Wants, Worries, and Wisdom…
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” James 3:13-17
In the above verses James reveals this connection between contentment and wisdom. The reason I am bringing contentment and wisdom into our conversation on generosity and gratitude is that I don’t think we can live a life of generosity without being content. Contentment in this passage is the absence of envy and selfish ambition. Part of that “wisdom” we receive is the discernment to know what we need and what we are told we need. We discern between our wish list and God’s will. It is not coincidence that most passages that talk about asking God for something are also tied to both His will and wisdom. If we have the wisdom to see our lives within God’s will, then we recognize the value of what we receive from God and also don’t expect to receive anything that goes against His will.
Selfish ambition is when we are motivated solely by what makes us feel good or feel better about ourselves. Essentially being motivated by comfort or pride. Envy is wanting something that someone else has to the point where it motivates your decisions and corrupts your view of the one you are envious toward.
How do these two lead us to a “discontent” heart? Here’s an experiment that would help but I don’t recommend. Find two kids who have the same favorite toy. Lock them in a room with said toy. ONLY ONE TOY. See how long it takes for one’s discontentment to show. Let’s not just pick on our kids though, we are all guilty. Do we ever catch ourselves gazing at what others are doing or getting? Doesn’t that ever cause us to base our happiness or well-being on how we compare to them? If the grass always seems greener on the other side or if there is always a bigger lot to gain, I will never be content. Discontentment is like a wildfire that will leave our relationship with God and each other in ashes. Our culture of comparison and consumerism tends to shift our perspective from what WE HAVE to what I WANT.
Do we really think we can be content and be envious or selfish? Do we really think we can be generous without being content? Discontentment causes us to both stretch ourselves too thin to be generous, and become too selfish to see opportunities to be generous as a blessing.
Jesus is recorded in Matthew teaching about living this life of contentment.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 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. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:28-34
Jesus is not teaching us to live carelessly, but to live faithfully. Not to be reckless, but to be righteous. When we seek wisdom, when we seek the will of God, we recognize the dangers of envy and selfish ambition, and we find the contentment in our hearts we need to live a life of joy and generosity.
What envious thoughts keep us from being content? What ambitions keep us from being generous? What worries keep us from being joyful?