Contentment

The Acts 8 BLOGFORCE makes a rousing return this week with a question that is both timely and applicable.  In the life of the Church as well as in the Revised Common Lectionary, we are rapidly approaching stewardship season, and as such, it is time, once again, for all of us to listen for God’s call upon our checkbooks.  As such, Acts 8 has invited all of us to consider this question: “How has financial giving affected your spiritual life?” For more information on how to offer your own response, click here.


I can’t remember when it happened, but I distinctly remember the feeling.  It must have been around a big football game: Black Friday before the Iron Bowl or the Saturday before the Super Bowl; as I drove around my neighborhood of modest starter homes, I began to notice lots of large, rectangular boxes sitting on the curbside.  At first, I didn’t  pay any attention to it, but by the time I passed the third box, I could feel the envy welling up inside me.  I wanted a big, fancy, new TV to watch the game with too!

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The problem was, unless I wanted to go into $500 worth of debt on my credit card, there just wasn’t the disposable income to cover a sweet new TV.  With a relatively new baby at home and my wife not working at the time, we were prepared to make sacrifices, but it was in that moment, driving through our neighborhood on trash day, that I realized that part of the sacrifice of giving to God is being content with what you have.

At the time, the Pankey family was still relatively new at tithing.  Even as late as seminary, we had subscribed to the left over model of giving to the church.  Of course, it was easy to justify the $2,400 a month we spent on rent and tuition to go to seminary in one of the most expensive metropolitan areas in the country.  Once I was ordained, however, we knew that if we were going to ask people to give sacrificially, we had to as well.  And so, on day 1 of my first call out of seminary, we gave 10% of our income to the glory of God. There is a difference, however, between giving because you feel like you have to and giving out of contentment.  It took me several years to learn that lesson.

In Sunday’s New Testament lesson, the author of 1 Timothy tells the young leader that there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment.  He warns Timothy of the trap of riches.  The temptation that comes with a lack of contentment takes our attention away from God.  Envy leads to ruin and destruction.  As I rode through my neighborhood that afternoon, those empty TV boxes pulled me to the edge of the root of all evil: the love of money.  Thanks be to God, the temptation of a shiny new TV for the big game didn’t win out.  In coming to grips with the opportunity cost of tithing, I realized that sacrificing for the Kingdom is something that should bring joy.  I’ve learned to give thanks for what I have, to be joyful in the building up of the Kingdom, and to be content in all circumstances.  Of course, I’m not always successful at it, but God continues to work on me.  The Spirit continues to call me to righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.  All these years later, I’ve learned the power of intentional sacrifice: a spiritual lesson that is helpful not just in financial giving, but in prayer, in time, in service, and in life.  I’ve learned to set my hope on God, who, as the author of 1 Timothy says, “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”

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Being Thankful means being Content

thanksgiving

I used this picture on Facebook to advertise for the annual Thanksgiving Day Eucharist at my parish, Saint Paul’s in Foley, Alabama.  As I posted it, I wrote these [admittedly snarky] words, “Join us as we give God thanks and praise at 10am before you go stuff yourself silly and then “save” all sorts of money buying things you don’t need thanks to advertising and tryptophan induced sleep deprivation.”  I deleted most of it before posting a safe invitation on Facebook, but two days later, I still fill a little guilty about it.  Guilty about deleting it, that is.

On Sunday morning, as we recite the Psalm appointed for Advent 1, Year B, we will thrice pray these words, “Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; * show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.”  Honestly, I can’t think of more appropriate words to pray after a weekend of gluttony, envy, and credit card debt.  I won’t get all snippy about stores opening on Thanksgiving.  Every year, I thank God that the grocery store is open so that I can buy pickled okra for bloody mary’s or butter for the mashed potatoes.  What I will get all soap-boxy about is our cultural drive toward more.  Black Friday (and now Early Bird Thanksgiving Thursday) merely takes advantage of a predisposition in American culture toward over-consumption.  Be it turkey and stuffing or iPhones and flat screen TVs, we like to have more than enough, and we’ll go deep into debt in order to ensure it.

The alternative to that, an alternative that is evidenced in the life and ministry of Jesus and is enunciated in the writings of Saint Paul, is the Christian call to contentment.  Around the dinner table on Thursday mid-afternoon, families of all shapes, sizes, and religious backgrounds from Muslim to Jewish to Christian to Atheist will pause to give thanks for the things they have in their life: health, home, family, and material comfort chief among them.  If we were truly thankful for those things, then they would be enough.  We would be content with what we’ve got, not scouring the internet for the next big thing.

I realize this is naive of me.  I know it is not a popular opinion.  I’m sure most would blame it on Madison Avenue, but I really think that the insanity of Early Bird Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday are indicative of our human frailty, sign and symbol of our sinfulness.  And so, I hope this Sunday, we’ll take a moment in the midst of the madness to pause, give honest thanks, and pray for God’s restorative work to create room for contentment, even in our always wondering souls.