There is a hip-hop performer named John Reuben whose music I had on constant repeat my senior year in college. His matter-of-fact, no-holds-barred approach to his faith was inspiring and led to a lot of songs that seem to have several lessons lost on many of our teens today. Here is an excerpt from one of his songs I particularly liked…
We’re not taught trial and error; we’re not taught nor are we prepared.
So we fail against everyday opponents; all the while we’re still living for glorious moments.
And the media feeds the youth a false reality of what it takes to make yourself happy,
And since they’ve got about a one in a billion shot, why try and make them think it’s something that it’s not.
No, this ain’t a movie; this is real life; the spot light don’t shine quite as bright as some might like,
But that’s alright ’cause the starlight at night is more of a highlight than the high-life.
The air I consume from the breath of creation renews my soul everyday I awaken.
Ah man, tell me, who knew that simply being content was the dream come true.
This idea of being content is something we don’t really value enough in our world. The entire American way of life is about being the smartest, the fastest, the strongest, the most talented… very seldom do we ever hear someone celebrated or being a role model for being simply content.
In today’s lesson, we look at a few passages in Proverbs, concluding with a section from the 30th chapter…
[God,] I have asked two things of you; don’t deny them to me as long as I live — keep falsehood and futility far from me, and give me neither poverty nor wealth.
Yes, provide just the food I need today; for if I have too much, I might deny you and say, “Who is Adonai?”
And if I am poor, I might steal and thus profane the name of my God. (Source: Proverbs 30:7-9, CJB)
There are a lot of misconceptions about physical possessions and the Bible. These misconceptions range anywhere from medieval concepts of forcefully rejecting physical possessions to contemporary ‘prosperity’ doctrines that celebrate physical possessions. As with most issues, the truth probably likes somewhere in the middle.
Understanding Solomon’s Wealth
Solomon knew about possessions. A little research comes up with a few different numbers to estimate King Solomon’s wealth, but one of the better explained values pegs his personal wealth around 100 billion dollars (source). Another explanation that accounts for gifts (not just ‘salary’ from the treasury) blooms that figure to $2.1 trillion (source). To put that into perspective, assuming a lifespan of 85 years, you would have to spend $67.7 million per day to expend that much money before you died. It’s worth pointing out that Solomon didn’t live in rags, either. His throne was said to be of solid gold, including a gold footstool, and surrounded by golden lion statues. If we’re going to say that physical possessions eliminate someone from being a ‘good follower of God’, the King Solomon has some explaining to do. On the other side of that coin, we see repeatedly that Solomon talks about the futility of pursuing physical wealth. What do we draw from this discussion? The art of being content.
In Proverbs 30, Solomon is encouraging us to not concern ourselves with physical wealth either positively or negatively. We shouldn’t overly concerned with acquiring physical things, but we also shouldn’t be beating ourselves up for being blessed. The bottom line is that having wealth or not having wealth isn’t the point of life and being overly concerned with our physical possessions provides an opportunity for Satan to influence our thoughts. This is what Solomon is talking about when he says that ‘if I am poor, I might […] profane the name of my God’.
What we glean from all of Solomon’s works, especially Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, is that the pursuit or obsessions of things in the world is nothing but a distraction. The point is that we server a God who wants us to live in such a way that glorifies His eternal plan. How do we do that? By learning to be content with our current possessions, status, position, and any other aspect of this world.
‘Content’ has sometimes been used as a dirty word, especially when people are striving to become more and more ‘extreme’. In student ministry, the ‘extreme’ theme is kind of unavoidable. It’s good to be motivated and pursue excellence. I believe what we start seeing here is that ‘excellence’ and ‘content’ are really two different things. I can pursue higher excellence and do it with a heart that is content. Image 2 runners at a track meet. Both of them are competing for first place and both have been training extremely hard for the day of the big track meet. Both runners try their hardest and have a personal satisfaction or contentment about their performance. Does that mean that both runners won? Of course not! What it means is that their frame of mind and their hearts were placing the biggest value on their individual level of effort. In the same way, many good, God-fearing Christians exercise a desire to be excellent every day at work and at school. We work long hours to get raises and interview for promotions. When we don’t get those raises and promotions, there is a natural disappointment that we all feel, but the content individual will find solace in their knowledge that life wasn’t about the raise or the promotion in the first place; life is about God’s grace and our relationship with Him. That contentment allows us to overcome the emotional disappointments of the world live our lives as beacons of hope to the lost.
Our prayer to God should be that He makes us content. If God’s plan for contentment is to bless us with career advancements and academic honors, then we should take that as it is… a blessing… and not an invitation to become obsessed with the things of this world. Likewise, if God’s plan for contentment leads us down a humbler path, we should be careful to avoid the typical pitfalls of materialism that threaten to drag us further away from God.