Summary: Learning to be grateful and letting create joy, contentment and the desire to share.
There was an article in the local paper where I used to live about a couple who had been living on welfare and food stamps from 1983 to 1991. They had drawn a great deal of money from the welfare system, before it was discovered through a welfare fraud investigator, that the couple had stocks, bonds, certificates of deposit, money market accounts, savings and checking accounts amounting to a half-million dollars. They were required to pay back the entire amount including a fine, and were able to write a check for the entire amount. They were then required to serve time in jail and make restitution to the Department of Human Services. Fortunately, that case is the exception rather than the rule, and there is a system in place to find those who try to misuse what was intended to benefit people who are truly in need. The point in telling the story is that it is a perfect example of the fact that enough is never enough. No matter how much some people have they will always want more. And in some ways that is true of all of us.
The first point that we need to awaken to is: An attitude of gratitude creates contentment. We suffer from a disease some have called “Affluenza,” the virus of affluency and prosperity. There are millions of examples to which we could point to prove that wealth, prosperity and material things do not satisfy, they only create a desire in us for more. Just take a look at the stars of television and movie fame. How many of them are addicted to alcohol and/or drugs. They have it all, yet there is an emptiness deep down inside of them that they are still trying to fill. There is a hunger they cannot satisfy, and a thirst they cannot quench.
In contrast to them, listen to the words of Paul as he described what his life was like: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10). Paul’s life was filled with many difficulties which he could complain about. How many of us would put up with constant stress, confusion, persecution, and beatings that left deep scars and permanent injuries, and still maintain a positive attitude? But Paul had learned an important secret to life. He said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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 everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13). He had learned the secret of not living life based on the conditions around him. He could be content in prison as well as at home. His happiness was not based on situations, it was based on his relationship with Christ. He knew he had all he needed in him, for it was Christ that gave him the strength for life.
God is saying to us: “Don’t wait to be happy. Don’t postpone happiness until your situation changes, or you have acquired a certain thing. If you cannot be happy now you will not be happy then, for happiness is not a matter of what you have, or what situation you are in. It is a matter of who you are and how you respond to life. It is found within, and unless it is on the inside, all the things in the world on the outside will not make a difference. If you have been saying, “I’ll be happy when...,” then you will never be happy, because when that condition is met there will be a dozen more conditions to take its place. If you cannot learn to be happy now, you will never learn to be happy in spite of how much you have or achieve. If you are not content with less you will never be content with more. There are many who live in a world of “If onlys.” If only I had this.... If only this were different.... If only I could do that.... If only this had not happened in my life....
The Bible says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” Notice that it does not say “Prosperity with contentment is great gain.” Contentment comes from seeking God, not things. Jesus said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). If we sought God the way we seek after other things many of our problems would disappear. It is our relationship with God which is the source of contentment, and nothing else can take his place. The Bible says, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). You could be the wealthiest person on the face of the earth and still not be content. On the other hand you could be dirt poor and be quite content.