"I have learned whatever state I am in to be content.” Philippians 4:11
Do you remember your first job? Do you recall what you were paid? My first job was at Rosemont Grocery, a little full-service grocery store, originally on the outskirts of town but long since having been swallowed up by an ever-growing Lexington. The building was old, with white siding, and a few add-ons over the years, but few cosmetic improvements. It still looked like it had been lifted out of the turn of the century next to a dirt road and plopped down in the middle of a busy neighborhood.
It was across the street from where we lived, and I had been going there on errands for a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk ever since I was in early grade school. The owner (the first and only) and clerks knew me and had watched me grow up. It was just natural, I suppose, that when they wanted another sack boy, I was it. I was paid $1.10 an hour and during the summers when I could work more hours I took home $24.10. I was glad to have the job and proud of earning money.
A few months after I began working there another friend of mine got a job at Kroger, the big chain grocery store. Now I don’t know what his hourly wage was, and I don’t know how many hours he was working. And come to think of it I don’t even know if he was telling the truth, but he said he took home $80 per week. $80! I can remember thinking, “what would you do with all that money? How could you possibly spend $80 per week?”
Suddenly my weekly income seemed inadequate. I remembering thinking “If only I could reach that level I would be complete. Life would be easy when I made $80 per week.” Well, eventually in other jobs I surpassed $80 per week only to discover that if I made $100 per week (triple figures!!) life would be easy. Having reached that level, I discovered a new level of desire. Nothing ever seemed quite enough. I was always dissatisfied.
The principle here is called discontent, and it can affect every avenue of life. Money, relationships, career, health, even spirituality. Discontent drives you to compare yourself with others, to focus on what you don’t have, makes you believe that something else will satisfy you, and forces you to miss what God has given you. It is the ravenous god of “a little bit more.”
The result is we are always straining and straining to make something of ourselves. Straining to get more. Straining to justify ourselves or feel more important. It comes in a number of expressions, but the result is always the same. Being discontent means missing out on the joy that God has placed right before you. We discover that we can have everything and nothing at the same time.
The opposite of discontent, of course, is contentment, the kind Paul wrote about in Philippians. He claimed that he was able to be content whatever state he was in. The fact that he wrote that when he was in prison, facing a very uncertain future, and no 401k, lends weight to his claim. He had something that we first-world folks mostly lack. He knew where true riches were. He found them in God.
The way to contentment is gratitude. In fact, gratitude is a kind of broad-spectrum antidote to most spiritual ills. It cures discontent, self-pity, envy, greed, self-centeredness, etc. Gratitude can help you relax in the rhythms of God’s grace, trusting Him for your daily bread (and everything else). It takes your focus off your problems and puts it on God’s wonderful, mysterious Providence.
I challenge you this week to try an exercise I have found very meaningful. When a dark or selfish thought crosses your mind immediately list 3 things for which you are grateful. If you can’t then you know the origin of your discontent. If you can you’ll notice a transformation of your spirit. You will be content and find life to be deeply satisfying.
Dr. Terry Ellis
May 7, 2017