Article: CHRISTIAN LIFE STYLE & CONTENTMENT | Jacob Varghese
According to the dictionary, the word “life style” has a very simple meaning. It is just “the way in which a person lives. This of course means that each of us has his or her own life style. The word ‘Lifestyle’ today has distinct connotations of affluence. It is connected with having enough money, beyond the necessities, to make your life what you want it to be or even to give it a certain appearance to others. The word is now used often as an adjective to mean an expensive, stylish, exclusive, sophisticated way of living. If we take the literal meaning of the word, the rich naturally have a very different lifestyle from that of the middle-class and the poor. They wear expensive designer clothes; go for holidays to foreign countries, drive luxury vehicles and spend money lavishly. But the middle- class lives carefully not to go hungry or without adequate clothing or a roof over their heads. The poor often do go hungry, have to beg or borrow for clothing and often do not have a roof over their heads.
Has life style to do anything with happiness? Are rich always happier than the middle-class and the middle class happier than the poor? We all know that the answer to this question is an emphatic, “No!” though the poor always think that those with full stomachs, clean clothes to wear and a permanent structure to live in must be happy. But the truth is that most of us easily get used to our life styles and begin to crave the one that is better. And even if we get it, it satisfies us only for some time. Where then is happiness in all this? What is the life style of happiness?
In the midst of all these, what is the purpose of living a Christian life style? Choosing to make Jesus Christ the Lord of our life, changes our lifestyle dramatically. Our friendships, activities, possessions and even our entire living get careful attention. While we formulate reasons for the way we live our Christian lives, God’s purpose for our lives never changes. Experience teaches us, as we grow older, that actually being happy has little to do with one’s life style. If we look around, we see that the most surprising people are happy. I heard about a maid servant in a nearby colony whom they pay a meager amount, by telling each other that it is more than the going rate for maid servants; she greets each of them with a broad smile every time they meet. She never asks for an advance and when they tip her, give her food packet after a party they have had or give her old clothes they are fed up with; she accepts the gift gracefully, but with certain indifference. It is clear that she can do without their hand out.
“Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom …..” (James2:5) Recently I read the story about an American evangelist who receives gifts from listeners amounting to $51 million each year, a fiftieth of which he keeps as his own personal income. He already owns a luxurious mansion, a fleet of cars and numerous other material advantages. While this is one extreme, there is another extremely painful reality that is seen in our Christian world. One evangelist from Columbia spoke in an ‘International Consultation on Simple Lifestyle’ of his own life experience. After an exhausting day of preaching in a village he returned very hungry to the pastor’s house where he was staying. The pastor, his wife and five children were there but the table was set with only one plate on it- only for the visiting evangelist. As he sat down to eat, the pastor’s wife served him one egg and one potato. “Is that all?” he thought to himself, “but I am so hungry!” When he casually asked the pastor’s wife whether the rest of them had already eaten, he was surprised to hear her saying that she would prepare the meal later. The time was already 10.30 pm. Then the evangelist discovered that they had no money and no food apart from this one egg and the potato. The evangelist could not eat but he divided his tiny meal into eight miniature portions, invited them all to sit with him at the table, bowed his head and gave thanks to the Lord with tears in his eyes.
In a small village lived a very poor family of a widowed mother and four small children. During one Christmas season, their pastor asked the congregation, to give liberally for a poor family of their church. On hearing this, the mother and her children started doing extra work, toiled hard, skipped a meal and saved an amount of Rs. 200/-. Next Sunday, they quietly dropped the money as offertory. When their pastor came home the next day and handed over the collection, they felt sad to know that they were considered poor. What is more! They had received Rs. 250/- just Rs. 50/- above what they themselves had given. Next Sunday, the pastor gave a call to give to poor missionaries who toil for Christ. And this family without reluctance gave the entire Rs. 250/- for missionaries. The family overflowed with joy to know that the total collection was Rs. 250/- and what they gave was the largest and full amount collected. What an irony! The rich gave the least and this poor family had given the most!
Dear friends, we as Christians, talk so much about caring for the poor, needy and destitute, the widows and the orphans. But how far do we demonstrate it through our actions and life style? The above two sharply contrasting illustrations indicate to us the present day economic inequality within the family of God? How true it is? James clearly states how the poor are oppressed and how the rich in their selfishness exploit them without mercy. Let us think for a while. Are we doing justice by giving special attention and honor to the rich evangelists who are unconcerned about the poor servants of God working in the remote places, who struggles even to have one square meal a day?
The people of our time are aspired to have cash in the bank, career for the future, car to drive, connectivity to live in, credit card to travel with, choices to make, confidence for doing things in their own way and their list go on. The pursuit for possessions continues to be one of the most powerful motivations that people can experience. But can the accumulation of things bring true satisfaction? In Luke 12:15 “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.” Jesus answered that question with a firm and uncompromising “No!” During the discussion on material wealth, He said, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Life must always be more than just the inventory of the things we own. King Solomon also attempted to find satisfaction in the pursuit of things. He discovered it to be full of emptiness. If we have placed “the abundance of the things” we possess at the center of our lives, shopping in fact has become a substitute for God- a new religion. But such endeavors will always result in emptiness. In Psalm 145:16 David prayed, “You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing”. Only God is able to bring real satisfaction to our lives. In Hebrews 13 we see “Let your conduct be without covetousness and be content with such things as you have for He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” You are rich when you are satisfied with what you have. Covetousness is the order of the day. Instead of feeling happy for all that we have, we tend to be sorry for what others have and we do not have. When people see others having what they do not have, they immediately covet the things or the position their neighbors have. Whereas, the Bible teaches us to be content with what we have, as it is a known fact that we brought nothing into this world and we are going to take nothing out of it.
A horse and a donkey were walking together. The horse was groomed and polished, prancing along in its fine trappings, well pampered by its master. The donkey was made to carry heavy loads but not cared for very much and not adorned with fineries. He felt so bad and sighed at the horse and said, “I wish I were you; nothing to do and yet well fed, and with all that fine and beautiful harness upon you.” The horse said nothing but walked along. Next day, however, there was a great battle, and the master left the donkey at home and went to the battle field on the horse. There, the horse was wounded to the point of death in the battle and the master abandoned it with all its fine harness. The donkey happened to pass by shortly afterwards and found the horse on the point of death’ “I was wrong,” said the donkey. “Better to be content with what I am and what I have than to covet.” It learned the lesson “Be content to be yourself!”
We may envy others, especially the unrighteous, but we may not be aware of what is kept -in store for them. The Bible says, be content with what you have. Paul also says in his epistles that he had learnt to be content in whatever condition he had to be in. Let us be content with what we are and what we have. Let us depend on the Lord totally for our needs. Being richer never means being content! Let our godliness with contentment bring us great gain! Christians should aim at maintaining a simple life style. Many Christians get in to financial difficulties because they try to maintain too high standard of living, though they cannot afford to, simply because their neighbors do. We all want more than what we have or could afford. We might need a car but our want tells us to go for a Honda City instead of a Maruti Alto. Psalms 62:10 says that “though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them”. Although it is legitimate for us to earn as much as we can, we need to avoid the longing to go on gathering wealth. Riches become a fascination and a hindrance to our Christian life. Christians should learn to be content with what God has given and also must keep in mind the need of others poorer than themselves. We can present an outward appearance of holiness daily and still serve as a poor Christian witness. To live as a Christian requires having the character of Christ. A transformation must occur as result of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. When we truly practice a Christian lifestyle, the inward evidence becomes obvious. God’s glory and power pours out upon all those around us. Our faith in the midst of turmoil flows from a heart given to a loving Father. Every breath of a Christian must carry words of compassion and affirmation to a hurting world. Those who live the Christian lifestyle live a confident life on the inside and outside.