Learning Contentment

Many of you know I have a 2-year-old daughter.  She is the joy of my life - very smart and very funny. Recently she acquired a new phrase that she uses all the time. “I want.” She wants milk, she wants the green blanket, she wants another piece of bread, she wants some lip balm, she wants that baby, she wants play-doh, she wants a lot of things! Almost as soon as she began using this phrase “I want,” my husband and I started teaching her a new phrase to use in it’s place. “May I please have...” It has taken many days, even weeks, of practicing this new phrase but she is starting to get into the habit of asking for things politely instead of saying “I want” all the time. Of course next we will have to work on the number of requests she makes, but let’s just take one thing at a time!

We do the same thing with God. We act as if all of our desires are urgent. We even tell God we “need” things that honestly, we just want. God, I need a bigger house, a newer car, a dishwasher that works, more money for groceries, another baby. I need more things. Who are we to tell God what we need? Doesn’t He know our needs before we speak them? Philippians 4:19 saysAnd my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

Perhaps what we truly need is to learn to live a life of contentment. This involves a major change in our focus. Are we looking at what we have or at what we don’t have? In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul speaks of his “thorn in the flesh” saying, Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Rather than focusing on the hardship in his life, Paul chose to focus on the Lord and how to bring Him glory in spite of and even because of the hardship.

Sometimes we pretend we “need” something so that we can serve the Lord better. I have heard people say (and have even had these thoughts myself) that they need a bigger house so that they can host class activities and invite people from the church into their home. They need a bigger house to be a blessing to others. There is no denying that a larger house makes entertaining guests easier, but you can entertain the same people in your small house. You may just need to put away your pride in order to do so. When I was in college my roommate and I shared the tiniest studio apartment you have ever seen. The bedroom was so little that we couldn’t fit two twin beds in it. We slept in bunk beds. Our living room barely fit a love seat and a TV. Our kitchen had a small sink, room for a microwave, a tiny stove, and a little island that seated two people. But every so often we hosted “taco night’ for our friends. In our cramped apartment we fed as many as ten people tacos while they stood around in our cramped apartment laughing and talking and enjoying time with each other. Each of the people we invited lived in a much bigger place than we did and yet they never hosted the gathering. They also never complained about our small home or the fact that not everyone had a place to sit down. They were just glad for the free food and the fun night with their friends. Perhaps God is waiting for you to use what you already have to be a blessing to others before He entrusts you with something even greater. Who knows what blessings we forfeit because we don’t properly use the ones we have!

Does that mean that we should not ask God for anything at all? I don’t believe that’s true. God’s Word says “ye have not because ye ask not.” God is our heavenly Father and of course He wants to bless us! In Matthew 7 we read, “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”  God longs to make us happy. But just like a daddy has to sometimes tell his child “no” because what she is asking is not best for her, sometimes our Father has to tell us “no” as well.

It is also important to have the right motive and attitude when we ask God for something. In James 4 we read You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” Again, I think what is important is our focus. Asking for things is not wrong, but spend time thinking about why you are asking. Is your goal to bring glory to God or just to have more more more? How can you glorify Him with the things He has given you?

As I learn to keep my focus on the Lord I have learned how important it is to live a life of gratitude. Recently I read Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. She accepts a challenge to simply write down one thousand gifts that God has placed in her life and the result is a life completely transformed by gratitude. Her focus shifts away from what she is lacking and what she desires to God and His glory. But this life of gratitude is not a one-time commitment or a simple shift in focus; it is a daily decision, a daily recommitment to looking for His blessings and glorifying Him with each word and deed. It is something we must do over and over without ceasing.

So that is where the challenge comes in. Perhaps writing down one thousand gifts seems daunting to you. Can you name ten? Perhaps you can begin the tradition of having each family member share ten things they are grateful for at the dinner table each night. Perhaps you can keep a simple journal listing ten blessings each day. You can even share a journal with your spouse or child and pass it back and forth as you count the blessings in your life, both big and small. However you choose to do it, I challenge you to start keeping track of the gifts your heavenly Father has given you and see how it changes the way you view your world and your life. I started such a journal last year and am vowing to pick it back up and continue on my journey toward a grateful life!

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.
- Philippians 4:11


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