As I write this, there are almost 24 million posts on Instagram using #thankful. I love that as a nation we set aside this holiday to focus on our blessings. We are thankful for so many things (about 24 million to be exact), yet content with very few. Being thankful and being content are very different. Here’s what Google says when I searched each word: Thankful means pleased and relieved, synonyms are grateful and appreciative; content means in a state of peaceful happiness, synonyms are satisfied and fulfilled. Do you see the difference? It is possible to be thankful, yet not content. Let me share some examples. I am incredibly thankful for our home; it has been an amazing blessing that God was involved in from the very beginning. But, I would love to add on a big family room. I love my kiddos and am incredibly thankful for them. But, I do wish they’d be more obedient sometimes and a little quieter. I am thankful for my momma mini-van that hauls my craziness around. But, a big SUV with room for friends sure would be nice. Do you see the pattern? Being thankful leaves room for a but – we can be appreciative but still want more. Being content has us feeling at peace, satisfied, desiring nothing more, no need for a but. My heart is full of thanksgiving, but I struggle with being content. No matter how many blessings the Lord has given me, I find myself thinking, “But…”
It’s the kind of world we live in, always wanting more and better. But the Bible tells us to be in this world not of it, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). The struggle to be content and not conform to the world is not new. In the Old Testament, God sent plagues and parted the Red Sea to bring the Israelites out of slavery; surely, they were content. Nope. “The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!’” (Numbers 11:4-6). They may have been thankful for the manna, but they wanted something more flavorful. Sound familiar? You know what else is interesting about this passage? The word rabble means “non-Israelites who left Egypt with Israel in the exodus” (The MacArthur Study Bible). So…the Israelites were being conformed to the pattern of their world (instigated by the rabble) and were not content with the manna God provided.
If even the Israelites struggled with contentment and conforming to the world, how then are we to avoid it? We must “be transformed by the renewing of your (our) minds” (Romans 12:2). Anyone can be thankful, but to be content, we must rely on Jesus to transform our minds. Paul helps us to understand this better than anyone, “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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12-13). Paul learned the secret to contentment – it is to rely on Christ to give us strength, satisfaction, and peace. I desperately want to be more like Paul, more focused on my Savior than the “but” in my blessings.
It is so hard to be content, though! I tried it. I listed off all the things that I’m grateful for and then searched for the “but” that keeps me from being content. I started off by saying, “I am thankful for __.” Then, I added the word “but” to see if that particular blessing really has me content. Well, I found ONE: I am content with the size and number of TVs in my house. Yep, that’s what I’ve got. After several minutes of searching, I learned that I’m content with my TVs. Pretty pathetic. I am not in prison because I choose to follow Christ nor have I ever been beaten or ridiculed because I proclaim that Jesus is my Savior. Paul experienced all of that and more, and yet he was content. What is wrong with me? What’s wrong is that I am a sinner struggling not to conform to this world, struggling to keep my focus on the things of heaven. I am a sinner who is working to obey the command to “be content with what you have,” and clinging to the promise, “for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5b). I am a sinner who knows that I can only find contentment through Christ who gives me strength.
Lord, you have given me SO many blessings, more than I can even count. And, yet, they do not satisfy me. Forgive me, Father, for being so focused on the things of this world that I struggle to find contentment. Help me to rely on you to be content in this world.