"The Rare jewel This Holiday Season"
Black Friday…it’s a strange phenom-enon. Just hours after sitting around the table with family and giving thanks for all that we have received, a massive number of Ameri-cans line up outside shopping malls ready to scratch and claw their way past others in order to get the best deals of the holiday season. A few years ago I turned on the news the day after Thanksgiving and I saw video clips of the shopping madness from all across the United States. I have to say that it was more than a bit ironic to see one man, who presum-ably enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal with his family, threaten to physically harm a group of people if they tried to get the same limited quantity item that he was intending to pur-chase. Black Friday madness, however, is just a symptom of a deeper issue…a spiritual is-sue. The real problem is a lack of content-ment.
In our own day, when ‘fast food phi-losophy’ (e.g. have it your way) rules the hearts and minds of individuals, it’s hard to be content. The media doesn’t help us in this matter either. Marketing gurus are paid mil-lions of dollars to help breed discontent in their target audience. Advertisements on TV, the Internet, and in print attempt to convince us that everything from our computer to our car to our coffee maker is old and outdated. Of course, the struggle for contentment is not unique to our era of world history. Content-ment is an issue that goes back to the Garden. God issued the command, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17). But we read in Genesis 3:6 that “when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her hus-band who was with her, and he ate.” Adam and Eve were discontent with the abundant provision that God had supplied and decided that they needed more. Satan convinced them that God was miserly and was withholding good things from them.
It is the subject of contentment that is at the heart of one of the finest pieces of pas-toral theology in the Puritan era. Jeremiah Burroughs was one of the finest English preachers of the 17th century. He served three congregations in London (Stepney, St. Gile’s Cripplegate, and St. Michael’s Cornhill) and was also a member of the Westminster As-sembly of Divines. In 1645 Burroughs preached a series of expositional sermons from Philippians 4:11, “Not that I am speak-ing of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” In typical Puritan fashion Burroughs approached the subject of contentment from every possi-ble angle and provides numerous illustrations to drive home his point. This collection of sermons has been preserved for us under the title, The Rare Jewel of Christian Content-ment. It would be impossible for me to un-earth the riches found in this book in the space provided so allow me to provide you with a few of Burroughs own words on the subject. Perhaps these quotes will whet your appetite to read more of this eminent pastor/theologian.
On a definition of contentment:
“Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” (p. 19)
Contentment and the accumulation of possessions:
“Certainly our contentment does not consist in getting the thing we desire, but in God’s fashioning our spirits to our conditions…There is more good in contentment than there is in the thing you would fain have to cure your discon-tent.” (p. 130)
“A Christian comes to contentment, not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction. That is his way of con-tentment, and it is a way that the world has no skill in. I open it thus: not so much by adding to what he would have, or to what he has, not by adding more to his condition; but rather by subtracting from his desires, so as to make his desires and his circumstances even and equal. A carnal heart knows no way to be contented but this: I have such and such possessions, and if I had this added to them, and the other comfort added that I have not now, then I should be contented…but the Christian has another way of content-ment, that is, he can bring his desires down to his posses-sions, and so he attains his contentment.” (p. 45)
Contentment in eternal possessions:
“One drop of the sweetness of heaven is enough to take away all the sourness and bitterness of all the afflictions in the world. A carnal heart has no contentment but from what he sees before him in this world, but a godly heart has con-tentment from what he sees laid up for him in the highest heavens.” (p. 84)
On how Christ teaches contentment:
“Just as no-one can be a scholar unless he learns his ABC, so you must learn the lesson of self-denial or you can never become a scholar in Christ’s school, and be learned in this mystery of contentment.” (p. 87)
As we make our way through this holiday season we will each be faced with moments where we will have to choose between a spirit of contentment or discontent. My prayer is that both you and I will find that our contentment does not lie in the abundance of possessions but in submitting to and delighting in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every con-dition. Let us compose ourselves in such a manner that we “bring our desires down to our possessions” and delight in the abundance of riches that our heavenly Father has be-stowed on us in Christ.