culture

Finding Contentment in a World of Consumerism

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By any reasonable standard, life is pretty good for most of the people reading this right now. You probably have food in your cupboard, a means of transportation, shelter and some form of income. Life was not always so easy for our ancestors.

There are obvious exceptions, and I don’t mean to minimize the suffering of people dealing with severe illnesses, the death of a friend or family member, an abusive relationship or some other major life problem. However, if we are honest with ourselves, life is pretty good for most of us.

Even though life is generally good for us, all Christians live at the intersection of faith and a world of fallen cultures, sinful people and broken systems. That is inescapable. The question is what choices we will make when we are at that intersection. How will we respond to the goodness God provides? Will we allow the sin-distorted systems of this world to blind us to finding our joy in Christ?

One primary distortion in our world is the attitude many of us have toward material goods. And, sadly, many times we fail to see the distortion and how it impacts our pursuit of holiness.

The problem is not the system; the problem is our heart.

Factories of Discontent

Every channel of media that gets displayed on our televisions, is beamed to our smart phones or pops up in front of the article we want to read sends us a message. In many cases, that message is that there is something in the world that we do not have that we ought to want. We may have never heard of that gadget before, but when we see attractive people smile while holding a thousand-dollar lump of silicon, plastic and heavy metals, we start to believe—even if we do not realize it—that we need that something, too.

Where does this consumeristic influence come from. Is it driven by our economic system, as some people argue?

Consumerism is not a product of socialism or free market economics, though opportunities to fulfill consumer desires often accelerate within a free market system. Rather, the discontent of consumerism—the continual desire for more and better—is a product of the human heart in its perpetual quest for self-fulfillment. Even those who resist the urge to accumulate material goods, like minimalists, often fall prey to consumerist desires through spending on the next experience. The problem is not the system; the problem is our heart.

Jeremiah documents God’s own words when he writes, “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable—who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, CSB) The unfettered desire for material gain, which is the essence of greed, is the product of the human looking for something to satisfy the aching longing for real joy found only in knowing God in Christ. As Paul notes in Colossians 3:5, greed is a form of idolatry.

Christians should be aware of the unhealthy desires being nurtured within in our hearts by advertisements, but simply shutting off the television and installing ad blocker on our browsers will never deal with the deeper heart issue.

That which occupies a person’s time and greatest interest shapes a person’s heart most.

Reshaping the Heart

That which occupies a person’s time and greatest interest shapes a person’s heart most. This is why viewing our daily work as service to God rather than simply earning a paycheck or getting ahead in the world is so important (cf. Ephesians 6:5-9). Our minds and hearts are shaped by what we do and why we do it, and this is especially true for those of us who work fulltime outside the home.

The same principle applies to how we spend our time outside of work, too. We need to conform those activities to bring glory to God (1 Corinthians 10:31). And, as John Piper has astutely said, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” Thus, our task is to find satisfaction in God in our present condition.

Satisfaction, however, does not simply knock on the door and invite itself in as a permanent roommate. We need to actively cultivate satisfaction in our lives. David, when he was in the wilderness, wrote Psalm 63 to express his satisfaction, which gives us a clue to how he developed it.

David’s satisfaction came after he eagerly sought God (Psalm 63:1). As a result of God blessing David as he hungered and thirsted for righteousness (cf. Matthew 5:6), his soul was satisfied as with rich food (Psalm 63:5). Despite his physical danger and immediately tenuous future, David was content with God’s provision. How much so should we be content — when oftentimes our greatest worry is whether we can afford the newest gadget that we saw in an ad while watching sports on television in the comfort of our own homes?

We should be content with our material state, and we should allow that contentment to spur us on to pursue God all the more. As Paul writes to his pastoral protégé, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (I Timothy 6:6) When we are discontent, coveting wealth and its accoutrements, we risk wandering away from the faith and piercing ourselves with many griefs. (I Timothy 6:10b)

Instead, let us be thankful to God for the good he has provided us in this life and work to provide opportunities for others to enjoy the same blessings.

This article originally published on Jan. 25, 2018.

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Andrew J. Spencer

Andrew J. Spencer holds a PhD from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a member of CrossPointe Church in Monroe, MI. Spencer writes often at www.EthicsAndCulture.com and recently published 'The Christian Mind of C. S. Lewis.'

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