THREE STEPS TO CONTENTMENT
This is a surprise answer to me. The key to contentment, then, boils down to this:
- Love God
- Love your neighbor
- Love yourself
In modern language, Jesus is saying that a good self-image is based on self-respect, on loving your neighbor, and on loving God.
In presenting this idea to my clients, it leaves them cold and unresponsive at first glance. Doesn’t contentment involve making enough money, getting an education, popularity, being understood, an understanding and decent marriage partner, obedient children, appreciative friends?
Your answer depends on whether you decide if Jesus knows what He is talking about. As for me, if Jesus said it, there is no need for a survey or a research project to verify His statements.
Like my clients, your answer will not be changed by a further statement on my part that I have seen thousands of changed lives verifying Christ’s statements.
The only way for you to evaluate His advice is to take a step of faith and prove it to yourself. Take Him at His Word and launch out on your own quest to prove the truth of what He says. If you do, then commit a year or two–or better yet, five years–to finding out.
STEP 1: LOVING GOD
Assuming that you choose to take a step of faith, to make a commitment, come what may, let us proceed to step 1. Jesus said:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37).
What does this mean? You commit yourself to falling in love with Jesus. You give your quest all you’ve got.
HOW TO LOVE GOD
How do you know if you love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind? One of Jesus’ disciples asked Him that question. Jesus’ answer:
He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me… (John 14:21).
To know His commandments is no easy process. They are contained in a big, thick book called the Bible. To become familiar with His commandments means long hours of study and application. To dig into that book is not a very exciting prospect at first glance. Is it worth it? Why should you take Jesus and His commandments seriously? Let Him speak for Himself. He said to His disciples:
These things have I spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace… (John 16:33)
…that your joy may be full (John 15:11)
…that you may be kept from stumbling (Jude 24).
Israel’s King David, one of the wisest men who ever lived, offers this advice:
How blessed is the man who(se) …delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night (Psalm 1:1-2).
These are beautiful promises.
A STEP OF FAITH
Surely some of my readers have taken a stab at reading the Bible, only to find it to be a dead, dull, meaningless, debatable book.
Many steps that we take are debatable and uncertain. I am writing this in an airplane somewhere over Colorado. Whether or not we arrive in Chicago is debatable. Will I arrive at my motel without a car accident, assuming we land safely? It’s debatable. Is my bank safe? It’s debatable. Is my investment safe? It’s debatable.
Any of these things can be debated. Any of them can be doubted. I don’t move on the basis of my doubts. I move on the basis of my faith. I’ll soon know if my faith in this airplane was well–founded. (It was.)
You may begin your quest for awakening a love for God and His commandments with many doubts. Accept them and take a step of faith. You will soon discover whether your doubts are well-founded or ill-founded. Let me assure you that your step of faith will be rewarded. But you must begin by even putting faith in God’s statement.
There is a preliminary step that you must take if God’s commandments are to live for you:
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised (1 Corinthians 2:14).
He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God (John 8:47).
What does that mean? It’s like saying that calculus is meaningless to the reader unless he has a mathematical background.
Likewise, the Bible is dead to you unless you have the Spirit of God within you. It is said of Jesus:
Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me (Revelation 3:20).
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name (John 1:12).
Granted, these statements are debatable and subject to doubt. As an act of faith, open the door and He will come in and empower you to become a child of God.
Then, and only then, will you discover the truth of the words of Jesus when He said:
He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me… and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him (John 14:21).
Then His commandments will come alive and you will discover whether it is indeed true that they will lead you to peace, joy, stability, and blessing.
STEP 2: LOVING YOUR NEIGHBOR
A second is like [the first commandment], “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).
Now, that’s a strange statement. How is keeping His commandments the same as loving people? I don’t understand it. Neither do I understand how water can be snow, ice, and steam. Or how electricity can heat, refrigerate, and produce light. I don’t need to understand it just to use it. Jesus said:
This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friend (John 15:12-13).
The apostle Paul said:
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14).
It doesn’t take much reflection to realize that loving beats hating. Both of them happen underneath your skin. We are all familiar with the misery of being filled with hatred.
If Jesus commands us to love and Paul says it fulfills all the commandments, shouldn’t we take it seriously?
STEP 3: LOVE YOURSELF
We now move on to step 3. The brevity of my treatment of step 2 doesn’t mean that it isn’t important. But I have learned that the simplest way to get people started on keeping His commandments is to get them working on themselves:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39).
This is another way of saying that I must have a sense of improvement in my attitude and reactions to all the people who cross my path. I must be pleased with my behavior toward them.
More important, I must have a growing sense of self-respect. I need to like myself. Imagine living day in and day out being repulsed by yourself.
I have spent a lifetime listening to the stories of people who don’t like themselves. The details of these stories vary greatly, but gradually I’ve become aware of recurring themes as I listen to people tell me about themselves–how they chip away at their own self-respect, which leads to personal anxiety and misery, as well as trouble with other people.