The question I'm asked most frequently by pastors and church staff members these days, especially those approaching their mid-sixties, is, "how much is enough in my retirement savings for me to retire?" Evidently all of the TV commercials about reverse mortgages, silver and gold investments, economic uncertainty, and daily headlines about indebted pension funds, and an overloaded Social Security and Medicare system have many of my boomer cohort doing the math on their future plans. My response is perhaps a riddle, but a spiritual truth in my estimation---
There's never enough.
There's always enough.
This old accountant, bank commercial loan and marketing office, and hospital financial administrator is comfortable with balance sheets, economic forecasts, and liquidity formulas. But, thirty five years in the ministry taught me this important lesson: the world system has an unquenchable thirst for more, and God always supplies what we need. Thus, there's never enough by human standards, and there's always enough by God's. And, yes, I know there are extremes and exceptions because we humans can be pretty reckless in financial matters. On the whole, however, this little adage has been an accurate guide for our lives in just about every venue. As the Apostle Paul reminded his dear friends in Philippi, "And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19, ESV). The world screams, there's never enough. God whispers, there's always enough.
Human scales and measures are weighted anyway. You know it's true. The things we want and desire are always heavier than what we actually need for life. So, there's an imbalance when we're running our numbers, paying the bills, and preparing for the future. Slick marketing types parade lush brands and glorious images of the good life in front of us at every turn. In the cultural economy enough is never enough and more is always the goal. It's the perverse ethos of the American dream, people with a strong work ethic aiming higher. It's what drives manic Christmas buying and even giving, the quest for more. An outcome right now in culture is that boomers are by and large working through their sixties and millennials are scrounging for places in the workforce. There's never enough.
Then, there's the truth of Scripture, affirming there's always enough. The New Testament is annotated with many warnings about the lure of material things and money, while affirming the discipline of contentment.
For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that
you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these
things will be given to you as well.
Matthew 6:32-33, NIV
Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed;
life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
Luke 12:15, NIV
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have
learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed
or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who
gives me strength.
Philippians 4:12-13, NIV
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the
world, and we can take nothing out of it.
1 Timothy 6:6-7, NIV
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have,
because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
Hebrews 12:5, NIV
These verses, and many others, reveal the tension in life between never enough and always enough. People in the simple and unrefined world of the first century knew this desire for more too. Faith addressed this never enough thing even then.
Simon Peter also wrote from a a reservoir of wisdom about life and God's provision for living it.
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our
knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these
he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you
may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world
caused by evil desires.
2 Peter 1:3-4, NIV
Pause over that one for a moment. His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life. Certainly the "everything" idea here covers the entirety of life, his generous and gracious spiritual provision that enables mere humans to live a godly life., as well as the physical and material needs that threaten our contentment. It is amplified by a reminder of his "great and precious promises", which cover every dimension of life. They enable us to "participate in the divine nature" and therefore experience the joys and peace of contentment.
Note Paul's confession about contentment. He noted that he had "learned the secret of being content in any and every situation". Contentment is a discipline of the Christian life, to be learned. Perhaps the modern, sophisticated consumer church has slipped the ideal of contentment to the fringes of our commission to make disciples of all nations, and, as a result, we've lost the discipline of being content.
And, that's all I want for Christmas, 2016, personal contentment with where we are in this life. If permitted an addendum to that prayer, I'd add the prayers that we in the church would make contentment a line item in our discipleship process.
He's given everything we need for a godly life. Wow. It's always enough.