Phil 4:11-12 “...for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”
I never noticed before that Paul says he’s learned how to face ‘plenty’ and ‘abundance’.
I think it’s common to read this passage and hear something like, “I’ve learned how to be poor, and be just as content as someone who is wealthy.” Lord knows, I’ve read it that way or years. And it’s tempting to say that it’s a lot easier to be content in abundance than in poverty...but he truth is, I don’t think I believe it any more.
Shortly after Re and I married I went from making copies at Nike to contract web development and thereby actually doubled my income over night. There aren’t too many times a person gets to experience that in one life. And while it still wasn’t a ton of money by most (American) measures, it was a huge change in lifestyle and for the next two years or so I quite literally made more money than I knew what to do with.
This past year, my business was feeling the current economic blowout way in the early stages when few people would dream of saying things like ‘worst economy since the Great Depression’ and this year I’ve been more broke and lived on less income than I ever have since leaving home.
But you know, I really think that Re and I are OK. The year has been a very painful process of learning to let go of the things that feel important but really aren’t. It’s fascinating really that my spiritual and personal lives (what an odd concept, to deliberately segment our lives..) have been really great. It’s just the professional life that has been so terribly hard.
Still, the thing I wanted to write about was this notion that the real bugger about money, whether you have a lot or a little, is contentment. Poverty threatens my contentment with fear and anxiety. Those emotions tend to be acute and painful, but also short lived and easier to deal with. Laugh in the face of fear and it runs skittering like a little kitty. Abundance threatens my contentment too, but with feelings that are not usually painful. Instead of fear over the electricity getting shut off is fear that today’s success will not be repeatable tomorrow. Instead of depression there is ambition. Instead of ‘Will God come through?” it’s “Will God come through again.”
To my knowledge, the only thing the Word ever names as a direct threat to my soul is wealth. (Mk 8:36) Just for the record, I’m not a prosperity gospel kind of guy, but nor am I a poverty gospel kind of guy. I think God will tend toward making us prosper financially, but I also think that few things seem as likely to corrupt a person as money.
Again, contentment is the thing. I want to get to a place in my heart where money is a non issue to me the same way egg nog is. Yes, that’s a good image. I LOVE egg nog and when it shows up each year you can see me doing the King of the Christmas Drinks dance in front of the dairy case. It’s wonderful, it’s lovely and it contributes several pounds to my waist each year. When it’s in the shelves early, like this year – the day after Halloween for goodness sake – it’s a happy surprise. But when it’s gone I don’t really miss it. I just think, “that sure was fun” and don’t give it another thought until it surprises me next year.
It’s premature to say that I have learned the lesson as Paul puts it in Philippians, but I can certainly begin to see what he’s talking about. In these months the choice has been simple enough: freak out constantly over things you have no ability to influence or control and give in to the ‘do something’ panic voice, or listen to Jesus. Take Him at His word and think about the lilies of the field – choose contentment over anxiety.
Six months ago it was probably six anxiety days for every content day. Now, I’d say it’s the opposite ratio – and I’m looking forward very much to my poor box turkey.