Ask an average group of people what it would take, financially or materially, for them to feel content and you are likely to get a wide range of answers. Some would probably indicate a salary figure or set of material assets that is somewhat beyond their current reality. Bigger house, larger paycheck, better benefits = contentment. Others might talk in terms of paying off debt or having a steady job. Still others might be in a place where they are able to say, “I am content. I want for nothing.” The point is that financial contentment is a very subjective thing, often defined by personal circumstances and histories.
When my wife and I were first married we were poor college students. I was so anxious about money – running out or not having enough – that I wrote down every (and I mean every) penny we spent. There was a Coke machine outside the door of our apartment and you could purchase a 12 oz. cola for 25¢. I wrote down every time we spent a quarter. Somehow (wonder how?) word got back to my mother-in-law about this and the next time she was by the apartment she brought a bag of quarters so her little girl could be free of the tyranny of a tight wad husband, and able to revel in the excess of diet coke.
Some habits die hard and some messages are imprinted from birth. I still have the expense ledger from our honeymoon, and Lori would probably tell you that while I’ve loosened up a little, the money miser DNA runs deep in my bloodline.
Our Sunday school class has been reading and discussing a book titled Enough. The premise of the book is that most all of us who live in America have more than enough, especially in comparison to the rest of the world. The author strives to make this point while encouraging the reader to audit their stuff, reassess their values, and perhaps adjust their living. We’ll see how that goes! It has sparked some good discussion.
I’ve discovered over the years that churches, like the people who make them up, have varied opinions as to what’s enough when it comes to their checking and savings accounts. One church I pastored felt it was wrong to carry too much in savings and so on occasion voted at their business meetings to give anything over that amount to missions. Another church I pastored was so stretched in building debt that it wasn’t uncommon for the diaconate to issue a spending freeze half-way through the year.
While serving in a regional judicatory role I learned that many of our smaller churches are operating with a margin that would make most individuals very uncomfortable if it were their personal books. I confess there have been times when I’ve wanted to say to the current church I pastor, “you should see how things are elsewhere! We really don’t have too much to be worried about.” (Guess I just did.)
Looking back on his own adventurous life; its ups and downs, challenges and victories; the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi: 12 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. – Philippians 4:12 (NIV)
That’s my definition of a non-anxious presence. What a statement to aspire to live toward – to be content in any and every situation. Just think what kind of witness that could be in our North American culture. What would the neighbors think? What about the relatives? Or those folks we don’t really know, but who are watching us – watching those who follow Christ to see if message matches living, to see if in Christ contentment is catching.