My parents are the most generous people I know. They’ve given away cars and groceries and stacks of new clothes to those in need. They’ve hired people for work that could have waited, given time they didn’t have, and written checks they couldn’t afford. When I was young, there were several stretches when my dad didn’t take his salary because the church he pastored was having trouble paying the bills. But we had food on the table, and I never saw any letters from the bank stamped in red.
Being a father now, I know the strain my dad and mom carried, but they kept smiling. Our house didn’t traffic in glum. Whenever I’d ask my dad about money problems, he’d say, “God owns everything, Winn, and God will take care of us.”
What my parents owned, they held loosely—while freely giving to others with joy because they believed there would always be enough. They believed God to be a God of bounty. They believed He had a trigger finger and was quick to give to all generously.
However, if we take the opposite approach, think God stingy, and attempt to cobble together our own existence, then we will forever claw and cling to what we perceive to be shrinking assets. Under this regime, once we’ve amassed whatever we believe necessary, we will inevitably guard our resources (energy, money, time, reputation, possessions) like a dog growling over his bone.
If we allow the vision of God’s generous kingdom (rather than the vision tirelessly projected by mass marketing and greedy consumerism) to shape our world, we will find liberation. We will discover how to let go of our life and gain the courage to release our tight clutch on possessions. As one teacher I know says regularly, “Scarcity is the lie; abundance is the truth.” And with God, there is always abundance.
Contented people trust God’s abundance, goodness, and provision. They can relax into life.
This relaxed posture requires gumption. It requires a streak of reckless trust. In Scripture, children are often depicted as trusting and generous. (Remember, it was a boy who gave the Lord his loaves and fishes.) Jesus said it was they who modeled the simple trust the kingdom requires. Children often exhibit selfishness, of course, but they seem able to let it go more quickly, to trust more easily. Perhaps they have not yet acquired enough to believe that what they have must be ferociously protected.
Learning from my parents’ generosity, my sister Vonda decided she wanted to give an extravagant gift to God, something that would cost her dearly and require great faith. Even when she was little, Vonda didn’t give a hoot about money. Chewing gum, however, was gold bullion. One Sunday, with firm resolve, she carried her treasured pack of Bubble Yum to church. After the service, Vonda set her face like flint, walked up to the pastor, solemnly pulled her treasure from her pocket, and placed it in his hand. Even the widow with her two copper coins might have stood hushed.
Months later (which must have seemed like decades in a 4-year-old’s mind), our family was in St. Augustine, Florida, touring the grounds of the Mission Nombre de Dios. Inside the old ivy-covered stone chapel stood a shrine of the virgin Mary cradling baby Jesus. My dad was walking with Vonda, hand in hand, when she stopped abruptly. My sister stepped closer to the statue and, with arms resting on her hips, spoke directly to the babe: “Jesus, what did You do with that bubble gum? You eat it?”
This, however, is the critical detail—several hours after Vonda had made her momentous gift, a woman dropped by our house. When my mom opened the door, the woman handed her a bag. “I was at the grocery story,” she said, “and remembered how much Vonda likes gum. I thought she should have this.” In the Kroger bag was a family pack of bubble gum, more than 100 sticks of awe and pleasure for my sister.
You can claim coincidence if you want. Maybe. Certainly, God is no bubble gum machine. But I imagine Him beaming as Vonda buried her hands in piles of gum. She encountered, perhaps in ways only a child can, the truth that God owns everything and will take care of us.
Contentment insists on this: With God, there is always enough.
My sister’s experience reflects Jesus’ own teaching about God: If your child requests bread, He asks, will you give him a rock instead? If your child wants a fish, would you hand her a snake? No, that’s crazy! Even with all your screw-ups, you still long to give good gifts to your children, right? Can you imagine how much more your Father is eager to give to you?
When we know God’s generosity and believe that He will provide for our needs, we are released into an anxiety-free posture: contentment. A contented person trusts God’s abundance, goodness, and provision. When we know that He is generous from beginning to end, we can relax into our life, awaiting His lavish gifts—for us as well as for others. Because we have faith in God, whether we find ourselves enjoying abundance or barely having groceries for a meal, we will be content either way. (See 1 Tim. 6:8.)
Contentment does not mean that we accept injustice or do nothing to move out of untenable places. It does not suggest a laissez-faire existence. What it does mean, however, is that we trust God more than we trust our circumstances. It means we hold to the truth that God knows the intricacies of our life, and we allow ourselves to receive the peace that comes with knowing that He possesses all we need. Contentment insists on this: With God, there is always enough. Enough grace. Enough love. Enough hope. Enough money. Enough friendship.
On a long family road trip during Christmas break several years ago, we were caught in a blizzard. We spent two hours at a dead stop on I-70 while tow trucks hauled four tractor-trailers out of the ditch. Our boys grew restless and began to fight over the books and games they had brought. They concocted trades that somehow included multiple exchanges of money they had received for Christmas. The arguments escalated until my wife halted the melee. “Guys,” she said, “the only question you need to ask is this: Right now, in this moment, do I have enough?”
“For of [Jesus’] fullness,” says the apostle John, “we have all received, and grace upon grace” (John 1:16). The gifts Jesus gives are not for a privileged few; they are for everyone. And there is always plenty. God’s well never runs dry; it spills over with generosity. Because God owns everything and because His deep heart exudes generosity, we are set free to live well and to love others.