“And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. The fool folds his hands and ruins himself. Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.” Ecclesiastes 4:4-6
Over three hundred years ago Jeremiah Burroughs penned a book that has become a Christian classic. The title tells the whole story: The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. He argues that true contentment involves accepting what God has given you with a grateful heart and at the same time refusing to accept the status quo. Believers are to be contented and dissatisfied at the same time.
This is a delicate balance not easy to find and even harder to keep. Solomon warns against going to extremes. On one hand envy of others drives so much of what we do. We see what they have and want to have it—and more besides. This drives some people to become workaholics, living to work instead of working to live. On the other hand it’s easy to sit back, fold your hands, take it easy and watch the world go by. The workaholic burns himself out while the lazy fool ruins himself. Either way his family and friends have to pick up the pieces of a ruined life.
Much to be preferred is the moderation of verse 6. Better to have a little money in the bank and peace at home than to have a million dollars and a date in divorce court. A hard-driving, Type A corporate attorney happened to see a commercial fisherman in mid-afternoon, legs dangling off the pier as he helped his two young sons catch crabs. “Why aren’t you out there fishing?” he asked. “Because I’ve caught enough fish for today,” said the fisherman. “Why don’t you catch more fish than you need?” “What would I do with them?” responded the fisherman. “You could earn more money and buy a better boat so you could go deeper and catch more fish. Then you could buy a fleet of boats. Soon you’d be rich like me.” “What would I do then?” “You could sit down and enjoy life,” the attorney answered. “What do you think I’m doing now?” the fisherman replied.
This is not an argument in favor of indolence but a call for balanced living.The wise person realizes that some things matter more than other things, that your career is not the measure of your self-worth, and that having more money can’t replace the joy of spending time with people you love. Contentment means that you have everything you need right now. If you needed more, God would give it to you. Work hard but don’t make work your god. When you want what you already have, you’ve discovered the rare jewel of contentment.
Father, I praise you that I have everything I need for this moment. Teach me to enjoy what I already have. Amen.
Ray Pritchard pastored in Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago. Married to Marlene for 38 years, he enjoys being a husband, a father and a grandfather, riding his bike, and playing with Dudley and Gary, beloved basset hounds.