One secret to having contentment is realizing that you don’t actually own your stuff: You are just managing it for God. In America, we grow up with a strong sense of personal ownership of our possessions. If you grew up with siblings, you will remember yelling at your brother or sister, “That is mine!”
I will never forget a lesson I learned about ownership while serving as a missionary in the DR Congo. My wife and I saved our money for a long time to buy a new vehicle. We asked supporters to give toward our vehicle project and eventually used some of our personal retirement funds to purchase an almost new four-wheel-drive pickup truck. Because we bought the truck in a neighboring country, we had to wait several days on the paperwork before we could bring it home. The day the truck was finally released and brought to our home, I stood outside, shouting in Swahili, “Gari yangu imefika!”—“My truck has arrived!” My Congolese friends were shouting the same phrase, with one word different: “Gari yetu imefika!”—“Our truck has arrived!” At first I thought, wait a minute—this is my truck, not yours!
I was learning a lesson about living in a collectivistic society, in which possessions were owned by the group, rather than an individualistic society such as America that teaches private ownership. But then the Lord taught me a greater lesson. He reminded me that all the money used to purchase the truck—whether received as gifts, earned as salary, or taken from retirement funds—actually came from him; it wasn’t our money in the first place. Then the Lord reminded me that the truck was to be used for his kingdom work in the DR Congo: He was the owner; I was the manager. The world wants to make us into greedy consumers, but God wants to make us into faithful stewards who manage his things well. As long as we remember who owns everything, we can live a contented life. Life is too short to be discontented.
A few years ago, a friend of mine attended a conference where she heard a speaker describe meeting a woman from Africa who had next to nothing, but was full of contentment and joy. When asked to share her secret of contentment, the woman described five habits she had developed in her life. The speaker called them “Five Holy Habits of Contentment”:
1) Never complain, even about the weather.
2) Never picture yourself somewhere else.
3) Never compare yourself with another.
4) Never wish this or that had been different.
5) Never dwell on tomorrow: It is God’s.
This list of habits is simple, yet profound. Some of the most contented people I know don’t own much stuff, but have found a way to be content with what they have. If you are not content with what you have, you will never be content when you get what you want.
REFLECTIONS: Do you have larger possessions (like a car, a house, a computer, etc.) that you think of as “yours?” Why don’t you consecrate these items one at a time to God and tell Him that you realize you don’t really own them, that they belong to Him. Post the list of five holy habits some place where you will see them daily and intentionally try to make them your own.
The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.