In a typical day, the average student contemplates a multitude of decisions, all while navigating classes, jobs and relationships. It’s no wonder young adults are “Chasing Contentment.”
That was the theme of this year’s Pursue conference, hosted by the office of collegiate and student ministries of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions and held Feb. 25–26 at First Baptist Church Opelika.
The 500 or so students, young adults and leaders gathered for the event were encouraged that true contentment, the kind that comes through trusting in Christ, is possible even in the midst of the busyness of their stage of life.
“As culture says to pursue all these different things … we’re called to pursue Christ alone,” said Janie Gray, whose husband, Ryan, serves as minister to college students and single adults at First Baptist Church Montgomery. The Grays served as emcees for this year’s event. Music was led by Iron City Worship.
Speaking Friday night, Jarman Leatherwood, pastor of House of Hope and Restoration Church in Huntsville, introduced the theme Scripture for the weekend, Philippians 4:10–13, beginning with an anecdote from his young son’s homework: the story of the house mouse and the field mouse.
In that story, the house mouse has all the comforts the field mouse does not, but he lives with the constant threat of the house cat. In the end, the field mouse decides he is content with less possessions but a safe home.
“True contentment comes ‘through Christ’ and means being satisfied and at rest with what I have, where I am and Who I have,” Leatherwood said.
For Paul to write these words during the time of the Roman Emperor Nero, who is notorious for his persecution of Christians, says something about his mind and his heart, Leatherwood said.
“He was not focused on his circumstances but on Christ.”
To be content in all circumstances is not natural or automatic, Leatherwood said. It must be learned.
‘In plenty or in want’
“God teaches us contentment through the ups and downs of life,” he said, “whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” For students, that might mean, “I know how to make do with ramen noodles, and I know how to make do with lobster and shrimp.”
Contentment, he said, is not found in political affiliations, geographical location, one’s financial situation or academic accolades.
“You can have more degrees than a thermometer and not be content,” he said. “You can have Gucci, but not have God. You can have a car and not have Christ. You can have nice shoes, but not have the Savior; and you can have jewelry, but not have Jesus.
“True contentment lies in the fact that we have Jesus Christ,” he said. “To think that we can live a life apart from Christ is like a pencil that hasn’t been sharpened. It has no point.”
Speaking Saturday, author and Christian communicator Michael Kelley continued to explore the theme of contentment in the Christian’s life.
“If you were to ask a bunch of people what ought to mark people who follow Jesus, you’d probably get all different kinds of answers that would likely center around the characteristics of Jesus,” Kelley said. “Paul could have said there’s any number of things that he can do through Christ, who gives him strength, but the attribute he specifically picks out to make that commentary on is contentment.”
‘Whatever the circumstances’
Philippians 4:13 is one of the most famous and well-known verses in the entire Bible and one of the most misquoted, he said.
“This is not a football locker verse. It’s not a victory verse, It’s not a power verse. It’s not a fulfillment-of-all-your-wishes verse,” he said. “If you want to claim Philippians 4:13, claim it about the disposition that you have when you are in want.”
In contemporary culture, the connotation of contentment is often “settling for something less,” Kelley said. “I could have the filet, but I’m going to have the burger. You know all about that because you’re in college. You know what it means to settle for something less.”
Christian contentment is about realizing how much you already have in Christ, he emphasized.
“In a culture that has an insatiable appetite for more, the Christian must be willing to swim upstream and say, ‘I don’t need any ‘more’ … because I have it all already.”
Kelley suggested three beliefs about God that are needed in order to say no to more and yes to contentment:
- God is wise.
- God is loving.
- God is generous.
The measure of those three attributes of God is not in a person’s circumstances, but in the “established, historical, one-time, set-in-stone … death of Jesus Christ on the cross,” Kelley said. “This is the apex of the wisdom and the love and the generosity of God.”
A secret learned
Speakers Beverly Skinner and Chris James spoke to the day-to-day challenge of chasing contentment during a Q&A-style discussion based in Ecclesiastes.
“Solomon is looking back at his life and … details all the accumulated wealth and all the accomplishments he gained. He had possessions, achievement, beautiful art and music all around him. He had women, sex — he had it all. And what he concludes is that it was all so meaningless, like chasing the wind,” said Skinner, who serves as the director of campus expansion for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. “The things we think will ultimately bring us contentment and satisfaction only leave us wanting something more.”
James, campus minister at UMass Lowell and founding pastor of Mill City Church in Lowell, Massachusetts, emphasized that “God designed us to find contentment, but he designed us to find it in places we don’t always go to look for it.”
“The contentment in your heart that you so deeply long for is found in God. The meaninglessness in life … ultimately finds its purpose in God. Nothing in life either makes sense or has purpose apart from God,” James said. “If you find your ultimate satisfaction in Jesus, He will empower you to rightly enjoy people and possessions and achievement in this life and beyond.”
Throughout the two-day event, breakout sessions also were offered on topics ranging from vocation and calling, budgeting, discipleship, and navigating issues such as homosexuality and gender, sexuality and online communication. Students also heard about summer and short-term missions opportunities through One Mission Students and had the opportunity to engage with representatives from several missions-sending organizations and seminaries.
Mike Nuss, director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions office of collegiate and student ministries, was recognized Saturday for 22 years at the helm of the department. Nuss plans to retire in June.
Under Nuss’ leadership, 6,968 professions of faith have been reported through the state’s Baptist Campus Ministries, said Chris Mills, SBOM student missions mobilizer.
“Mike is a friend, he’s a champion of college ministries and an encourager,” Mills said. “He’s an equipper, he’s just a great guy and he’s going to be missed.”