How thankful are you this year?
Maybe, you are feeling really thankful. You made lots of money. You got a new house. You added to your family. You got a boyfriend! This is an all caps, big THANK YOU with turkey stickers on the front Thanksgiving.
Maybe it hasn't been your year. You don't have a lot of money. You lost your job. Your meal isn't going to be much more than Ramen noodles with a few Ketchup packets of contents as topping. For you, this is a "Meh. I guess I'm thankful," kind of year.
Oftentimes circumstances determine exactly how thankful we are at Thanksgiving—and in everyday life.
Yet, in today’s lesson from Philippians 4, the Apostle Paul claims to know the secret to being content--no matter the circumstances. He says in verse 11, “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 to being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
There are really three types of circumstances that we find ourselves in --
1) Without Need.
Paul calls it, "living with plenty." Really it means that he doesn't have a single need.
This is the feeling you might get at the end of a two hour epic Thanksgiving meal. The turkey is in your belly. The triptophan is at work. The cranberry sauce is dribbling between the spaces in your tummy left by the stuffing.
To be without need means that one is truly blessed! Oftentimes, this is the circumstance we find ourselves in. We are clothed. We are full. We have a roof over our head.
Yet, when this is our circumstance, how often are we content?
While I was preparing for this sermon on Thanksgiving morning, my cell phone buzzed about 6 times. No, it wasn't last second text messages trying to determine what time Thanksgiving service started. They were emails. Emails from Best Buy, Amazon, and a host of other businesses letting me know about things that I needed and could get a good deal on!
With the world constantly in our face telling us what we need, how long is it before we begin to believe that we are in need!
This leads to the second circumstance we might find ourselves in:
2) Perceived Need.
“I need an iPad. I need a Fiat. I need a Starbucks coffee in the morning and a treat receipt for the afternoon. I need all 8 seasons of the Office on DVD. I need to be first in line to see the Hunger Games sequel!"
Kids do it too: “I need a cookie!" – as if they will faint without the nutrition contained within the chocolate chip. And "I need the Lala Loopsy," because Christmas will be ruined, if she doesn't have it.
Of course, the truth is that we don’t need this stuff. Yet our minds do such a good job of convincing ourselves of this need that we aren’t always so thankful in perceived need. We aren't thankful because our house isn't as nice as our neighbors, our family isn't as polite, and our job isn't as fun.
And if we aren't that thankful when we have perceived need, what does that mean for when we have...
3) Real Need.
You need help in order to pay the rent. You need transportation. You need food. Thanksgiving for people in real need may be a bowl of Ramen with some Heinz Ketchup packets ketchup on top and a can of cold meat.
It is very difficult to be content when you are in real need. When your stomach is growling from hunger, when your legs are tired from walking everywhere, when your eyes are bloodshot red from staying up and working hard.
What kind of circumstance was Paul in when he wrote the letter to the Philippians?
One would expect him to have been 'without need.' It's easy to talk big about being thankful when you have everything you need.
He was in jail.
In other words, Paul was in real need!
Yet, you saw how he reacted. If these verses don’t convince you, read Philippians 4:4 when you have a chance. That says, “Rejoice in the LORD always, I will say it again rejoice!”
How could someone in jail be so thankful?
It wasn’t because he was looking back. Dwelling on memories of times past with the Philippians. While that may temporarily put a smile on a face, and certainly it will for ours too, it only lasts so long as life doesn’t happen!
At some point, you have to realize that you no longer own that 84 Mustang convertible that you loved so much. Remembering a full belly food coma from a Thanksgiving past will not fill your belly in this year’s Thanksgiving.
The secret to contentment is not looking back. Nor is the secret to contentment looking forward.
Paul didn’t just think: “I’m sure I’ll be out of this jam soon. Chin up!” That works for awhile, until a soldier jingling some keys snapped him back to the reality of his situation.
To be fair, there is something to be said for positive thinking in the future. It’s good to have goals. “I plan on having my own house. I plan on having my debts paid.” Good things.
But if that’s our source of contentment, what happens when we never get there? At some point you feel worse off than you are now!
And if you do get there, don’t be surprised to find the “perceived needs” to kick in. “Actually, I need a bigger house.” “Actually, I want to be out of debt and rolling in money.”
The secret to contentment is not looking forward either.
Listen to what Paul says, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.”
In other words, Paul found contentment from looking up.
Because what do you find when you look up? The God who provides all things. He takes care of our earthly needs. He takes care of our earthly wants. He has an endless supply of food, drink, clothing, and shelther.
Beyond that, he gives us what no one else can: forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and the promise of spending eternity with him in the glorious riches of heaven!
When your focus is upwards, it doesn’t matter where you are int his life. Whether whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want…in any and every situation, you are content.
Content to be forgiven.
Content to be God’s child.
Content to be in God’s good graces.
So, how will your Thanksgiving weekend play out? I suppose it depends on the circumstances.
As look up, you will be reminded of your circumstances: Jesus loves you. You have a Savior. You are blessed.
Circumstantially, you couldn’t be in a better place.