A few years ago, Emily and I were talking through something she read in a book on money. The big idea presented was that divvying everything up into categories of “needs” and “wants” is an oversimplification. A false dichotomy that leads us into one of two extremes, either treating money and wealth as something we are entitled to (as in prosperity theology), or acting as though money is entirely and utterly wicked.
The problem, of course, is neither is true. The either/or of what some have called prosperity vs poverty theology doesn’t seem to leave much room for appreciation or thankfulness. There is no real place for contentment if money is at best a necessary evil and at worst a god. You either hate it (and possibly hate that you have it) or you are never satisfied.
What I love about Paul’s letter to the Philippians is that he doesn’t encourage finding a balance between asceticism and obsession. Instead, he shows us an entirely different option—contentment.
The source of contentment
When I read this particular letter, I always get stuck on Philippians 4:10-13. “…For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content,” Paul wrote.
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
I find this really challenging, no matter how many times I read it. I want it to be easier. I want the Bible to either give me license to chase money or command me to outright reject it entirely. But Paul doesn’t do this. Instead, he says, I have learned to be content in every circumstance.
When I have all that I need materially, I am content, he said. When I have more than I need, I am content. When I have less than I need, I am content. And why? Because, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
That is the source of contentment— the recognition that God is the one who provided all he had. God sustained him. He strengthens Paul. He provides exactly what he needed in any and every circumstance, even while Paul was imprison. And that knowledge, by God’s grace, is what allowed Paul to be content.
Becoming content with the money I have (and what I don’t)
The same is true for me, and for you. Just as he did with Paul, God still provides exactly what we need for today, even if it’s not enough in our eyes. He sustains us and strengthens us. And because of this, we too can be content in whatever circumstances, whether being blessed with abundance or struggling to rub to pennies together.
Here’s what that looks like for me:
I try not to presume upon on God that money will show up. The older I’ve grown, the more I am anti-debt. As of this writing, Emily and I owe a grand total of about $5,000 in the entire world. Most of that has been due to a major repair job on the car earlier this year. I try to manage my finances in such a way that we have a bit of buffer and aren’t maxed out every single month (this can be a challenge at times, especially when utility costs are rising). While we use a credit card to collect points, we don’t fund a lavish lifestyle using it.
I try to encourage us to enjoy what we do have. This means Emily and I do have a line in our budget for things like eating out and going out for coffee. We have room for babysitting and occasionally going to the movies if there’s something worth seeing. We are not in the same position financially as we were when we owned a house. As renters, we have significantly more.
I try to remind myself that I am a steward, not an owner. I don’t own the money I’ve been given. It all belongs to God. And because of that, I want to be wise with how I spend and also how I give. This attitude has been helpful for me because it reminds me to be thankful, even as it challenges me to be responsible. What God has provided is enough, and we have never been without.
Yes, we have lacked in terms of wants in some seasons over the last 11 years. There have been seasons where we were lacking in needs, too. But in those circumstances, it was no hardship to be thankful and mean it. We had seen God provide, and we could trust that he would continue to provide what we needed.
And because of that, we are so greatly blessed.