Life has an ebb and flow to it, doesn’t it? The writer of Ecclesiastes was right, that there is a time under heaven for everything. A time to live, and a time to die. A time to tear down and a time to heal. A time to laugh and a time to cry.
Paul said much of the same thing as he thought about the secret of contentment:
I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself. I know both how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me (Phil. 4:11-13).
Paul walked through different seasons, and yet had learned the secret of contentment in them all. Whether he was in a season of plenty or a season of want, he ultimately found his satisfaction in Christ alone. Circumstances change, but Jesus never does.
Depending on the season we are in, there might be all kinds of reasons why we could be drawn away from contentment in Jesus. But it seems, ironically, that the greater danger of that happening actually comes during seasons of prosperity. We find far more warnings in the Bible about the dangers of money and comfort than the dangers of difficulty and want. Perhaps that’s because there are no atheists in foxholes; that is, when we are knocked flat by life, we are much more aware of our own frailty and more willing to humbly turn to the Lord.
If that’s true, then, we should actually look with wariness on seasons of prosperity. If we find ourselves in a season of plenty, we should walk carefully, on our guard. The Lord articulated this clearly for His people as He was bringing them into the new land, the land He promised to Abraham. We find those warnings in Deuteronomy 8:
For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams, springs, and deep water sources, flowing in both valleys and hills; a land of wheat, barley, vines, figs, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey; a land where you will eat food without shortage, where you will lack nothing; a land whose rocks are iron and from whose hills you will mine copper. When you eat and are full, you will bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.
Be careful that you don’t forget the Lord your God by failing to keep his commands, ordinances, and statutes that I am giving you today… (Deut. 8:7-11).
Oh, the land would be good. The people would live in prosperity they did not earn. But as the passage continues, God was clear – they should also be careful in the midst of these blessings, for at least these three reasons:
1. Prosperity makes us forgetful.
Material comfort and blessings have a dulling event on us. They make our memories less sharp, and though we might remember in the back of our minds the true source of what we have, we tend to keep it there in the back of our minds. When there is no urgent need, when there is no immediate cause for prayer, when the daily bread is just “there,” we tend to become very forgetful people. It’s not that we need the Lord and His sustaining grace less during those times; it’s just that our prosperity makes us less aware of the need we have.
2. Prosperity makes us prideful.
Not only might we become forgetful, we might also become prideful in the midst of our plenty. We might start to think that we ourselves – our intelligence, our shrewdness, our acumen – these are the reasons we have so much. Most disturbing of all, this pride is a gradual drifting, so slight that we hardly recognize it’s happening until we find that we have become completely self-reliant and self-congratulatory for everything in our lives. Let’s be careful, friends, that we don’t read our own press clippings, for the human heart is prideful always desiring to take the credit that only belongs to the Lord.
3. Prosperity makes us idolatrous.
In the midst of prosperity, we become forgetful. Then our forgetfulness turns to pride and self-reliance. And then ultimately we turn to idols. It happened that way for the people of Israel, and it can happen that way to us. Because things are going so well for us, we tend to think there is no consequence for our actions. We stop pursuing holiness; our hearts become colder and colder until we are actually bowing down to the very things that God has chosen to allow us to have.
A season of prosperity can, if we are not careful, lead us to a season of discipline and judgment.
You might be in a season of want today. If you are, then remain faithful and trust the Lord. You might be in a season of plenty today. If you are, then remain watchful and trust the Lord. In either case, though, learn the lesson of contentment, because it’s only through Jesus that we can be content no matter how much or little we have.