In Simplicity We Find Contentment and Peace
For most people it appears that “being happy” is the goal of their entire existence. While there is nothing wrong with wanting or trying to be happy—although, I submit, if you have to try to be happy, you have failed already—it is not the goal toward which we should strive…at least not “happiness” as it commonly is conceived.
Consider the culture in which we live: We are a culture of consumers. We are constantly bombarded with advertisements that, at least implicitly, promise happiness if only we buy the product or service being offered. Some expressions of this sentiment are as blatant as, “He who dies with the most toys, wins.” Of course this expression often is used in jest but if people didn’t relate to it, no one would say it. Ultimately, the meaning is, “If we amass wealth and consume as much as we can, we will be winners.”
Likewise, “You can’t take it with you.” This contradicts dying with the most toys because you can’t take the toys with you but the sentiment is the same. What can be inferred is, “You can’t take it with you so spend it now. Consume and you will be happy.”
The pursuit of happiness is even mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” In their defense, I believe the founding fathers had a much better understanding of the true meaning of happiness than the average American today.
It may seem pedantic but rather than “happiness” we should strive to be content. This is because many people have a mistaken notion of what happiness is. Many believe that happiness is the result of obtaining something that they don’t already have. Contentment is accepting what is and being satisfied with it.
In the U.S. we have one of the highest standards of living so, if happiness were based on possessions, why are so many people so unhappy? It is because, too often, we focus on the physical rather than the spiritual. We feed our physical appetites to the point of avarice and gluttony and ignore our spiritual needs to the point of starvation.
First and foremost we are spiritual beings. Why is this? It is because our being resides in our soul which is the part of us that will live for eternity while our physical body, as we know it, will die. This being the case, why do we put so much emphasis on things of the material world and so little emphasis on matters of the spirit?
Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust, and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither the rust nor moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal (Matthew 6:19-20).
We should think of our self primarily in spiritual terms.
And the dust return into its earth, from whence it was, and the spirit return to God, who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
And fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28).
For many walk, of whom I have told you often (and now tell you weeping), that they are enemies of the cross of Christ; Whose end is destruction; whose God is their belly; and whose glory is in their shame; who mind earthly things. But our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ, (Philippians 3:18-20).
I say then, walk in the spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the spirit: and the spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary one to another: so that you do not the things that you would (Galatians 5:16-17).
Regarding the passage from Galatians, “lusts of the flesh” should not be interpreted simply as inappropriate sexual desires. In a broader sense it should be considered any desire that contradicts the spirit. Thus the first line indicates, if we focus on matters of the spirit we naturally will not be focused on matters of the flesh (i.e., body, appetites, materialism etc.) because worldly things and spiritual things are in opposition to one another.
No man can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one, and love the other: or he will sustain the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [mammon is synonymous with worldly riches or interests] (Matthew 6:24).
With this in mind, we should ask ourselves, “Where is my focus? Where is my heart?” Is it worldly or is it spiritual? How much time in one day do we spend watching TV, looking at Facebook, pursuing entertainment or just doing nothing? Conversely, how much time do we spend in prayer or meditation? How much time do we spend helping others and putting their needs before our own? Remember:
For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also (Matthew 6:21).
This is not to say that it is wrong to enjoy things or to have fun. Not at all. It is wrong, however, to make the pursuit of pleasure our god for to do so is beneath our dignity. Animals don’t even operate based on such selfish motives but on instinct. Theirs is to fulfill their needs, not fulfill their desires. An animal’s instincts are pure; an appetitive man’s motives are not.
Sadly, like an addiction, pursuing happiness by way of gathering material possessions or indulging our appetites only leads to further disappointment. This is because focusing on material things is contrary to our nature which, as stated previously, is primarily spiritual. Therefore, corporeal and materialistic appetites must be subordinate to the will, mind and the spirit.
One way to do this is to become well-practiced in discerning the difference between want and need. People often say, “I need this,” or “I need that,” when the truth is, they don’t need it…they want it. Again, there is nothing wrong with wanting something and even obtaining it. The problem is, when we mistake what we want for something we need, we attach undue significance to it.
Leaving out emotional and spiritual needs, speaking in strictly physical terms, outside of shelter, clothing and food, what do we really need? Not much. There is a big difference between needing something to eat and wanting to dine at the most expensive restaurant in town. If we fail (or refuse) to discern the difference between want and need we can make an immature and disgusting habit not only of believing that our wants and needs are synonymous but that it is our “right” to have what we mistakenly consider a need. Then, if we cannot earn these things ourselves, we may come to believe that it is incumbent on someone else to provide these things for us.
Generally speaking, however, if we rightly discern the difference between our wants and our needs, we will discover that everything we need already has been provided.
Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they? (Matthew 6:26).
In simpler terms, “If I don’t have it, the good Lord must figure I don’t need it.”
For those who would say, “What about the children who are starving all over the world…why hasn’t God provided for them?” It is exactly because people have failed to discern the difference between want and need and act accordingly; too many people refuse to give to those who are in genuine need because they have too many wants of their own.
Contrary to the elitist notion of overpopulation and the earth’s inability to sustain us, there is enough food for everyone. In worldly terms, however, there is no profit in feeding the poor…so a great number of people die of starvation.
Just as I stated that people immaturely think their wants are synonymous with their needs and that it is their right to have their “needs” (wants) provided, likewise it is wrong for Christians to blatantly ignore the genuine needs of others—like the need for food—because they see their own wants as needs and in so doing refuse to give out of their abundance to those who truly are desperate.
If we accept, first, that more emphasis should be placed on the spiritual aspect of life rather than the material, we will perceive the world in a new way. With proper vision restored, the desire to discern the difference between want and need is natural. When we learn the difference we will discover simplicity. With simplicity comes contentment and peace as we enter into communion with the will of God which is to love and serve Him by loving and serving one another.