This is the final sermon in our current series, “Do You See What I See”
Listen to Audio:
This is the sixth article in our series:
“Do You See What I See?”
Have you ever set goals for yourself and come up short? Maybe you wanted that promotion or partnership, or perhaps you had an exercise goal. Maybe you wanted to run a marathon, but age and injury stopped you. Perhaps you started a business or organization, but it never reached the level you had in mind.
This year I set a goal for myself to become a “master” angler. That means that you have to catch four different trophy-sized fish during the same calendar year.
My son Josh and I, along with other friends and family, went fishing throughout the spring, summer and fall. I was able to catch three trophy fish: an 11-inch bluegill, a 24-inch striped bass, and a 40-inch channel catfish. As winter set in I needed one more trophy fish to reach my goal, but time was running out.
The question I have as we close out our series, “Do You See What I See” is, can you find contentment when things don’t go the way you planned? Contentment is one of the most challenging spiritual virtues to reach. Over 300 years ago, Jeremiah Burroughs called Christian contentment a “rare jewel”. It still is today.
Contented Christians trust and rest in the sovereignty of God. They are willing to be used by God as He chooses. The hard thing for us is that we live in a world that makes contentment so difficult. Our culture breeds discontentment. Think about it. If you’re happy, if you’re content, you don’t need what they’re selling. You know what I’m talking about. The message that you need more stuff, less wrinkles, better vacations, and fewer challenges. Add to that our sinful nature and we wallow in discontentment. Most people are not content with their jobs, marriages, churches, homes, actually in most areas of their lives. So, how do you find contentment in a culture designed to keep you discontent?
Let’s return to my fishing quest. Time was running out for me to catch the trophy bass that would put me over the top. I had a few more days left in 2019 and still had hopes of reaching my goal. I mapped out a few ponds that I knew had some big bass and set out. The question was would I catch the bass, or would I fall short?
And more than that, would I be content in the end no matter what the outcome.
The good news is that scripture teaches us, not only that we must be content, but that we can be content no matter what the outcome of our personal goals. Hebrews 13:5 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.” This is the point that Paul makes in Philippians 4:11-13, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and 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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Twice in this passage, Paul says that he has “learned” to be content. Apparently, contentment doesn’t come naturally to our sinful nature. We need to draw on the power of Christ to change our thought pattern. But we also have the personal responsibility to learn contentment. Paul refers to it as the “secret” of finding contentment. Like I said, contentment does not come naturally and it’s contrary to our way of thinking.
Let me give you an example. Our culture teaches that the way to achieve contentment in life is to avoid difficult situations. Things that may cause hardship or are not personally fulfilling. But Paul says he’s learned to be content in good situations and in bad. The world tells us that more is better, newer is better, the grass will be greener if we get the next upgrade. (Side note: Paul is not opposed to wealth only the idea that we need it to be content.)
Paul says he’s learned to be content both when he has much and when he has little. We need to ask ourselves, is it the journey to our goal that matters, or will we only find contentment when we get what we think we want?
My goal was a 21inch bass. But is it the journey or the result that brings the joy? What if I spend a year trying, only to fall short? What about you? Are you going to live in a constant state of discontentment until you get the job, reach the top, or fulfill the dream?
Ok, now I’m going to throw in a twist to our secret. Paul is saying that for us to find true contentment, we also need to be discontent. Christians should be the most contented people in the world, and at the same time the most unsatisfied people in the world.
To help you understand we need to go back and look at Philippians 3:12-14, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting the past and straining toward the future, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
The discontentment of chapter 3 is necessary for us to find the true contentment of chapter 4:
To find true contentment we need to have a passion for holiness.
We need to set spiritual goals and strive to achieve them.
We need to try and take hold of that for which Christ took hold of us.
To understand what Paul means in chapter 3:12, when he says that he has not “obtained this”, we need to look back to verse 10: “that I may know [Christ] and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” Here it is. This is the key. The contented Christian is the one who knows Christ but passionately pursues knowing Him even more.
To know Him more we need to study His Word and spend time with Him. We need to invest our lives in the things that matter to Him. Paul wants to know the power of Christ that comes from sacrificing for others and dying to self. Paul says, in doing so we become like Christ in His death.
Paul knows that becoming like Christ is not a moment to achieve, but rather a goal to pursue. This is the secret of contentment….to know Christ and to press on to know Him even more in every area of our lives. When we know Him and love Him, and continue to press forward in that knowledge, we become like Him. And when we become like Him, we seek the things that He seeks. We love the things that He loves, we focus on the things that matter to Him. We care less about our own agenda and become content about His.
And when we start to think that this is beyond our ability, like Paul, we remember that “We can do all things through Christ.” As I became more confident, I began thinking more about the bass. I wrote this sermon just before I went fishing this week. God gave me some perfect, 60-degree, December days. So, I set out to reach a big goal…catching a big bass that would help me reach my goal of four trophy-sized fish.
I was thinking about what it would feel like to catch it and get the master angler patch. I prayed I would catch it. I had others pray I would catch it, I studied up on winter bass fishing…types of baits, behavior of bass in cold water etc. Then I started thinking about this year. All the fun I had fishing with Josh, my grandkids, family and my friends. All the excitement of catching some nice fish. The luck of hooking a striped bass when I was fishing for catfish in the Ohio River.
I thought about how content I’ll be either way. Life is about who you are, not what you accomplish. It’s about being, not doing. After all, we should trust and enjoy God in every moment. We should learn lessons – some good, some challenging –that we can use to impact the lives of others. But the journey should be the goal.
We should become more like Him in terms of how he confronted the many disappointments in America. I had so much fun just thinking about this post and the possible outcomes while I was writing it last Sunday. I thought about what you might learn from it and how it could touch your life.
In the end, it really doesn’t matter whether I caught the bass or not, but I’m going to tell you anyway. I caught a nice one, but it came up 3 inches short. But you know the old saying that says that there are plenty of fish in the sea? Well, there are also other types of fish in the pond, so much so that while I was fishing for a bass, I ended up catching a large carp that put me over the top. So, as 2019 came to a stop, my patience for a solution was finally rewarded. God works in mysterious ways.