On contentment

I have a theory. Now mind you, it is just a theory, so perhaps I could be proven wrong. Nevertheless, here it goes:

Genuine thankfulness should result in contentment.

According to the commentators for the Macy’s parade yesterday, an estimated 45 million turkeys were consumed as families across the United States gathered to take part in our celebration of thankfulness. Families gathered around tables to feast, sat with family they had not seen since the holidays last year, and went around the table sharing about their thankfulness. But that begs the question, “Is this really thankfulness?”

Thankfulness is the attitude that wells up inside someone when gratitude for their present circumstances overwhelms them. To be thankful for something is to appreciate its existence. Furthermore, to be thankful for what we have, is to appreciate the fact that this “thing” is something we possess. Now, this thankfulness extends past material possessions. We are thankful for family and friends. We are thankful for church and community. We are thankful for health and wealth and happiness. These things are intangible but they are things for which we are thankful nonetheless.

This kind of thankfulness must needs result in satisfaction. In essence, the person who is truly thankful for what they have would certainly be content with it. Contentment is the pleasant satisfaction in what you have, and if someone was genuinely thankful for their circumstances, it stands to reason that they would be content with them.

Thankfulness should calm the appetite of the heart. It should quell the desire for more, as it finds satisfaction in what it already has.

Unfortunately, what we call “thankfulness” on Thanksgiving appears to do very little of that. Why is it that the only day we set aside for thankfulness is followed by the greediest day of the year?  For years now, the day after Thanksgiving has been the busiest day of the shopping year. But now, it is much more than that. It has taken on a character of its own. It now has a name: Black Friday.

What is more, Black Friday is slowly but surely eclipsing Thanksgiving. Two or three years ago, people would begin standing in line at a stupid early hour of the morning to make sure they could force their way to the deals. But this year, stores gave up the ruse of caring about Thanksgiving and opened last night, right after people finished their meals. It says something about our society when the only official day for thankfulness is gobbled up by the lust for “toys” that consumes the day afterward.

Reports of people being trampled in Walmarts around the country on Black Friday are now the norm. Fist fights break out for video game consoles. However, my point is not to rant on the mob mentality that ensues on Black Friday. I also do not want to sound like an angry traditionalist whining about the loss of a nostalgic holiday. Instead, I want to discuss the motives of the heart.

Why are we addicted to stuff?

If we are honest, we are never satisfied. We never have enough. There is always some imaginary line out there that we want to cross, and it is always a few more steps ahead of us. There is always something newer, better, or more convenient. We make excuses. “That will make life easier!” or “I’ll get so much more done with that!” or “It is such a good deal, I can’t pass it up.”

If you really want to know the true desires of someone’s heart, then watch their actions not their words. As a society, are we thankful for what we have? If you were at the mall today, you saw the actions, and they do not line up with the words we were speaking yesterday afternoon.

Americans are gladly sacrificing our only formal day to express thanksgiving and contentment for a few extra hours of getting more stuff. And I wish I could say we Christians were any better. Unfortunately, that same desire for more things pricks our appetite as well. I feel it. I find myself browsing Amazon or wandering aimlessly around a Target to see if there is some new gizmo I cannot live without. I am willing to bet you do the same.

It has been said before, but every Christian generation has their blind spots. A hundred years ago it was slavery. Men, otherwise godly, would stand in pulpits and actually speak in favor of slavery. Any decent Christian from our era would look back on believers of that time and ask, “What were you thinking?!” However, may we not be so naive as to think we have no blind spots of our own.

It is quite possible that the greatest sin of our Christian generation (at least in the developed world) will be how we have handled money. We like it too much. No, we love it. We love it and the stuff it brings. We spend it on ourselves without a second thought, even when we do not have it to spend. Our standards of living are ridiculous. We are kings and queens like the world has never known, and we excuse it away because we are the “middle class” in our country. We excuse ourselves because we are not the “one percent.” I am afraid that future generations of Christians will look on us with shock and disdain concerning our stewardship as we look on those earlier proponents of slavery.

Now, let me be clear. I am not preaching a poverty theology. The Bible does not say you have to be poor to be a Christian. There are godly men and women with lots of money. However, the Bible does have a lot to say about the unhealthy desire for material gain. A love of money twists the mind away from Christ with a love for something other than God. It makes promises it cannot keep about satisfying our desires. Yet, true satisfaction can be found only in Christ. Therefore, true thankfulness and true contentment are only tasted by the one who has been buried with Christ in his death and raised with Christ into a new life. And even then, it is easy for the Christian mind to fall into the trap of material possessions. Jesus himself said you cannot serve both God and possessions.

Paul also gives us a word on the subject. In a letter he wrote to his pupil Timothy, he gives him the following advice:

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment,  for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs (1 Tim. 6:6-10).

Christian friend, if you went shopping on Black Friday, I am not mad at you. I am not even saying it was wrong to go to the store today. However, my hope is that we would all examine our heart as believers on this, the greediest day of the year.

Remember, where you find your treasure is where you will find your heart.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply