I heard someone say: “Isn’t it ironic that we rush to get all the things we ‘can’t live without’ on the day after we give thanks for all of the things we already have?” It is ironic. We live in a culture that is driven by marketing and consumerism. The way marketing strategies work is to make you identify a need in your life and assume that “if only” that need was met, then your life would be full, complete, happy… So we go about our lives thinking “if only…” If only I had a better job… If only I had more money… If only I could buy this or that… We go about our lives focusing on what we don’t have rather than being grateful and content with the things we already have.
This was readily apparent to me while we were in Egypt, ministering with Healing Grace. One of the ways they help the poor is by installing water filters in the villages. Imagine that! One set of water filters for a whole village! The residents have to go daily to collect water for their daily needs. In one village we were giving out water containers to make it easier for them to collect their water. There was a mob outside the church! A mob!!! And I thought to myself – in our country people mob for the latest model of shoes, electronic gadgets, or … (you can fill in the blank); and here people are mobbing for the possibility of having clean water in their homes!
I saw a little girl crying her eyes out because they had ran out of containers, and she didn’t get one. It broke my heart to think that a child’s greatest need is to have a water container. The good news for this particular girl is that she did get a container for her family after all. But there are so many children around the world have the same problem! How many of our children ever cry over that? And yet too often we complain about the things we lack, rather than having a grateful heart for the many things we do have.
I’m not trying to minimize our own problems. I acknowledge that though our struggles may be different (and maybe pale by comparison), they are difficult nonetheless. I’m not trying to make light of whatever extenuating circumstances you may be facing. But I know, from experience, that it is possible to live with a different perspective.
Gratitude is a posture of our heart. We see this example in the life of Paul. The apostle Paul speaks of rejoicing and giving thanks in many of his letters. He instructs us, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Now, this challenges me, because when he wrote these letters, for the most part, he was sitting in a jail cell – a dark, damp, rat-infested dungeon! And yet he had learned the secret of living a life of joy; he had learned to live from a different place – a place of contentment. He says, “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. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (4:13)
How could he rejoice? He was content. How could he be content in such difficult circumstances? I believe he gives us a key earlier in that chapter, when he says, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (4:8).
You see, our normal tendency is to think about the “what if’s” or the “if only’s.” But Paul shows us a different way. He says for us to focus, on the things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy. No matter what we are going through, we can either focus on what we don’t have – and be miserable – or focus on what we do have – and rejoice!
Our lives will never be perfect; but that doesn’t mean that we can’t rejoice. I encourage you, as you approach Thanksgiving Day, to write out a list of all the things that you can be thankful for. Receive what you have with gratitude, and focus not on what you don’t have, but on what you do have. We have many things to be grateful for. And let this be the beginning (or the renewal) of a life of contentment in God. You are blessed!
Dr. Chiqui Polo-Wood | All Rights Reserved 2015