Daniel Williams

"Contentment" by Year 9 student Daniel Williams

Everyone in this room has something that they enjoy doing; stuff that they like having; perhaps friends or family that they enjoy being part of. For each one of us, it will be a little different, but generally along the lines of an interest we have.

For you, it may be a sport that you are involved in, or like watching. In New Zealand, many of us enjoy outdoor activities. It may be something creative; it could be gaming. I don’t assume to know what it is for you, but I’m sure you can think of something now that you find really important.

There will be exceptions. Things that are just plain wrong or unhealthy. Sometimes we get it out of balance, and these interests become all consuming. They rob us of other aspects of our lives. But in most cases, these things are beneficial, and add value. We look forward to them, they refresh us, and they help us get through the challenges of life. We’re able to work hard because we look forward to being able to play hard afterward.

Sadly, all over our nation, when this conversation comes up, people have the wrong perception of Christianity. They expect to be told these things are not allowed. They get ready to be criticized and be made to feel guilty about being “selfish”

So what does society tell us about these things? Let’s think about music. Music often expresses the emotions of the people, it captures us because we can identify with what it’s saying. All around us, musicians sing of falling short, failure, and the gap that they feel. Think of Coldplay, Imagine Dragons, and many others. U2, one of the great bands of all time: shot to fame with their song simply stating “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”. But why would we be surprised? Let’s look at history. George Santayana said: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” What is the wisdom from centuries past? And what does Christianity actually say?

The book of Ecclesiastes is generally attributed to King Solomon, one of the great kings of Israel, who was renowned for his wisdom. He also accumulated incredible wealth and influence. He looked for meaning in knowledge, in wealth, in possessions and in experiences. He was able to pursue all of these things far beyond what any of us could hope to imagine. In Ecclesiastes, he aims to pass on what he learned. They are the reflections from experience which mix wisdom with observations of the human condition.

Ecclesiastes can make for some slightly depressing reading. It’s not that he says these things are not allowed. He doesn’t criticize us or try and make us feel guilty or selfish. He doesn’t say “you can’t do this” or “you must do that”. Solomon describes what he observed in his own life and those around him. That he pursued these things, but was still left wanting more. They never satisfied him, and he never felt contentment.

Solomon also recognised that one of our tendencies in response to the need for meaning is to distract ourselves with things we know help us feel okay. If a little is good, then a lot must be better. If we still don’t feel contentment it must be because we haven’t got enough.

In Ecclesiastes 6:9 he makes the following observation:

‘Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless—like chasing the wind.’

Now Solomon isn’t saying we shouldn’t have vision. That we shouldn’t have aspirations and goals and plans to change our circumstances. He doesn’t tell us not to work hard, He doesn't tell us that it is wrong to have stuff. He’s talking about the futility of thinking if we just had the next thing going, everything would be ok. If we just had a bit more money, a bigger house, a better job, more power or status, or more knowledge, then our life would no longer have a gap in it, because we would be complete. He doesn’t want us to miss out on life because we are always dreaming about what we don’t and can’t have.

But it’s not all bad. Blended in is a message of hope. He recognises that all these things only have meaning when we are able to truly enjoy them. They will not in their own right, give us contentment, but contentment is something that we are able to know.

Ecclesiastes 5:19: “And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God, and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work, and accept your lot in life - this is indeed a gift from God.”

It’s one thing to talk about contentment, and it being a gift, but how does that actually translate into real life?

Jesus used a lot of analogies and stories to illustrate what he was saying. He used symbols that people could relate to, and that would have meaning for them. In John 4 he encountered a woman at a well and he takes the very powerful image of water. Essential for life, a daily necessity, something which brings great relief from the heat, and something which we are both dependant on and enjoy to this day. He points out that as good as it may be, it does not bring lasting contentment. There is a gap.

He says to her in John 4:10: “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

Jesus doesn’t judge her, criticize her or make her feel guilty or selfish. He doesn’t say “you can’t do this” or “you must do that”. He states things as they are, and then he offers her another way. He offers her a choice.

In verses 13 and 14 he goes on to say: “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again.14 But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”

Jesus isn’t just talking about water. He is talking about choosing a path which leads to contentment.  

This was a sermon delivered by Year 9 student, Daniel Williams at a Chapel service