I have a favorite treadmill at the gym. I prefer the one all the way to the left, against the wall. In terms of features, this treadmill is just like any other in the room, but its location makes it very different. From the extreme left side of the room, a pillar blocks my view of the television that shows ESPN. I love sports more than most people you’ve met, which is precisely why I can’t run on a treadmill with even a partial view of that television. Picture me, distracted by the television one moment, crumpled on the floor in a heap the next moment. Perhaps great hilarity for you, but not part of my ideal workout.
While my treadmill selection plan keeps me safely upright, it also comes with its own cost attached: the television in front of my chosen treadmill stays tuned to HGTV. All the time. Which means that the shows that accompany my run typically involve people (usually young) shopping for homes (usually recently renovated) and turning up their noses at the lack of a fourth bedroom with a view of the adjacent park, the fact that the master bathroom doesn’t come with a heated floor, or some equally grievous design flaw. And, in the process of trying to keep my body healthy, my soul gets a little sicker.
At the end of his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul praises them for their financial support of his ministry. But, he includes this important caveat: I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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 (4:11-12).
I wish I could say, along with Paul, that, I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation. But, I haven’t yet, and I’m reminded each time I hit the treadmill.
As I watch the prospective home buyers ridicule and reject various features of the homes their agents show them, I think to myself, You’re crazy! Take the home, you perspectiveless, entitled ingrates! I would not only take it, I would love it as it is! This state of mind does not help my run feel any faster nor help me feel any more content. Instead, in the height of irony, I begin to ridicule my own house. As I run, I compare my home with the ones I see on the TV and a growing part of me really longs to live in a modern, spacious home with an open floor plan and a backyard that actually features grass. But, we don’t. We live in a cozy, “veteran” place with a backyard featuring various weeds that function like the landscaping equivalent of a combover.
It can be easy for me to excuse my thought process as simple dreaming, but, in truth, I am grumbling in discontent. And, as a believer, I face a far more serious condition than the people on HGTV. Sure, they may be picky and overly pretentious, but I’m flat-out sinning. And, as with most sin, the issue is one of perspective.
I can never hope to find contentment if my sights remain set so low. If I put my hope, my desires, and my longing into earthly things, then my desires will remain unfulfilled. No amount of earthly things will ever pacify my capacity for desiring more. No, if I want to learn real contentment, I need to learn that my true desires can only be met in Christ.
These TV shows take my eye off of what really matters, and the secret that Paul embraces: Christ matters more than stuff. More than homes, more than cars, more than jobs, more than health, more than children, more than spouses, more than anything. Paul says as much in chapter 3 of the same letter to the Philippians: I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord (3:8). In light of salvation, all else not only pales in comparison, but fades in significance. When I realize, in increasing measure, how incredible my salvation is in light of the magnitude of my sin and the glory of Christ, then any gift that God chooses to give is that much more incredible. Contentment begins by considering the cross.
As I learn to desire and treasure Christ more and to consider how truly stunning grace is, I will find my truest desires met and my perspective shifted and I will begin to see clearly. And, as I begin to see, I can truly be content and thankful that God has seen fit to bless our family with the wonderful gift of a cheerful, safe, plenty-of-space-for-a-family-of-three home with a backyard with lots of “character.” Because God doesn’t owe me a thing. Instead, he chooses to bless out of his love and kindness. And, when I can lift my eyes up long enough to take in the reality of what God has done for me, I can’t help feeling content.
I want to be known for treasuring Christ above all else, and because of the resulting contentment, trusting in the goodness, timing, and sovereignty of the God who feeds the sparrows and knows exactly what I need. Then, with God’s help, I can watch HGTV without the poison of discontent creeping in–which I need to learn how to do, because there’s no way I’m changing treadmills.