“Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have” (Rabbi Sachtel). I used to think that was an ancient Chinese proverb. It sounds wise and deep. Guess what? It can be traced back to a late 20th century Jewish Rabbi – Rabbi Satchel! I had heard this quote and expected that it was from Confucius or something. But I guess it makes sense that it would be a modern American who would be able to articulate the true relationship between happiness and possessions.
People, especially those of us in industrialized nations, have never in history had more things. And we have the spare time to ponder and pursue happiness, yet so many get the relationship all wrong. They still think that happiness or fulfillment can come from the accumulation of things.
Paul the apostle, almost 2,000 years ago, warns the young pastor Timothy about this spiritual pitfall. He also outlines the proper relationship between fulfillment and possessions. Basically, he says that it is the love of things that leads to trouble. So instead of seeking riches, they and we should seek things like righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Notice that he does not say that money is evil, but that the love of money leads to evil. Paul also advises those who are rich not to trust in their riches, but rather to put their trust in God who richly provides.
In the musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” the main character Tevye is a poor man. But he prays that God would make him rich. His friend warns him, “Money is the world’s curse,” to which Tevye replies, “May the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover.” I think we have all felt that same way, but let’s look at what the Bible says about it.
The first point Paul makes is that “we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it.” I am sure you have all heard that you cannot take it with you. And there is a good reason for that. But most people do not see the reason. God gave us the priceless gift of life when we came into this world. And God gave us Eternal life to take out of this world. What more could we want? And what value would any of the things in this world, beyond our relationships, have in eternity? So true contentment is found in realizing that God has already given us all we need. But Paul goes on to warn that the love of earthly wealth leads to trouble. It is not wealth itself that is evil. It is the love of it that leads to evil. Out of love for wealth people do things that lead to evil.
Most people have it all backwards. They love things and use people. The things on this earth were put here by God for us to use, not to love. And the people were put here for us to love, not to use. So we should love people and use things. To use people and love things is a perversion of God’s plan. It puts things backwards. We were not made for that. We were made to love God and our neighbor. To do any other leads to injury and pain. So what should we strive after? Paul tells us to seek after the virtues which go along with serving God. We should strive for “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.” We should value faith and take hold of eternal life. In the end, that is what endures.
Godliness and Contentment
You cannot take money and electronics to heaven. But at the same time, it is not those things that bring meaning to this life. Knowing who you are and finding peace: those kinds of things bring contentment. Loving your neighbor and serving God bring you Joy whether you have money in the bank or not. Developing deep relationships with your family and friends brings satisfaction no matter how much your income. So follow the example of Jesus. He gave up the glories of heaven. He was rich beyond earthly standards. He was there when all the gold and jewels in existence were created. But he found completion and fulfillment in following his Heavenly Father’s will and giving of himself to save us.
It all comes down to one question: What are you living for? Why do you get up in the morning? Why do you get up in the morning? Why do you go to work or school or wherever it is that you go? Do you go to school so that you make more money when you get out? Do you work each day so that you can make more money? Or do you get out of bed and do those other things so that you can love God and your neighbor? Do you go about your daily activities with the idea that you are seeking to live righteously? Do you value the people you meet and not the things you acquire?
Paul said, “There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment.” You may not get rich serving the Lord. Then again you might! In the end it doesn’t really matter. But through a godly life that is content with what God has provided, there is great gain. Through faith we can know the gift not only of life after death, but of peace and joy in this world.