Last week I had this conversation with one child after they had received two packages of cartoon collector cards several days earlier.
Child: “Mom, I really want more of those cards.”
Mom: “Didn’t I just buy you some? You have a nice collection now. Besides, it isn’t Christmas or your birthday.”
Child: “But I just wish I had more. If I just had some more I would be happy.”
This seemed like a great opportunity to talk to our kids about contentment. Like any good parent, I pulled out a favorite resource* and placed a glass of water in the center of the dinner table later that evening. I asked the kids this question, “Is the glass half full or half empty?” We had a nice discussion and talked about a few scripture passages regarding contentment. One passage was from the book of Philippians, which is our focus for the week.
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” ~ Philippians 4:11-12(ESV)
Paul has an amazing way with words doesn’t he? It is often intimidating and difficult to relate to Paul as he was such an excellent writer and messenger of the gospel. However, don’t you want to know the secret to being content? Is it in the acquiring of another package of cards, a new home remodel, a date, a spouse, a baby, a “fill in the blank”? Of course we all know the “right response” to this question. However, contentment is not always our initial response. Insecurity can quickly creep in, and discontent can pervade your mind. All you have to do is turn on social media and instantly your life is lacking.
So how does one combat the lie that you are not enough and your life lacks someone or something? What is this secret Paul is talking about?
In reading Philippians and several of his other letters, I believe Paul’s ability to have contentment in any situation stems from two themes that are at the heart of his message:
“Jesus is enough”
“Gratitude and love for others”
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” ~ Philippians 1:21
Paul loved Jesus more than anything. It did not matter whether he was in jail or fellowshipping with friends. Jesus was enough.
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. ~ Philippians 1:3-7
Paul loved people. His life, his actions, and his letters are evidence of his deep care for others. He expressed his gratitude for others in his letters. He knew that even though community was not necessary for contentment, it was a gift to be thankful for. And more than anything, Paul wanted to encourage Christians to live abundant lives full of love, knowledge, wisdom, excellence, humility, and purity for the glory of God (ref: Phil 1:9-11, Phil 2:3). Ultimately, his life’s mission was to “Advance the Gospel” or make Jesus famous. Just as you want to share great news and good things with people you love, Paul wanted nothing more than to share his secret of loving Jesus and loving others with those in his sphere of influence.
Both of the themes from Paul’s writings keep coming up again and again as the necessary focus of my life. Wasn’t Jesus all about that too? He was about doing the will of His Father and loving others during His time on earth. I have come to realize the fragility of my own contentment when I lose focus and forget that Jesus really is enough and being grateful for and loving others in my midst.
A mere twelve hours after our family conversation on contentment, I began to feel sorry for myself for not having many close friends in my new community. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit “woke me up” an hour into my own “pity party” and showed me how my discontentment was the same as my child’s desire for more “stuff.” At that moment, I smiled and realized I am in need for God’s grace and forgiveness just like my children. I confessed my sin of ingratitude to God, and later told my kids about my own struggle with contentment. I realized once again that no matter what I have or don’t have, Jesus is all I need. My heart became overwhelmed with gratitude for the abundance of close friends He has blessed me with – even if they live hundreds or thousands of miles away.
As you read Philippians this week and/or go about your daily living, focus on these two things:
- Jesus is enough
- Love others and have gratitude
A picture that hangs in my laundry room reminds me about contentment:
“Contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want, but the realization of how much you already have.” Anonymous
We all have something to be grateful for today; even if the only thing you have is Jesus. Enjoy Him and share Him with someone today.
*Durbin, Kara (2012). Parenting with Scripture: A topical guide for teachable moments. Moody Publishers: Chicago.