Ask Chuck: Lessons on Contentment from President Jimmy Carter
I was struck by the example of former President Jimmy Carter when I read that he lives in a modest home and has a frugal lifestyle. I think I would have a hard time living beneath my means if I had been President of the United States! It seems he is extremely content with what he has. What advice would you give someone looking for the same?
Dear Seeking Contentment,
Jimmy Carter, our 39th president, now age 93, lives in a home he built himself back in 1961. The two-bedroom ranch appraised at $167,000, which is less than the median home price in Georgia, and the two Secret Service vehicles parked nearby.
He decided not to join corporate boards or speak for big money because he didn’t want to “capitalize financially” on being in the White House. He does not condemn those who do, but admits his ambition was never to be rich. He shops at Dollar General and flies on commercial airlines.
Carter lives comfortably and is content with his book income and an annual pension of $210,700. Nearly every weekend, he and Rosalynn walk to a friend’s home to have dinner on paper plates. He has helped renovate 4,300 homes in 14 countries with Habitat for Humanity, teaches Sunday School, and is committed to living a modest lifestyle.
The State of Discontentment
In spite of such an example, and many others who are like President Carter, there are millions of people who live in a state of perpetual discontentment. Arriving at the place where you know that “enough is enough” seems to be an elusive destination no matter how much or how little one has. This cycle of discontentment is fueled by a number of factors: our identity, our lack of understanding our purpose, and certainly the constant barrage of advertising that teaches us to be discontent with what we have.
True contentment will never be found in things of this world. It is found ultimately in the Lord. The Westminster Shorter Catechism declares that the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. But that gets muddied in society’s desire for more and more.
It boils down to one’s attitude and philosophy about money. Adopting a biblical perspective grants us the ability to become wise stewards who make smart decisions and find contentment in all situations. But it is a daily battle. We have to arm ourselves, both offensively and defensively, to live out what we believe.
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirit of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8)
Knowing God’s philosophy of money and wealth is critically important to protect oneself against the storms caused by deception. Our enemy actively attempts to deceive anyone he can with financial falsehoods that lead people astray from their primary purpose and joy.
Good beliefs produce good behavior. When the roots of our belief systems are transformed, we will bless others. Prior to that transformation, it’s not uncommon for individuals and couples to find themselves bound by rudeness, arrogance, stubbornness, pride, jealousy, excessive spending, envy, lying, cheating, stealing, unfaithfulness and mountains of debt.
What the Bible Says
Put politics aside and contrast President Carter’s lifestyle with the lives of royalty and former presidents. He has not chased riches and has followed the wise advice of Solomon,
Do not wear yourself out to get rich; do not trust your own cleverness. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle. (Proverbs 23: 4-5 NIV)
The Apostle Paul spoke truth about contentment and money into the life of young Timothy, whom he loved like a son:
But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:6-9 ESV)
The Lord is concerned with our heart’s attitude towards money. Rich or poor, we all have the responsibility to keep our priorities straight, to commit our work to the Lord, to avoid wasting time on things that won’t last into eternity, and to be good and faithful stewards.
The philosophy of more, better, and faster breeds poor financial decisions. It is a common trait among those who lack contentment. Comparing what you have to the things you could have yields a mindset that what you have is never good enough.
You can arrive at the place of contentment by following Paul’s instructions in Philippians 4:11- 13:
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
You see, Paul learned to be content apart from his circumstances. In fact, he learned to be content regardless of his financial condition. True contentment is knowing God’s plan for your life (purpose), having the conviction to live it (faith), and believing that God’s peace is greater than the world’s problems (renewing your mind).
Whether you are a former president, an executive, housewife, or teacher, it requires a willingness to say “no” to things of this world and “yes” to the things of God.
Originally published on the Christian Post, August 31, 2018.