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 4-12b (NIV)
As I post this, tomorrow will be Thanksgiving Day in the US, a day commonly marked by family, food, football, making Black Friday shopping planning and of course giving thanks. Perhaps it’s because we have a tendency to grow lax in our thanksgiving the rest of the year, that we set aside a specific day to do so. The gratitude machine kicks into full gear as we are reminded to “give thanks for the many manifold blessings that God has bestowed upon us.” (Those of you who grew up in church might recognize that last phrase.) Please do not infer that I am in any way belittling the idea of giving thanks or the Thanksgiving holiday. Anything that causes us to reflect upon God’s goodness and gives thanks to him is a good thing. In just a casual read of the Bible you’d be hard pressed not to find a reference to giving thanks and the Israelites formally offered thanksgiving sacrifices (Leviticus 7:12, 22:29).
What I am suggesting is that we consider an alternate approach to giving thanks from what is typically offered. When giving thanks we are generally encouraged to “count” our blessings as if they were piled in stacks like chips on some cosmic poker table. If we exclusively focus on counting our blessings, we may well become distraught as we see our stack diminish through, death of loved ones, divorce, financial setbacks, loss of health, etc. Instead, our focus and the sum of all our affections needs to be on the one dispensing the blessings, God, and not the blessing themselves.
As new Christians, we tend to seek God and – God and family harmony, God and financial well-being, God and good health. However, as we continue on our Christian pilgrimage, the difficulties we encounter loosen our grip on the ands. God allows the ands to be knocked from our hands, fall to the ground and shatter into a 1,000 pieces. At this point we are left with several options. We can halt our journey to mourn our shattered ands never to continue on, or we can continue on as tough and arduous as it might, to leave our ands and simply find God alone. Upon finding God alone we will discover that he is enough and he is the only true source of everlasting thanksgiving.
In the book of Philippians, the Apostle Paul recounts a bit of his spiritual sojourn and the release of his ands, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8– NIV).
The brevity of the above passage does not do justice to the difficulty of the process. Paul writes a bit later on in the book of Philippians that he had to learn the secret of contentment. It is not something that comes naturally to us as human beings. The state of sinful mankind is always to desire and possess more. We can only find true and lasting contentment in the person of Jesus Christ and his divine enablement.
During this Thanksgiving holiday I would encourage you to read the book of Philippians. It is a brief book of only four chapters that oozes with joy and thanksgiving. One of the most incredible things about the book is the circumstances under which it was written. Paul wrote it at a time that he was under house arrest in Rome. As you prayerful meditate on this book and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you. You will then be able to response to the Apostle’s admonition to, “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice” (4:4 – NIV).