: only Christ can give what transcends all circumstances, so be confident.
The secret of success – how is it that you can be grateful? How is it that you can be teachable? How is it that you can say, “I’ll change anything”? ‘Cause you say to yourself, “I’ve tried to change before, and I can’t!”
Well, Paul says here’s the key: “I can do all things through Him who gives me the strength…” moment by moment, relationship by relationship, decision by decision, painful disappointment through painful disappointment, to fulfill everything He wants me to do. I can have confidence.
But the confidence occurs not theoretically laying on the couch, going, “Someday, some way, I might try that.” The confidence comes by faith, when, “Thank You, Lord, for what I do have.
Oh, God . . . Okay, I realize I’m teachable. I’m an arrogant person. I’m not sticking-out-my-chest arrogant, but I – somehow got my whole life revolved around me. You want me to change, put other people first.
Well, I’m going to put other people first, but don’t You understand, that’s going to impact my income? I might have to sell this or do that or . . . Yeah, You want me to become a servant to these relationships, when I thought they were all to make me happy. That’s going to be – I can’t do that!”
“Be confident. Come to Me with a humble heart, in the ups, ‘Thank You,’ in the downs, ‘Thank You. What do You want me to learn? How do You want me to change?’ And then you take the power of My Word, energized by the Holy Spirit, in the context of genuine, authentic, loving, community relationships, and I guarantee you, I will give you whatever you need – not for tomorrow, not for next week, not to solve all the problems – I’ll give you whatever you need to have a quiet heart that is completely at peace, and the strength to allow My Son, through the power of the Spirit, to give you the response, the reaction, the courage, the faith… whatever you need, I will give you, because you’re My child. I love you. Trust Me.”
I received a letter yesterday. I went into the office to clean some things up, and I received this letter. A guy writes, “Hi, Chip, Thanks so much for a couple of things that I think were very helpful.”
And then out of the blue, it says, “It seems like recently I keep running into people who follow the kind of thinking that if they can only perform at a high enough level, if they can only gain enough applause or admiration of men and women around them, that their life will then have meaning.”
He says, “In the past year, it seems I’ve spoken to so many people in these situations, and I’ve seen it in my own life. But that doesn’t do it. People put everything onto being on the cheerleading squad or working their way up the top of the corporate ladder or making the Dean’s List or wearing a Super Bowl ring. You know, becoming a major player in the political realm. They spend every ounce of time and energy on these earthly goals, convinced that they’re going to achieve them and they’ll finally obtain self-esteem and the confidence and the peace they desperately want. But it seems to me when they reach the pinnacle of what they thought would be successful, the sense of self-worth and contentment they long for is conspicuously absent. And the reason I think it is, is that their goals were centered on what other people think, rather than on what God thinks.”
And he closes with this: He says, “I remember a sports writer named Gary Smith once interviewed boxing legend Muhammad Ali, and the interview was conducted at the fighter’s farmhouse. And during the time together, Ali took Smith on a tour of his estate. And then he was led into the barn, and the writer saw all of Muhammad Ali’s trophies, ribbons, and awards on the shelf, collecting dust, some of them even spattered with pigeon droppings – Golden Gloves, Olympic gold, World Champion. As they surveyed all the boxing memorabilia getting ruined, Muhammad Ali said something very quietly to Smith. He spoke so softly, in fact, that the writer had to ask him to repeat what he had said. With his lips barely moving” – and if you’ve seen Ali talk, now, because of some of the damage – “the words seemed to come from the very back of the champ’s throat, and he said, ‘I had the world! I had all the world! And it was nothing. It was nothing.’” What do you have? What are you aiming for? What would it look like for you to be grateful, to be teachable, to be flexible, and to be confident that God could give you whatever you want, and that months, years after a period of time, circumstances would no longer have the power to touch you?