Saturday, July 02, 2005

Contentment...take two

Trouble is, the realists complain that contentment must be harder than that. You must have to work at it, buy the manual, do the programme. Maybe. But I'm not convinced.

Contentment is about getting the clutter out of our lives.

Why is that the church clutters up our lives with stuff that seems important, but which, on closer inspection, turns out not to matter at all? So much of what we do in church just fills our time. It doesn't achieve anything.

Churches do all kinds of things that look important. From time to time vacancies arise in these important ministries and we look to fill them. We can't find the people. We feel discontented because people clearly aren't committed. Maybe we should pause, take a step back and ask ourselves: 'does this job really need doing? would we miss it if it didn't happen? could we do it in a simpler, less bureaucratic way (oh churches and bureaucratic systems - don't get me started!)?'

Scarily, the answer is almost invariably 'no, no and yes'.

Contentment is about faith and friends. And so is church. Church is meant to be a place that promotes and models contentment. So we should be majoring on faith and friendship. Yet so often we find ourselves discontentedly seeking better systems of pastoral care, mission, youth work, worship, whatever; hectoring people to be more committed to these systems and warning that the the church will miss God's blessing if we aren't committed to them. O Lord, forgive us!

In Philippians Paul's stress is on faith in Jesus - which is why he spends so long establishing a correct picture of him and what it means to model our lives on him - and friendship with one another. Look at how warmly he speaks of Epaphroditus and Timothy (2:19-30), how he urges Euodia and Syntyche to agree with each other (4:2f) and how gratefully he speaks of the church's friendship with him in good times and bad (4:10-20).

What matters to Paul is that we put our trust in the King - not the pretenders seeking our allegiance, be they Caesar, Blair, Bush or consumerism - and that we commit ourselves to each other. This is why he stresses how we ought to behave towards one another (2:1-4, etc). And such commitment is not about talk, but about doing things (4:10-20).

It's why Paul stresses that we shouldn't be competing with each other, trying to be top dog; but rather we should be co-operating, seeking each other's welfare. We live in such a competitive culture - where employees are pitted against each other, where every job interview is a battle against the other applicants, where every relationship appears more like a warzone than a flower garden.

we need to learn to relate to each other as Jesus relates to us (2:5). We learn it in church and live it in the world.

It's the secret of contentment. It really is that simple. It's just doing it that's a tall order. but if we trust in God....

Read Philippians 2:12-13 and tell me it's impossible.

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