Money, mediocrity, and the myth of 'making it' (part 6)

Tom Chevis 13 Feb 21
The sixth of a seven-part blog series on ‘making it’ as a musician (see part 1), this article looks at how a biblically-defined contentment is key to a better definition of ‘making it’ (see part 2) and to accepting lower-profile work than we’d like (see part 3), in light of the biblical teaching of all work having dignity (see part 4) and of ‘calling’ (see part 5).

The gift of contentment

I would define contentment as peace of mind through satisfaction, i.e. it’s when you feel at peace because you have all that you feel you need.

In 1 Timothy 6:6-10, Paul writes:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

There’s lots in there, and this is not the place for a detailed exposition, but the short of it is this: whatever our circumstances, we can choose to be content with what God has given us, or we can discontentedly hanker after the things that God has not currently given us. The result of the latter can be disastrous.

And this brings me back to the idea of reclaiming mediocrity (see part 3). The reason that the world (and perhaps we) despise mediocrity is that we always want more. Nobody aims for mediocrity. And it’s not wrong to have ambition. It’s not wrong in and of itself to want more. The question is: can you be content – at peace, satisfied – with what you do have (i.e. what your Heavenly Father has generously given you), such that you are able to want more without that desire consuming you? Can you carefully and continually distinguish between what you want and what you need? Can you be content in the knowledge that God has given you all you need, even if He has not given you all you want? Do you have the peace of mind, the contentment, to desire and work towards a high-profile musical career without being crushed and destroyed if you don’t (in the worldly sense) ‘make it’?

And so it is better to be content to serve others in a ‘mediocre’ music job than to have a relatively high-profile music job but be discontent, ever hankering after (and probably envying others over) even more prestigious roles we’d like to have. The content person in that scenario has surely ‘made it’ - in a biblical sense - far more than the discontent person.

By the same token, a high-profile musician who, like the hypothetical prince in Luther’s sermon illustration (see part 3), recognises that their exalted station is purely a gift of the Sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, and so comes with a responsibility to serve Him and others, and is content with this, knowing that it can (and one day will) all be taken away, has surely ‘made it’ in a biblical sense far more than the ‘mediocre’ musician who is forever bitter and jealous of those who have had more success than them and as such fails to do their work as service of God or others. (Thus mediocrity in and of itself is in fact no better than great success – it’s how you approach it that matters.)

And so contentment is a gift to be sought after with great eagerness. And if, in being content, we are therefore able to exercise godliness in serving others, then God’s Word, as we’ve just seen, says that we have ‘great gain’. Indeed, one way to achieve greater contentment is to be godly in serving others in whatever job you have. Such self-forgetfulness is itself a path to contentment as it involves taking your eyes off yourself and what you do or don’t have. Godliness with contentment is great gain. Indeed, I would say that you had truly ‘made it’.

‘But,’ I hear you cry, ‘what about money? This whole blog series is so idealistic! But we’ve got to pay the bills. The title of this entire series begins with the word ‘money’ and you’ve hardly mentioned it!’

Yes. Good spot. Check out part 7.

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