I have learned to be content with whatever I have.—Philippians 4:11
The apostle says he has learned to be content. For all the radical rhetoric generated by North American twentysomethings in recent decades, no new statement is as deeply countercultural or as necessary as this ancient one.
Our culture encourages us to hunger unceasingly for control, wealth, and acclaim in a manner that is spiritually, environmentally, and physically unsustainable. In a society dominated by social competition and economic acquisition, the ability to learn contentment poses the single greatest threat to this consumptive status quo.
The suburban wealth "American Dream" of many of our parents and grandparents has become a nightmare of stress-filled competition, leaving many without time, energy, or resources to devote to God, society, and family. Most of the media-hyped voices of "Generation X" embrace consumption rather than contentment and are simply demanding a larger portion of the luxuries that environmental destruction and economic oppression offered to our parents.
The apostle Paul tells us we can learn to replace our North American dreams with kingdom visions. In our generation, people of faith need to be part of a new counterculture unwilling to sacrifice our souls for social, political, or financial gain. The apostle does not necessarily call our generation away from suburbia, activism, or the marketplace. Instead he, like the author of Ecclesiastes, reminds us that consistent contentment—the step beyond groping—cannot ultimately be found in earthbound effort.
This contentment is a far cry from apathy or self-indulgence. It is learned, slowly, as we recognize that our relationship with God, and only our relationship with God, is fully able to satisfy the hungers loose in our souls.