Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Devout Life, Part 3: That Which Threatens

A Devout Life: Part 3

That Which Threatens

We entered the world penniless and will leave it penniless... (1 Timothy 6:7-8 MSG)

What are the negative forces that threaten our contentment and satisfaction in life?

Paul focuses on money, or the lack of money:

Paul is speaking to people who fear being penniless, or being without any source of gaining wealth in the form of money, valuable property, influence or security. For these people, money is the only sure way to guarantee such poverty.

Money is only a measure of one's wealth. Money is a way to quantify the value of our time, strength, influence and property. Paul reminds us that we are born with nothing of our own making. At the moment of birth our time, strength, influence and property has little physical, measureable value. Any personal value we may have at birth is based upon other people's estimation, including our parent's, other’s hope for the future. At birth, we ourselves are unable to trade our time for something of equal value. We cannot barter our strength and influence, we cannot invest or increase our property. We are born with little but the need for survival: air, water, food and shelter.

We are born in extreme poverty, completely dependent upon the mercy and grace of other people. We are born destitute.

These then are the primary forces against which we need to raise a barrier: forces which may limit or withhold our basic needs: air, water, food and shelter. As we grow older, basic needs become overlaid with more and more levels of need and desire: time, strength, influence and property; all of which are most commonly measured by money.

I rarely have a day without feeling the stress of attempting to gain more than simple, daily provision of food and shelter. I'm paying for a home, with internet service, two vehicles, a recreational vehicle, repair bills, medical bills, and more. My expenses require a job that brings stress to my mind and body. My heart presses me to greater compassion for others, and my mind is flooded with images of my wife and children, my children's families, my siblings and their families, my friends and their families, my neighbors, my coworkers, my church, my community, my state, my nation, and my world.

How can I even begin to feel "self-complacent" or "satisfied" with my life? There are too many needs, too many pressures surrounding me, too many voices saying, "Pay attention to me!"

Am I succumbing to a "lust for money"?

If it's only money these leaders are after, they'll self-destruct in no time. Lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble. Going down that path, some lose their footing in the faith completely and live to regret it bitterly ever after. (1 Timothy 6:9-10 MSG)

Is my lack of feeling content or satisfied rooted in a "lust for money"? Is money the root of the stress I feel when I think about what job I must maintain and who I must express compassion to?

"Lust for money" describes an unbalanced mind that has confused money for happiness. A person who lusts, or loves, money is one who hoards, controls and treasures money only for the sake of having a pile of silver. This person has no sincere intention of using money as a tool, of investing the money in the lives of others, or even in improving the ones own life. Rather, one who lusts or loves money is one who loves the appearance of wealth, but not the usefulness or power of wealth.

Now, we must keep in mind that "money" is only a measurement for more tangible wealth in the form of time, strength, influence and property. "Lust for money" can easily be rephrased as "Lust for more time", “lust for more strength, or influence or property”. Money is only a token of what we need or desire.

When Paul says "lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble", he is saying that a powerful, obsessive desire for more than basic needs will destroy the very contentment and joy which is at the heart of that desire.

Wealth means an abundance of any earthly form of time, strength, influence and property. When an obsession for wealth, in any form, becomes greater than one's obsession for contentment and joy in knowing God, life on earth will self-destruct into discontentment and despair.

For me, the pursuit of wealth comes not in the form of money, cash or property. My daily life more and more is becoming consumed with the desire for influence and power, in the form of competence and success at work. I long to be seen by others as a person of ability, of dependability, of decisiveness, and of responsibility. The problem is that I must judge the opinions of others by passing what they say through a filter, a screen of my own making. I must measure my value as a person using standards of my own estimation, comparing myself to others I know of, or read about or imagine.

And daily I fail my own standards.

I dread going to work, because I expect to be unable to measure up to the expectations of others, based upon what I consider their expectations to be.

It's a terribly destructive cycle. Paul Maxwell describes this cycle, which he calls the "Overwhelmed Cycle":

Disorganization leads to Effort Effort leads to Insufficient Results Insufficient Results lead to Panic Panic leads to Inactivity Inactivity leads to a Growing Workload A Growing Workload leads to Disorganization

A man may feel overwhelmed because it all feels like so much. The longer tasks go undone, the more this giant, amorphous mess of uncompleted tasks and unqualified accusation grows. Unfinished work screams, “You’re not a real man!” Undone work excuses unkind self-treatment and unworthy God-worship. It’s easier to avoid a problem than face it head on.

When a man is given too much work without sufficient resources and tools to accomplish the tasks, he’ll shut down. This cycle begins, not so much with inefficiency, but disorganization. The inefficiency cycle lacks tools. The overwhelmed cycle lacks a blueprint. Without the ability to parse and prioritize your workload, almost any task can overwhelm a man. (Paul Maxwell)

In my case, I measure disorganization, effort, and results using my own perception of what others expect. Regardless of what is told me, regardless of what others may consider acceptable, I must pass everything I see and hear through my own filter, a filter that is more extreme than that which I can reasonably handle.

I habitually set myself up for failure because I set myself upon a pedestal of my own making.

It really is simple. My heart longs for what my Creator longs for: joy and contentment. At the same time, sin has contaminated my heart, making me blind to the true Source of joy: God Himself.

But sin causes me to rebel against the notion that there is a God Who created me. Sin causes me to look desperately around for joy and contentment.

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (C. S. Lewis)

That I do not care about amassing piles of cash, or more and more numbers followed by more and more zeros, does not change the despairing fact that I do care more about earthly wealth than I care about my Creator and Sustainer.

I may not watch the stock market, but I certainly watch other people for cues to what they think of me, and thus determine my personal value.

I do not fear poverty, but I do fear loss of recreation, loss of prestige, loss of control, loss of contentment and joy.

How then can a devout life raise a barrier against poverty?

How can a devout life protect oneself?

  • A devout life trusts in God to provide, whether through other people, our own strength, or supernatural miracles beyond explanation.
  • A devout life desires little beyond God's provision for each day.
  • A devout life brings a sense of utter satisfaction and contentment from the enjoyment of simple, daily provision of food and shelter.
  • A devout life, and the joyful, reward of contentment that it brings, does not depend upon money.

God, incline my heart toward You, my Creator, Master, Savior, Companion, and Lover.

God, open my eyes to the simplicity of being myself before You, the simplicity of basic needs of air, water, food and shelter. The simplicity of Your goodness, grace, mercy, wisdom and love.

God, unite all the fragmented fears and hopes that are strewn throughout my heart. Unite them into a single organ of trust and confident expectation of life with You, a devout life.

God, satisfy my heart with all that You are.


Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Desiring God and Paul Maxwell, for the description of the Overwhelmed Cycle,

C. S. Lewis Foundation, The Pursuit of Happiness: C. S. Lewis’s Eudaimonistic Understanding of Ethics

Desiring God and John Piper, for The acronymn I-O-U-S, referring to Incline, Open, Unite and Satisfy, How To Pray For The Soul

PublicDomainPictures, for image of sad child,, Creative Commons license,