A recent blog post I read was titled, “The Unattainable Urge to Want What We Can’t Have.” It spoke about our desire for both people and stuff, and the more inaccessible an item is, the more we tend to want it. This rather common human desire has a biblical word—covetousness. And in the Ten Words that Will Change Our Lives (or what some translations call the Ten Commandments), there is a definite prohibition against coveting. Exodus 20:17 says, “Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Notice that coveting, or the uncontrolled desire to acquire what belongs to someone else, relates to both property and to people, to stuff and relationships that don’t belong to us.
The entire advertising industry is based on getting people to acquire more stuff. That’s how we get into debt. Someone once said his problem wasn’t that he had too little money but that he had too much want. Another study recently pointed out that when a single woman meets a single guy, 57% were interested in exploring a possible relationship. But if that man was already in a relationship with another woman, the number jumps to 90% of single women being interested in a relationship with him. It just shows the impact of covetousness on relationships.
That’s why the tenth word that will change our lives is contentment, or satisfaction with what we already have. In Philippians 4:13 Paul wrote, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” Contentment is an attitude that doesn’t come naturally; we must learn it. So here are five ways to learn the secret of contentment.
First, to learn contentment, we need to refocus our perspective. 1 Timothy 6:7-8 says, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.” This verse reminds us to focus on the eternal not the present. Remember, you’ll never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul. Also, it prompts us focus on what is essential, what we really need, not everything we want. I once saw a billboard advertising the lottery with one question written on it—“How much money do you need to be happy?” Truth to tell and contrary to that ad, very little.
The second way to learn contentment is to resist comparison to others. That’s why Paul wrote, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction” (1 Tim 6:9). This is the danger of seeing what others have and wanting the same or more. It’s possible to admire what others have without insisting on having it for ourselves.
Yet a third step in learning contentment is to rejoice in God’s gifts. The wise man wrote, “Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God” (Eccles 5:19). Also, he wrote, “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth (Prov 5:18). Remember to explicitly thank God for everything we have and to celebrate every relationship that He has granted us. Being grateful for God’s good gifts will keep us from yearning for what is not ours.
A fourth aspect of learning contentment is always to remember what we deserve. The prophet Jeremiah reminded us, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail” (Lamentations 3:22). Mistakenly, we believe we deserve more stuff, more wealth, and better relationships. But, in reality, if we got what we deserved, all we’d be is a small pile of ashes, consumed by the judgment of a righteous God. God is merciful and gracious and that’s why we’re not consumed and instead given so many good gifts.
A fifth and final way to learn contentment is to release our money and possessions to others. Speaking of the affluent, Paul wrote, “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (1 Tim 6:18). One of the ways God teaches contentment is by allowing us to give of our wealth and of our stuff. Fred Smith said, “Giving is the drain plug of our greed.” Instead of unwholesome wanting, generous giving enables us to be content with what we have.
The Talmud asks and answers this question: “Who is wealthy? He who is content with what he has.” Therefore, we all have it within us to be rich.