#120 "Contented Thankfulness"
November 6, 2007
"...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." (Philippians 4: 11-12)
I come to you today to say, "Happy Hallothankmas!" In case you haven't noticed, Halloween was last week and wouldn't you know it, suddenly it's Christmas! The trees are going up in the malls and grocery stores, the local radio station is playing Christmas music 24/7 and we are reminded daily that we need to clean our carpets, whiten our teeth, get our hair done and all the other ridiculous things they tell us to do before Christmas. Over the years it's become a blur to me. What happened to Thanksgiving? Can anyone tell me? I don't think that the turkeys are even scared anymore! Is it just me, or wasn't Thanksgiving a separate holiday? A time to reflect and be ... well...thankful?
As I ponder this conundrum, it seems to me that we are a discontented people. Is there such a word as "discontented"? I don't know, but I say that's what we are. We are not content. We live in a world that has increasingly pushed the notion that more is better. And in the pursuit of "more", we live our days like a whirling dervish until we collapse at the end of every day, just to get up again and start all over. Besides the fact that we just don't have the time, our quest for more means that what we have in the here and now isn't enough, and as a result we're not thankful. You cannot be thankful when you are not content.
In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul said that he had learned the secret to being content in whatever circumstance he was in. Rich or poor, full or hungry. He was referring to money in this passage, but generally the principle is the same. Being content is having a rest or quietness in your mind in the middle of your present condition. It is a sense of satisfaction which holds the mind in peace, restrains complaining and is totally independant of external circumstances. It's having a moderate degree of happiness, no matter what's going on around you. Changing circumstances did not affect the inner contentment Paul enjoyed. At times he experienced great hardships, financial and material needs. At other times, he lived in abundance. But he learned to be content, abasing or abounding, through Christ, who gave him strength. And that made Paul a thankful person. How about you?
Paul wasn't on a pursuit for more. Well, not in the way we are anyway. He told the Corinthian church that he had resolved to "know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified." (1 Cor 2: 2) Listen to these words: "I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things." Lost? Do we ever seek to lose? He goes on to say that he "considers them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him." (Philippians 3: 8-9) The Greek word for "rubbish" is "skybala" and it means street filth or dung. In case you aren't aware, dung is animal excrement. Paul considered all of his losses as nothing more than a big old pile of manure! He was content in his circumstances, pursuing higher things, and a thankful person. What about us?
Now, I am not saying that you should not have dreams and goals and want good things for your life and the lives of your loved ones. I'm not saying that at all. But is that your primary pursuit in life? And as you pray and plan and dream for the future, are you content with where you are today, right here and now? Because today is a precious gift from God. Where you are and what you have ... today...are you content? Or do you have a grumbling, complaining spirit? The endless pursuit of more, with unthankful hearts for what we have, leads to discontent and we cannot celebrate Thanksgiving because frankly, we're not thankful. We don't own enough, make enough, have enough, or see enough results in our lives to be thankful. And even if we do, we're too darn busy to even notice!
Philip Parham tells the story of a rich industrialist who was disturbed to find a fisherman sitting lazily beside his boat. "Why aren't you out there fishing?" he asked. "Because I've caught enough fish for today," said the fisherman. "Why don't you catch more fish than you need?' the rich man asked. "What would I do with them?"
"You could earn more money," came the impatient reply, "and buy a better boat so you could go deeper and catch more fish. You could purchase nylon nets, catch even more fish, and make more money. Soon you'd have a fleet of boats and be rich like me." The fisherman asked, "Then what would I do?" "You could sit down and enjoy life," said the industrialist. "What do you think I'm doing now?" the fisherman replied as he looked placidly out to sea. Our Daily Bread, May 18, 1994. My point exactly!!
Might I suggest that when you get into bed tonight, you look over at that spouse of yours and be thankful. He or she is the one God has given you. There might be more handsome, richer, savvier guys out there or more shapely, prettier women, but be thankful for the one God has blessed you with. Some of your friend's children may be smarter, be accomplishing more, maybe accepted into a better college, but those are the children God has given you. Love them, cherish them, be thankful for them. If you are reading this right now with a roof over your head, be thankful. It means that you are warm on this cold November day. It means that you have heat and electricity and for goodness sake, the luxury of the internet. You're not living under a bridge waiting for the soup kitchen to serve your next meal. Piles of laundry represent family members that you have to care for. Dirty dishes mean that you had someone to share a meal with.
Circumstances might not be ideal today where you are. There may be real financial need or sickness invading your body. Relationships may be out of whack and it may seem that there is no hope and certainly, not much to be thankful for. But 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says to "give thanks in ALL circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." Sounds like a command to me, not a suggestion. Ask God to show you the "secret" that Paul talked about. The "secret to being content".
Tomorrow I'm going to pull my Thanksgiving decorations out of storage and display them inside and outside of my home. I will not let this holiday become a blur with the rest of the world. I hope that you will do the same. My precious friend, slow down. Take some time to pray. Take some time to ponder your life. Be content in whatever situation you are in today. And by all means, be thankful. Just maybe, as Christians following our Savior and obeying His Word, we can bring this holiday back after all.
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