November is the season of Thanksgiving--my favorite holiday. Without the commercial fervor of Christmas, Thanksgiving stands alone as a day when America has followed the tradition of being grateful for the many varied and wonderful blessings of this unique nation. Paul writes his young disciple Timothy that “. . . godliness with contentment is great gain,” (I cannot help but wonder if discontent and ungodliness can be somehow linked—discontentment leads to greed and covetousness, which leads to whining and complaining, which leads to strife . . hmm, is there a link here?)In his letter to the Philippian church, he shares that he has learned to be content in whatever state he is in—pretty good since he was jailed, shipwrecked, beaten and left to die, full, and hungry more than once in his travels! In that same letter he urges us to “rejoice always.”
Contentment by current standards is at best an illusion—we are “content” sitting by a roaring fire with a cup of hot chocolate and a good book, the kids all tucked and sleeping in their beds. (When does that happen?!) How can Paul be content in jail/ or hungry? What great mystery does he have? A couple: the first is that God showed him the great secret of the ages, the puzzle that the prophets longed to unravel: one day God would live in us. We would not have to travel to a temple in Jerusalem to meet with Him. We would not have to touch the Holy Mountain. After the final sacrifice had been paid, after Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, God would make Man His dwelling place. If we but allow Him to come in, He comes in and sits down to supper with us. Wow!
And the second mystery Paul knew is that, like all the benefits of God, contentment is received by faith. Are you tired of hearing me say you must choose love?—that love is not a feeling, it is a choice, to will and to do the best for another—your husband, your children? I know you don’t feel like stumbling around in the middle of the night, creaming your shin on the dresser drawer or stubbing your toe on the door. You choose to get up and soothe a baby’s hunger and fear. Once you are a little more awake, you may feel contentment as you look into that precious face, watching those eager lips tugging at your breast, but in the getting up, there is only Choice.
Likewise contentment. Contentment is:
When Joe was in residency, we chose to live on what he made—and it wasn’t much, believe me! We had two toddlers and a baby, and I would go to the discount grocery store in New Orleans, where the line extended back all the way through the store to the meat counter. I had one little girl in one cart, another in another cart, and Tom on my back. We took in three foster daughters and God sent a man from our church with a side of beef for our freezer! I was living with Goodwill furniture, while other resident’s wives had maids, fancy houses, and gorgeous furniture. Those women who were not content with where they were in life and bankrupted their husbands with heavy loads of debt are divorced. Their children grew up visiting their fathers. My children lived with both parents, and my husband praises me in the gates. [Proverbs 31]
Contentment, like love, is a Choice. I hate to play a broken record, but if I could take you to El Salvador, if you could walk the steep path down to the filthy water and dip it out of the river for your babies to drink—and often die—you would be content, for even the poorest of us in the United Sates are blessed by the standards of 95% of the earth’s population.
So go home, be grateful for warmth, for clothes, for food, for shelter, and be content.
In my grade school, back in the days when God was allowed in schools, we used to sing:
Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home.
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home.
All the world is God’s own field, fruit unto His praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown unto joy or sorrow grown.
First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.
For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take His harvest home;
From His field shall in that day all offenses purge away,
Giving angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast;
But the fruitful ears to store in His garner evermore.
Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring Thy final harvest home;
Gather Thou Thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified, in Thy garner to abide;
Come, with all Thine angels come, raise the glorious harvest home.
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