“Staying Positive in a Negative World – The Secret of Contentment”

January 12, 2020


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
Jan. 12, 2020

“Staying Positive in a Negative World – The Secret of Contentment”
I Tim. 6:6-8

Months ago, a church member suggested that in the climate of our news cycles, in the stress of everyday life, and in the hustle/ bustle of our work and family roles it might be necessary to have a sermon series on how to keep a positive attitude when everything else seems to be going to pot! I agreed. And then I quickly responded that I wasn’t certain I had anything to contribute to such a sermon series – that I, myself, would struggle to find the strength within to create such positive, uplifting sermons in the midst of well, you know, life.

But I decided to rise to the occasion for our mutual benefit! So, we are embarking on a new sermon series “Staying Positive in a Negative World”. Each week we will look at a different aspect of our lives and consider how to reform our thoughts and actions to create more positive behaviors. Each sermon will be based on Biblical texts and offer practical steps to put into action in our lives to help us all be more positive.

This is one of the sermon series that I hope will inspire you to invite friends, neighbors, and relatives to join you at church. And as always, I hope you will dialog with me about what is helpful in the sermons and what results you are seeing as we go along.

Our topic for today is “The Secret of Contentment” … and our Traditional Word is from I Timothy 6:6-8. In this text, an older apostle writes to give wise counsel to younger church leaders. He is clearly not only writing to one named Timothy, but to a group of church leaders as he uses the plural “you” in his writings. This is an elder in the church imparting carefully thought out and important lessons to his younger prodigy about how to live in trying times. To fully appreciate this letter, you might think about what you might write as a grandparent to leave behind for a young grandchild as your letter of instruction and wisdom about life. What would you say?

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. I Tim. 6:6-8

We have all probably had those moments in life when we are caught up in something that makes us realize just what is truly important. Captain Eddie Rickenbacker had gained fame as a daring race car driver and then as a top score ace fighter pilot in WW1 and a medal of honor recipient. He eventually became the President of Eastern Airlines. In 1942, he was on a Boeing B-17 that crashed into the Pacific Ocean. He and others were stranded in lifeboats and lost at sea for 21 days with only 4 oranges to eat between them. When asked what he had learned from drifting about in the blazing sun during the days and the cold dark nights with no food or fresh water, Captain Eddie replied, “The biggest lesson I learned from that experience was that if you have all the fresh water you want to drink and all the food you want to eat, you ought never complain about anything.”

Most of us need this reminder… be content with what we have. If we have enough water to drink and enough food to eat, we ought not complain about anything. “But…” I understand all the reasons we want to complain. I have my share of qualifications and things I would like to complain about. However, learning to be content is learning to let those “buts” take a second seat to choosing contentment.

The apostle Paul’s claim of contentment was not an empty boast. He lived a contented life in the most difficult of circumstances. For example, when he and Silas were cast into prison in Philippi after having been beaten and having their feet placed in stocks, they prayed and sang praises to God. Their praying was not a surprise (because many people start getting religious when things are rotten) but singing songs of praise to God was not a usual sound coming out of a prison cell in 1st century Philippi.

We may be in unpleasant circumstances. We can be bone-tired of problems and feel completely depressed by recent happenings. Our aches and pains can be as real as any we have ever experienced. We can know with every fiber of our beings that there is no contentment available in our situations. It is not easy.

If I were Oprah, I would tell you that this is the exact time you need to start a gratitude journal. Because expressing gratitude is the antidote to negativity. When we decide to look for people, places and things to be grateful for, we have chosen contentment over dissatisfaction. Our backs straighten. Our eyes look brighter. Our view changes. We begin to see light on the horizon. The perspective changes. We realize we have enough water to drink and enough food to eat and we become grateful for the possibilities before us.

This is one of the secrets to contentment. When we don’t appreciate what we have, we long for what we don’t have. Let me say it another way…. When we think about what we don’t have, that becomes our focus and we become focused on all that is wrong – and we begin to list even more that is wrong in our minds. Contentment is a powerful force for good and the lack of it is very dangerous. When we allow our brains to focus on our lack of contentment, we can quickly become dissatisfied with our situations and even our lives.

Have you ever craved a food? Have you ever thought about something and wanted it so badly that you went to bed thinking about it and woke up the next morning still thinking about it? And nothing… nothing… nothing else will satisfy you until you have that very craving fulfilled? Another kind of ice cream doesn’t do the trick. It must be the exact kind you are thinking about or you think you will lose your mind. The more you determine not to think about your craving, the more you think about it. And life simply cannot go on until you take care of the thing you are focused on.

I recently decided I needed a pink tablecloth. Now, I have a bunch of perfectly delightful tablecloths. And tablecloths are not the most important necessity of a person’s life. I understand this. But I set my dining room table for every season and I have some dishes that are pink and black. They would look good on a pink tablecloth with some pink candlesticks. Everywhere I go I’ve been looking for pink tablecloths. And pink candlesticks. My happiness depends on it, you know. I’m craving pink things lately. And noticing pink things in stores – things that will fit nicely on my table with the dishes and the tablecloth and the candles. And then I began to think about desserts that would look nice. Perhaps some desserts that had some fresh strawberries on top… that would make me so happy.

What if our contentment is about something ever more serious? What if we are concerned about the health of our marriage or a loved one or the state of our country? The same principles apply. When our focus is on what is not, then we have set ourselves up for discontent. Contentment comes from gratitude for what we have.

There is a time for discontent, because it stirs us to action. But we cannot live in a constant state of discontent – because it is hazardous to our mental and spiritual health. That means that our discontent needs to stir us to action for a designated time (a portion of a day or a selected part of our week or a period of our life, but not the whole of our experience). And then we must choose to live in contentment and gratitude the rest of the time. We must focus on what we have that we can give thanks for the rest of the time. Otherwise, we will become despondent, jaded, cynical, coarse, resentful, negative, and hate filled.

In your bulletin is space for you to write notes. Take a moment to write down something that has been on your mind – something that has worried or troubled you. (pause) The next thing I want you to list is the general topic that this worry falls under – whether it is a health issue, a family issue, a political issue, a job issue, a financial issue, a faith issue, an emotional problem, etc.

I know the next step would be easiest if I asked you to list all the reasons that you worry about this – all the possible things that could happen. Instead, I would like you to list the things in this general topic for which you can be grateful.
* If it is a family issue, think of all the things in your family for which you can be grateful.
* If it is a financial issue, think of the things you can give thanks for financially.
* If it is emotional, think of the things good things going on emotionally.
* If it is something to do with our current political situation, think of good things… maybe that we have an upcoming election/ a chance to elect new leaders… maybe that we live in a country where we can vote… may that we have freedoms other places do not…
* Dig deep. This is hard work. (pause)

Continue to work on your lists. Take them home. Add to your list each day. Consider starting a gratitude journal and write in it regularly. The longer we work to find our places of gratitude and the deeper we seek gratitude, the more true contentment we will find in our lives.

How can we be more positive in a negative world? A good way to start is by counting our blessings and finding contentment with what we have. The Bible reminds us of an eternal truth: We brought nothing into the world, we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.

Resources Used:
Historynet.com/eddie-rickenbacker by Billy A. Rea.
Campbell, Roger. “Staying Positive in a Negative World”. Victor Books: SP Publications. 1986.
“The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary” vol. x. Abingdon Press: Nashville. 2015.