This is my sermon from last Sunday.
You may have heard this story before… or something close to it. In fact I hope you have, because I never really found out how the story ends.
Once upon a time there was a poor farmer and wife. They struggled along, but had trouble feeding themselves. They had several children but they all grew up and went overseas for work and hardly seemed to remember them.
The couple sat around every evening talking about the dreams of what their life would be like if only they had a little more. They would fix their house, get a motor scooter to go to the palengke. Maybe a new cell phone with camera. Maybe get cable tv and DSL internet. Oh… and they would be kind and generous to everyone they knew… unlike their ungrateful children.
The farmer raised roosters to take to the cockfights in hopes of making big money. But afterwards he would return and they would eat tinola, or perhaps fried chicken.
They would play the national lottery, and they would pray and pray, “Lord… we are your humble servants. Please make us big winners this time.” Time after time they prayed, and time after time they lost.
Whether it is from prayer or some strange quantum event I don’t know… but one morning, the farmer’s wife went to collect eggs. She found out that one egg collected was much heavier than the rest. When she cracked open that egg, she found that the yolk was pure gold. 98 grams of pure gold, to be exact.
Well that comes to maybe P300,000 in today’s market… almost 5,000 US$. Not bad. They thanked God, and then paid off all of their utang. It was a great day.
The next day, the same thing happened, but this time, the farmer’s wife noted that it was their favorite hen that had laid the egg… more of a pet than a farm animal. They were excited about this unexpected wealth. As days went on they kept getting 98 grams of gold every time their pet hen laid an egg. They began buying things. They bought the new cellphone, and motor scooter, cable TV, DSL internet.
They started to have to change their behavior. They stopped answering the cellphone or the door because of all of their suddenly friendly children, cousins, aunts and uncles, and neighbors wanting gifts or loans from them. They would show up or call at all times of the day and night. Eventually, they felt they had to move away from their friends and family, and so they bought a condominium in Makati., and a vacation property in Boracay … to relax. They bought a Lincoln Navigator and a Porsche Boxter (sweet!) and had a driver available 24 hours a day… but they hardly dared go out of their house. What if someone came and stole their hen. Or what if their hen laid an egg when they weren’t around and one of the servants stole it.
Unfortunately, it can become difficult living on a mere P300,000 a day. Where can one find money to pay for one’s cleaners, security detail for their hen, maintenance on their now numerous properties, and retainers for their accountants and lawyers.
And then were the bad days. I almost hate to talk about them. Hens don’t lay eggs every day, and their gold hen was no exception. Every now and then, it laid no egg at all. The horror. How will they pay for the servants? Their boat. The new clothes they ordered so they could walk proud among the rich and famous?
It began to occur to them that they were too dependent on one little hen. What if something happened to it. So they hired a veterinarian to ensure that the hen was in peak physical condition. They also had the veterinarian experiment with various feeds and work regimens to make the hen lay more eggs or eggs with larger golden yolks. Nothing worked. The hen produced 98 grams of gold a day regardless. They hoped to breed more gold hens, but no matter what they did, gold eggs refused to hatch into gold chicks.
As time went on, the couple started to go into debt. Slowly they began to see the hen differently. The farmer remembered back when he was a small child. Tourists would come to a site not far from his home to see a beautiful waterfall. While there, they would reach into their pockets or purses and toss a few meager coins into the pool below the falls, and watch as half starved children would scramble and dive into the water to collect these treasures. These rich indolent foreigners did not do this because they cared for the children or their families. They did it as their own callous form of amusement.
How was this chicken any different? It had all of that wealth, but only doled out a lousy 98 grams a day. Why could it not at least make it a nice round number like 100 grams… or maybe 200 grams? 200 sounds so much better than 98.
That chicken was, of course, just a stupid animal… but it was a stingy, greedy, stupid animal. It is living a life more posh, more luxurious than any chicken has ever lived, and gives them nothing back for it. This fact gnawed on their minds day and night. They watched the gold commodities market, to ensure they got every centimo out of the 98 grams of gold they harvested daily. Some days, gold prices would go down and the farmer and his wife would yell at their chicken… “Why couldn’t you lay platinum or rhodium eggs. These are doing so much better than gold. With gold prices down, it is hardly worth paying someone to crack open your eggshells!”
One day, workers at a gold mine in South Africa accidently hit an underground stream and flooded a third of the mine. Gold prices spiked high. “Now’s our chance!” said the farmer to his wife. “Let’s get all of the chicken’s gold, and we will be rich for life!”
They took the hen from her own private bedroom. They killed her and cut her open. What do you think they found? Sure, you know. They found chicken and nothing more.
Of more interest would be what the two would do afterwards.
Option 1 is that they are driven to bankruptcy and forced to live in squalor. They are sour… hating God, the hen, and the world in general for playing such a cruel trick on them. Every night they dream of finding another gold egg, and all of the things they would do from such a gift. Life is frustrating and bitter.
Option 2 is not that different. They sell everything they have and move back onto the farm. However, they gradually learn some valuable lessons from the strange episode in their lives. They even begin to appreciate the hard lesson and find some humor in it. They learn to appreciate what they have now. Life is simple but sweet.
THE GIFT OF CONTENTMENT. It could also be called the Gift of Satisfaction. This is not a big topic on Sunday mornings, I think. However, there is a whole book of the Bible that is written on the topic of godly contentment. It is the book of Ecclesiastes.
12 I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. 13 That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil-this is the gift of God.
18 Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him-for this is his lot. 19 Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work-this is a gift of God. 20 He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.
6:1 I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on men: 2 God gives a man wealth, possessions and honor, so that he lacks nothing his heart desires, but God does not enable him to enjoy them, and a stranger enjoys them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil.
We see here the gift of God of being content or satisfied, and one who lacks this gift and is discontented.
What is contentment? I am from America, and Americans don’t really think very highly of contentment. Americans like happiness. They like thrill. But contentment? No big surprise then that Stephen Covey’s book on 7 habits of highly effective people does not list contentment. And it is not alone. Church leadership books or Church growth books usually ignore contentment. But this is a mistake. We need to see what contentment is… and is not. Here in the Philippines I believe that contentment is more valued. But still many are like the farmer and his wife… never finding satisfaction with what one has.
1. It is not about rejecting change and progress. Some dislike contentment because they assume that one needs to be discontented to promote change. Paul was a planner, and organizer, a doer. He was on the move. Sounds like someone who has discontent— has “happy feet”. Yet he was the one who said in Philippians 4:
11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 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. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
(Isn’t it amazing at how we rip verse 13 out of its context so often? “I can do everything through him who gives me strength…” is not about God giving power, but the gift to be contentment.)
Discontentment is not a necessary requirement for change and growth. Perhaps some have chosen to need that, but that is not as it is meant to be.
Discontentment is not so likely to lead to growth and progress as it is to lead to:
-Greed -Covetousness -Envy
-Spiritual compromise -Moral Failure
2. It is not just sitting around being happy and doing nothing. Looking back at Ecclesiastes 3… contentment is a gift from God that allows you to find enjoyment in the work that you do. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Not only finding joy in what you do, but enjoy doing it.
I know two people. You do not know them.
One was a single missionary who put off marriage to serve God. Finally, she married in her middle age. They married too late to have children, but they struggled along childless as missionaries until they eventually retired. However, retirement was tough because they were very poor (missionaries and pastors back then, and now, rarely have good retirement plans) and had to do extra work to pay the bills. Her husband died early leaving her as a poor widow. She looks back on her life with bitterness. She feels that God has somehow cheated her out of the best things in life.
The other person had a somewhat similar life story. She is also a former missionary. She had the opportunity to leave the confines of small town America to travel the world serving God as a missionary. Being a single missionary she had the freedom and respect accorded few women in that era. Later in life, she met a good man who shared her passion for cross-cultural ministry. They married and shared many good years living together, working together, growing old together. In time they semi-retired from missionary work… doing some work as time and health allowed. Eventually he died, leaving her with fond memories of life and ministry and spiritual children all over the world to communicate with, encouraging and being encouraged by.
The two people were actually one. The first story is how the woman perceives her life. The second is how she would perceive it with the gift of contentment.
Did you know that God is content? Read Genesis 1. The first thing we learn about God is that He is the God of Creation. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The second thing we learn about God is the He is the God of Communication. “And God said, “Let there be light.” The third thing we learn is that He is the God of Contentment. He looked at His work and declared it good. Each day, the cycle repeats. God speaks, God creates, God is content. And that contentment does not lead him to stop doing. Rather, it leads to new challenges. Just as a woodcarver produces a sculpture, becomes satisfied with it, puts it aside and begins work on a new masterpiece. Contentment is not about doing nothing.
3. Contentment is not about accumulating or rejecting stuff. Some think that God blesses by giving stuff. Sadly these people do not know their math. Discontentment plus stuff equals Discontentment.
10 Whoever loves money never has money enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.
I Timothy 6:9-10.
People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs
If you think that getting stuff will satisfy you… then by all means pray that God will give you stuff. Pray for golden eggs. If you think that will satisfy, then you deserve it.
On the other hand, some believe that denial or asceticism leads to contentment. — Suffering comes from unmet desire, so learn to desire nothing. See how often and long you can fast. Minimize sleep. Reject life’s joys. Sort of the health food store mantra… if it tastes bad, it MUST be good for you.
The writer of Ecclesiastes rejects both of these. He said, “Fear God and enjoy the life God gives.” Enjoy the food God gives you. Enjoy the drink God gives you. Enjoy the family God gives you. Enjoy the work God gives you. All else is a waste of time… a chasing after mist. Some Christians don’t like the message of Ecclesiastes. For the life of me, I cannot see why. Paul repeats the message of Ecclesiastes in I Timothy 6:6. “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”
So if you are one who believes in praying for spiritual gifts. My vote is for this one.… the Spiritual Gift of Contentment.