Day 15 Solomon: The Contentment Test
And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. The fool folds his hands and ruins himself. Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind. (Ecclesiastes 4:4-6)
As much as anyone who ever lived, King Solomon tried to fill his life with pleasure and excitement in an effort to find meaning in life. Whether Ecclesiastes was penned by Solomon or one of his students, the book is an account of his pursuits and the hard lessons he learned along the way. Some people read it as the complaint of a bitter old man. I don’t see it that way. I think the message of that little book is the distilled wisdom of an incredibly full life and a deep desire to warn the coming generations of the temptations that can so easily distract us from the true source of contentment.
What are the things people pursue today to give their lives meaning? Look around, listen to friends, look at ads, and you’ll find that there are many promises. Riches, beauty, extravagant vacations, palatial homes, sex, fame, and a host of other things are offered to us as the hope of the heart. Do they fill the gaping hole in our souls? Yes, for a brief moment, they give us exhilaration or pleasure or fleeting fame, but those things quickly fade. And when we feel empty again, how do we respond? We redouble our efforts to gain more riches, buy bigger homes, marry a sexier mate, and win even more approval from our peers—and the pace of the treadmill quickens. Solomon certainly tried all those things, but he found they couldn’t fulfill their promises. His conclusion was both realistic and hopeful: don’t expect those things to fill your life; follow God and enjoy every moment he gives you. That’s the source of genuine contentment, and that’s enough.
Today, we’re bombarded with messages that we should have a certain amount of money so we can be financially secure. Certainly, the godly principles of earning, saving, and giving are clearly outlined in the Bible, but many of us are consumed with dreams of big bank accounts. Ironically, many of the people with daydreams of wealth are saddled with oppressive levels of debt. The dream and reality crash together every time they have to pay the bills. Like every manmade thing, money can’t give us the ultimate contentment we long for. Solomon, the richest man in the world, observed, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 5:10).
To his followers, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26) Here’s a way to explain what he means. Imagine that I have an immense pair of scales. On one side, I put all the gold, silver, oil, real estate, jewelry, and everything else of value on earth. On the other side, I put a single person, maybe an obscure tribesman from the depths of the Amazon rainforest, or maybe you or me. On the balance, the weight of the one person is heavier than everything else of value on the globe. If the worth of one soul is more valuable than all the wealth in the world, why on earth would we pursue anything or anyone but the Creator who loves us so much? As Solomon wrote, it’s meaningless . . . empty . . . and stupid.
I know two brothers who exemplify this choice. They were from a troubled home, and both of them longed to find significance. One brother found Christ when he was in college, and he hung around people who loved God with all their hearts. Their values rubbed off on him, and gradually, he took on their perspectives about God and life. Like all of us, he’s had an up and down experience, but more times than not, he’s chosen to walk with God through thick and thin. Today, he may not be perceived as the most exciting human being on the planet, but his family loves him, he has some great friends, and he has found true contentment. His brother, though, walked a very different path. Instead of turning to God, he tried to find thrills in alcohol and drugs, as much sex as he could have, and risky business deals that promised the moon. Today, he looks back at a long string of failed marriages, former friends who no longer trust him, the specter of personal bankruptcy, and a nagging sense of emptiness.
We have to be very careful which promises we believe. The ones yelled by the world can easily drown out God’s quiet assurances that loving him and loving others are the pathway to genuine joy and contentment. That’s our test each day: Which voice will we listen to, and which voice will we act on?
Many people live under clouds of stress and worry. They spend their energy and time trying to figure out how to escape their problems and find some semblance of joy in their lives. The one source of help many people (including many in the church) seem to forget is God. In his most famous sermon, Jesus told people, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [clothes, food, and other essentials] will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:33-34). Do you want to know the source of contentment? It’s Jesus himself.
In his travels to tell people about Christ, Paul certainly experienced a range of responses from people. In one city, he was worshiped as a god, but the next day the same people tried to kill him! He saw incredible answers to prayer, miracles of God’s grace, as well as excruciating times of suffering. The believers in Philippi sent Paul financial support and a man from the church to help him. In his thank-you letter, he shared the “secret” of contentment. He wrote, “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 everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).
Many of us don’t feel that we can be truly satisfied with God and with life unless . . . We may fill in the blank differently, but we fill it in with whatever we’re convinced will give us joy or love or pleasure or excitement. The real secret, Paul says, is to stop looking at what we have or don’t have, and stop comparing our lot in life with our friends or the models in ads. Instead, we drink deeply of God’s love, trusting that he is using every moment and every circumstance—whether painful or pleasant—to mold our lives and give us a platform to touch others with his love. When we scrape away all the false promises and fluff, knowing and honoring Jesus is all that really matters.
A reporter once asked John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil Company and the wealthiest man in the world, “Mr. Rockefeller, what will it take for you to be happy?”
He replied, “Just a little bit more. Just a little bit more.”
I can almost hear Solomon sigh. Yes, if we try to fill the hole in our hearts with money or fame or sex or anything else, we’ll always need “just a little bit more.” God has made us so that only he can fill our hearts. St. Augustine once prayed, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Listen to your heart. Is it restless or is it content? Bathe your heart with God’s love, mercy, and purpose, and experience deeper, richer contentment than you ever thought possible.
How would you define or describe contentment?
What are some things your friends try to fill their lives with? What are the promises they are believing? What are the results?
In what areas of your life are you seeking contentment in things that are temporary? What are some false promises that threaten to (or actually) keep you from being truly content? What specific steps of change do you need to take?
Jesus, I want my heart to be filled with your love and purpose for my life so that…