What Do You Need to Be Happy?
What Do You Need to Be Happy?
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The story behind the sermon (from Francis Chan)
This message is about being content. It comes out of Philippians 4 and various other passages. It's an important message given the economic status of our country.
Many people are living in fear because of the uncertainty of our country's economic future. God, however, wants his children to live in peace. This peace comes from faith, trust, and learning the secret of contentment.
This message is meaningful to me because I give more personal testimony than usual. I speak of God's faithfulness and supernatural intervention in my life.
Churchgoers struggle with doubt and greed more than they admit. It's a sad way to live, and God has so much more for his children. But we need to believe. We need to take steps of faith to experience his supernatural power.
Mike and Carol Jones (names have been changed for security purposes) used to attend our church. Mike was a mechanic for Hummer, and when he and Carol heard about what we're doing with our church plant in Ohio, they decided to go, so he was a Hummer mechanic out there in Ohio. Here's the thing I love about Mike and Carol: their reputation is that they're givers; they're generous with other people. That was true here, and it's true in their ministry with our church plant in Ohio. Tony, the pastor of the Ohio church, has said wonderful things about their support. In fact, when they decided to head to Mission Aviation Fellowship in Indonesia, that was a huge loss in his mind. Mike was someone he could always depend on, and he and Carol gave generously, too.
So since God has called them to this other place, it must be a weird transition for them. They've been givers their whole life and now they need to be supported, because that's where God wants them. But that's the way the body of Christ works. There are going to be times when you're able to be a giver and other times when you're in need, and we help each other out. But it's all for the sake of the same thing: it's all for the kingdom.
The other thing I've appreciated about them is their contentment. When they were here they were content doing whatever the Lord wanted them to do. I visited them in their house in Ohio. I don't know if you guys have been to Ohio. Yeah, there's no point. It's not like, Oh, you've got to go see it. It's like, No, you don't. It's just Ohio. But they were content there. When I saw them, it had rained for five or six weeks straight or something like that. They came from southern California. But Carol said, "Oh, it's okay. I like the rain." They have contentment wherever they are.
The Joneses are the same in Simi Valley, in Ohio, and I believe they'll be the same in the country they go to on the mission field, because it's not about location, and it's not about circumstance. When you get it, when you understand who Jesus is, you're content wherever you are. You really are.
I gave a message about a year ago about trust. I talked about how I'm a skeptical person. I don't trust 90 percent of you, easily. Why should I trust you? I don't know you; I don't know anything about your life. Jesus wasn't quick to trust, either. People are liars. People say one thing and live a different way, and as a pastor you see that all the time. So who do I trust and say, "This person is for real"? The cool thing about Mike and Carol is that I can say I trust them, and I believe they're the real thing. The conversations I've had with them and the things they've said are not made up; you don't read those lines from a book and then regurgitate them. What they say is from their prayer life and genuine faith in God. So it's nice for me to say, "We support you, and we're going to keep supporting you personally." I get excited about other people who will support them, because they are a couple who loves the Lord. And that's harder and harder to find nowadays.
Paul learned to be content in abundance and in need.
This is what Paul is talking about in Philippians. I love what Mike says in their missions video. He quotes someone as saying, "We need to live lives that demand an explanation." That's so true. You need to live a life where people say, "That doesn't make sense to me. Explain that to me. Why would you live this way?"
When you read the Book of Philippians, when you look at Paul, his life doesn't make any sense. Paul is chained as a prisoner in jail, and he's writing this letter about joy. This letter is about contentment. Now, if you are in a prison cell by yourself, separated from your family, your friends, and everyone, and you can write a letter back to the church, what are you going to write about? Telling everyone else to be happy? Telling everyone else to be content? It doesn't make any sense that Paul was somehow at peace. But he was saying: I'm okay. I'm in a prison cell, I'm fine. I'm over here, I'm fine. Wherever I am, I'm going to be okay. If I'm in southern California, if I'm in Ohio, if I'm in Indonesia, if I'm in jail somewhere, it's not about that. It's about Christ.
In Philippians 4, we have what I think is the most misquoted verse in the world, Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." We see it on jerseys. One of the times it was made famous was when Evander Holyfield had it on his robe as he was going to go fight Mike Tyson. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" meant I'm going to beat up Mike Tyson. And he did, and I was excited for him. I was like, "Yeah, you can do all things. You're the real deal." But then he wore it again for Lennox Lewis, right? "I can do all things," and then he got beaten up. You're in class, you didn't study, but you say, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me; I'm going to ace this test." It's our catch-all verse for "Whatever I feel like doing, God's going to give me the power to do it."
Yes, absolutely, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. But have you ever noticed the context of that verse? Paul is writing to the Philippians from jail. At the end, in Philippians 4:10, he says, "I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I'm speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I've learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble."
So what is the context of this verse? This is important, because I have heard people use this verse to say, "God wants us all to be rich. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, and he can make us rich. It doesn't matter how poor you are, doesn't matter if you don't have an education. God wants you to be rich, and you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you." And I think, Wow, that is the exact opposite of what Paul is trying to say here. The purpose of this verse is not to tell you you can be rich; the purpose of this verse is to tell you you are rich in Christ, so even if you don't have a penny to your name, you can be content. Paul is saying to these Philippians, "It's great that you guys are giving me stuff, and that's cool, but the truth is I don't really need it. Because I'm fine. Here I am in a jail cell with nothing, and I'm okay." He says, "There have been times I have been in severe need, and you guys couldn't get to me, but I was okay; I was content during that time. And there have been other times when I was fed and free, and I was okay during that. I've learned the secret." This is something Paul learned through his experience. He says, "I've learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know how to be content if I have a lot of stuff."
See, we think contentment is something you learn when you don't have anything, and Paul is saying no, sometimes you need to learn how to be content when you're making a lot of money. A lot of times it's the people who have the most who are the least content and always want more. I guarantee you there are people in this room who make over $100,000 a year, and it's not enough for them. They're wondering, How am I going to get by? You're not content; you want all these things, and you're not happy in life. I know millionaires who are miserable. And I know people in poverty who are happy. In fact, I've probably met more happy people who are in poverty than I've met happy rich people.
Contentment has nothing to do with our circumstances.
See, here's the bottom line: Contentment has nothing to do with your circumstances. You may be thinking, Once I get this job, then I'll be okay. Or, Once I get in a relationship with someone I can trust, then I'll be okay. If I can keep my house, then I'll be happy. That's all I want. All I want is this. All I'm asking for is that my kids go to an Ivy League school. All I want is private school for my kids. All I want is this; all I want is that. If I could only have this. If you have an "if I could only have this one thing," the truth is you're not going to find contentment. Contentment is found in Jesus Christ and him alone. That's the context of this passage. Paul is saying, "Look, I could be in a prison or whatever, and I've learned the secret. I can do all things through Christ. Christ is so good." That doesn't make sense to a lot of people. Man, how can you be content living in that condition? I see some of you in the worst relationship right now in your marriage. Your spouse has done something awful to you, and yet you found joy, even in the midst of that. Christ is enough for you, and that's awesome. You get it. That's when I can tell if someone gets it: when things are difficult, and they say, "That's fine." Or when they have a ton of stuff and it doesn't matter. Christ really is everything to them.
I have to ask you this question: Have you learned this secret Paul's talking about in Philippians 4? That no matter what the economy does, you're saying, "I don't care." Like Paul tells Timothy, if we've got food and clothes, we'll be content with that. I get to eat today, I'm good. But how many people have you met with that attitude? How many people have you met that have that type of contentment so others demand an explanation: "How can you be that content? You just lost everything, you should be stressed out, you should be angry." "I'm okay. I've learned the secret Paul's talking about, that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, so I don't need this to be happy. I don't need that to be happy. I'm content wherever I am." Have you learned that?
When we give to others, God supplies all our needs.
Yet Paul says: But it was kind of you to share my trouble. It's not that I seek the gift, but I'm happy you guys found me here. I'm in this prison, and you guys are taking care of me, and I'm glad for that. Not that I seek this gift from you, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I've received full payment and more; I'm well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent me, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
See, it's like in the church. I'm not going to say to you, "We need this money. You have to give, because I don't know what will happen unless you give this money." I've never done that. You know what the truth is? We will always have enough as a church. We'll be fine. Everything will be taken care of. God's going to supply all of our needs; we just have to stay faithful. When you give, I'm more excited for you. That's what Paul is saying: Look, I'm fine. If I don't get to eat for a few days, I don't get to eat for a few days. I figured out how to be content in that, because I've got Christ. But when you give, I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I like the way you're going to be rewarded. And not only that, but God's going to supply all of your needs because you're caring for me while I'm in prison. I get excited about that. Because you're a giver, you're going to be taken care of.
That's a principle in Scripture. Proverbs 11:25 says, "Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered." Paul says: If you're going to bless other people, you're going to be taken care of.
Psalm 37:25-26 says, "I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing." I love that. He's saying: I'm an old man. I remember as a kid I had all these ideals, but now that I'm old, let me tell you something I've never seen. The people who are living righteous lives and giving freely, I've never seen their kids begging for bread. I've never seen their children starving.
That's why Paul says: I love that you Philippians are giving to me, not because I need anything. I was fine without you guys, but thanks for the gift. I'm actually happy for the reward you're going to get for it, and not only that, I'm happy that now because you're a giver, God's going to supply your every need.
That's what Jesus taught. Jesus said: Seek the kingdom first, the things of God, the things that are dear to God, and all these other things will be given to you.
So Paul says: I'm excited for you, because this means God's going to supply your every need.
That's why I get excited when people become givers. It's not because I need it. I don't need anything. The church will be fine. I just get excited for you, because now God's going to take care of you. And not only that, but I get excited about the fruit that's going to be credited to your account—when you get to heaven, these treasures that moth and rust aren't going to destroy.
I got excited this week when I got a letter from this kid. I'm going to change names on these stories to keep them anonymous.
My name is Tommy. I am 14 and currently in the eighth grade. I live in Texas and have a "crazy love" for God. My parents recently took a trip to the Philippines. They went because they felt God calling us to surrender all and move there, but they weren't sure. Since they've come back we've been totally sure on what God is calling us to do: Go be missionaries in Manila, Philippines. Right now we're doing everything to sell our belongings, raise support, and fly over there. In February is when my parents went, and we feel like God wants us to be there on August 15th. I am writing this letter because I would like your support. I'm not asking for money—although you can give money. I am writing this so that we can receive your prayer. I thank you for your prayer, and may God bless you.
I don't know if his parents put him up to this because they knew I wouldn't give them any money, but if their kid writes a handwritten note, all right. But I thought this was cool, that this 14-year-old kid thought to do this.
I got another email from a 13-year-old kid from our church. She was baptized here last month.
I was baptized on April 26, and I've been trying to spread the word ever since. For weeks I've been trying to get through to two girls headed the wrong direction. May 21st was a great day. I did it. I finally got through to them. I think Susie gets it, and some of the other girls noticed that Susie was crying and asked what was wrong, and she was like …
It's funny to see that written: "She was like, and I'm all."
… she was like, "Brittany was talking to me." Five girls came to hear the talk, and after a while they were all in tears and thanking me. I even had the mother of one of the girls thank me. There is one more person I'm working on, and I have two weeks before school is out. Pray that I get to him.
To other kids who believe: I've had kids curse at me, flip me off, even plug their ears and say, "la, la, la, la" while I was talking to them. WHATEVER.
And that's in capitals: "WHATEVER."
I don't care. I know what I'm doing is good and good for them to hear, and I know there are more kids out there like me who love Jesus. Don't be afraid of what other people think. Do what you know is right. Hope to see you all in heaven.
That's so cool. I get excited for this girl, that she's getting it. I'm excited about this 14-year-old kid who's going to be moving to the Philippines with his parents, because he is excited and is asking for support. He isn't saying, "My stupid parents are making me go." He gets it.
I got another one this week about a 7-year-old. This is from her mom, but a 7-year-old girl in our church had a birthday party this week and received $450. She told her mom, "We have so much; can we just donate this money to people who are in need?" So she decided to buy diapers and formula for the Crisis Pregnancy Center here in town. And she gave money to Care and Share, a food pantry. And then she bought a bunch of sleeping bags for Cornerstone, because we have these homeless nights where we let people sleep here in the wintertime. I thought that was pretty cool. She is 7 years old, and her thought is, "What are we going to do with another 450 bucks? Mom, can't I buy diapers for these moms with unwanted pregnancies? Can't I give food to the homeless? Can't I buy sleeping bags for these people?"
You see, Paul would say, "I'm excited about this little girl. And I'm excited about the 13-year-old girl. I'm excited for the 14-year-old guy. I'm excited that Mike and Carol are going to another country." There's an excitement when people say, "This is what the Spirit of God is calling me to do; I'm going to do it." I think, man, you're in for a life of excitement. That's a good life. Because when you live a life of giving, not only is there the eternal reward, but you will be fine now. You'll be taken care of. God's going to take care of your needs. It's that verse that says, "I was young and now I'm old, and I've never seen people not taken care of when they're seeking after the things of God." That doesn't mean they're going to be rich, but they're going to be fine, because they'll be content no matter what they have. Because Jesus is that huge to them; Jesus is that great to them.
Giving everything for Christ is the wisest way to live.
I'm willing to bet that in this room some of you are having a hard time with what Mike and Carol are doing. You think that's not wise. Some of you look at this 14-year-old kid who's writing for support as his family is leaving for the Philippines. You would say, "That's not wise, taking your teenage kid out there." Some of you look at the 13-year-old girl and say, "She's preaching to people, and people don't like that." Some of you look at the 7-year-old girl and say, "She doesn't understand the value of 450 bucks, so her parents should make her keep the money."
I know this is what some of you are thinking, because some of you have disagreed with me for years about finances. I hesitate to share this, but I believe God wants me to and I believe it's good for you. I've been pastoring here for 15 years. I remember when I started the church and people disagreed with me. They said, "You should take a salary." I thought, "No, God always works things out and it will be okay." So we didn't take a salary for a while; my wife was working, and she wanted to support that way. Then we started taking a little money from the church, like a thousand dollars a month, and people said, "You should take more." I said, "We just do things differently, and we'll be okay. God's going to provide all of our needs. In fact, we give away most of the thousand bucks." Then I started taking a full salary. It was three grand a month, and my wife didn't have to work anymore because we were having kids, and we were fine. We were fine, and we were giving. Everything was good, but everyone kept saying, "I don't think that's wise. I think you should save and not live off so little." But I said, "We're fine. We're okay. I like Top Ramen. Seriously, I grew up on it. We're a happy family. And I think everything's going to be taken care of in the future." We kept giving and giving, and people kept disagreeing, saying, "I don't think you should do that. I think that's giving a bit too much."
We've never given less than 10 percent, and we kept wanting that number to climb every year. We said, "Let's try giving 20 percent, let's try giving 25, let's try 30, let's try 50 percent." This year we're going to be giving away about 90 percent of our income. That's how much we're making now. That's crazy. I'm not even taking a salary from the church. This is through speaking and through the book. This year I'm going to make about half a million dollars. People hear that and say, "I don't know if you should give that all away. I don't think it's prudent."
My question to you is: Will there ever come a point when you finally look at my life and say, "Maybe he's on to something, because I'm not making half a million this year"? What do I need to make and give away before you finally say, "Maybe there is something about this God he's talking about. Maybe he really is content without money, and maybe God really does take care of your future. And maybe what the psalmist said is true when he said, 'I was young but now I'm old, and I've noticed that God always takes care of those who give freely.'"
I'm not that old. I'm 41. But I'm saying the same thing. I know I was young and idealistic when I said, "God will take care of it," but every year he does. And yet I'll never be able to convince some of you that the way I'm living is not crazy. The way Mike and Carol are living is not crazy. In fact, I believe you who question me are crazy. Because you're going to die any second, and we'll see who's crazy. When I stand before God, I promise you you won't think I'm crazy. And for all of eternity you won't think I was crazy. And the same is going to be true with Mike and Carol. The same is going to be true of these kids if they continue to live this way.
That's biblical Christianity: you bet it all in this life, and then you start seeing God be faithful when he says, "Whatever you sacrifice, I'll give you a hundred times that, in this life and the life to come." The apostle Paul says, "All that stuff doesn't matter. I'm happy. I'm content with Christ." What's it going to take before you believe Christ is enough? Paul was in a prison cell and was fine. He had nothing and was fine. And he could be rich and be fine. Living a life of giving is the safest way to live; you don't know if you're going to be here tomorrow.
Follow Christ even when it's difficult, and you'll find that he is enough.
I encourage you to read the Bible with an open mind. Voltaire once said, "God created man in his own image, and now man is returning the favor." We want to re-create God the way we want him to be: I want a God who is okay with me being filthy rich, spending it on myself, and giving just 10 percent to him. I want that type of God, so I'm going to say that's the way Jesus is. I want a God who's okay with me sleeping with my girlfriend, because we're in love. I want a God who says it's okay for me to make this choice; after all, it's my body. I want God to be okay with this, so I'm going to make this type of Jesus.
I've always heard that phrase used in the context of people who are way out there, but this week I was speaking to this author, and he was using it in the context of the American church. He says that we in the American church have created this middle class Jesus. We've created a middle class Jesus who says it's okay to make your nuclear family your idol—where it's a good thing to put your family up there on a pedestal where it's about you and your kids. He says, "You'd never find that in the Bible." Why is it that we say, "If you love your wife and your kids then you're a great Christian"? Because that's what we want. We want to idolize our kids, so we create a Jesus who agrees with this, rather than having the perspective of what Christ taught us when he said, "If you're going to follow me, you have to be willing to hate your father, mother, wife, kids." He said, "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? It's you who hear the word of God and obey it." There's a new family here.
Where's the nuclear family? Absolutely, the Bible says we are to provide for our families, and if we don't provide for them, we're worse than an unbeliever. We need to love our wives like Christ loved the church. I'm not saying we don't do those things. I'm saying that we've made our families everything, because that's what we want them to be. That's the way we want Jesus to be. We want Jesus to be a Jesus who says, "It's good to save and sock away for the future and make sure you're fine years from now," rather than the Jesus who was radical. When I read the Jesus of Scripture, it wasn't a middle class Jesus; it was a crazy man who said, "Look, I don't know where I'm going to eat tomorrow; I don't know where I'm going to sleep tonight. You still want to follow me?" We try to beautify that and pretty that up, but Jesus says, "Quit storing things up for yourself here on earth where moth and rust can destroy; put it up in heaven. It's going to be fine. In fact, don't even worry about what you're going to eat tomorrow; I'll take care of that. See the birds of the air? They're just flying around; they're not saving."
If you want to find a Jesus who lets you live a certain type of life, you can re-create Jesus however you want. But read the Bible sometime. Read through one of the gospels, and see the natural conclusion of the type of life Christ wants you to live. We can take a verse like Philippians 4:13 and use it to say God wants us to be rich, but Paul is saying the opposite there. Philippians 4:13 is to explain that I am rich in Christ. I don't need anything; money doesn't matter.
Some of you will get defensive over this, saying, "It's okay to do whatever you want." This life is a lot shorter than you realize. We should be living insane lives for Jesus Christ because we're so sure of the future. I'm not talking about making yourself out to be a martyr. I am saying that Jesus is enough, and in the future we're going to see that anything we gave to the Lord was worth it. So I encourage you to read the Bible for yourself. Don't let your desires interpret what it says.
There are things about Jesus that I as a human being do not like. I do not like some of his teachings. I prefer he taught some other things. But I'm not going to change him and neglect those things, and create my own Jesus who didn't say those things so I can be happier. No, I'm going to try to conform myself into this image of Jesus Christ, even when it's painful, even when it's not what I want to do. I want you to understand that. There are many verses in this book that I don't want to obey, and there are many attributes of the way Christ lived that are difficult for me. But as I've followed, I've found that it actually is more blessed to give than to receive, and as you obey Jesus, you realize it makes sense; you'll get why Jesus said those things. So in the core of my being, I know what he says is true and good. And when he and I disagree, I assume he's right. It's a smart way to go.
Consider whether you have created for yourself a middle or even upper class Jesus simply because that Jesus suits you better. Because in the end you're going to find out that that Jesus never existed. Jesus said, "Do not worry about tomorrow. Seek the kingdom first." I hope you follow the Holy Spirit, wherever he leads you, even if it doesn't make sense to other people. Like Cory said, we should be living lives that demand an explanation.
To see an outline of Chan's sermon, click here.
For your reflection:
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? _____________________________
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Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? _______________________
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? ______________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ___________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it? (For help on what may require credit, see Plagiarism, Schmagiarism and Stolen Goods: Tempted to Plagiarize.
Francis Chan is an American Protestant author, teacher, and preacher.