A Cornucopia of Contentment
"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." Philippians 4:12 (NIV)
My grandparents were farmers on the plains of Kansas where the houses were separated by acres of wheat, so time with friends and neighbors was precious. One evening, a neighboring family came over for a meal at my grandma's house. My dad and aunt, still elementary-aged, played with the other kids until it was time to scoot up to the table laden with food from the farm and garden — steaming vegetables, savory meat and sweet fruit pies.
Home-cooked goodness passed around until every plate had mounds of food. A happy silence fell while everyone chewed. Suddenly, little Mary Jane, one of the neighbor's daughters, piped up saying, "This steak is tough."
Her ever-vigilant mother cheerfully replied with just a hint of threat, "And that's the way we like it. Isn't it, Mary Jane?"
We never have a gathering of our extended family when that quote isn't evoked. Inevitably, someone will begin to complain and somebody else will say, "And that's the way we like it. Isn't it, Mary Jane?" No matter when it's said or who says it, the whole group explodes in laughter.
Maybe you have to be there to think it's as funny as we do, but I'll bet your family has a way to remind everyone to be thankful, too. Just like our family, you find a way to rejoice through the awkward, difficult moments.
As the holiday season starts, we try to focus on the blessings of life, yet the circumstances of life remain imperfect. The turkey is raw, or somebody's mad. There's not enough money to pay all the bills, or a loved one is missing from the table. You're still longing for a baby, or your resume hasn't landed on the right desk yet. No matter what the circumstance, big or small, there's always something that makes life seem a little tougher than it should be.
Life was hard for Paul as he wrote our key verse from prison. Even so, he calls us to be content in need, when we feel the ache of lack, and in plenty, when self-sufficiency and the quest for more seem to invade. What was Paul's secret weapon that led to contentment through tough times?
Eight times through the book of Philippians Paul uses the word "rejoice." Gratitude is seeking out and finding joy no matter our circumstances.
Can we do it alone? No. Even super-Apostle Paul follows today's key verse with, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13, NIV-1984).
It's difficult to be thankful in imperfect circumstances, but Jesus enables us through His power. Jesus gives us spiritual abundance even when there's lack in our reality.
As cornucopias, a symbol of abundance, fill the Pinterest boards and fall displays in the stores, memories of my grandma's garden come rushing back. The harvest from her garden that later filled her table didn't look like the perfect produce department in my local grocery store. Pumpkins from her garden were flat on one side, and the cabbage was often laced with insect holes. Fruit had bruises and vegetables showed signs of too much or too little rain. Life is like that too, yet an imperfect life can be a cornucopia of contentment when it's viewed through the lens of thankfulness.
A harvest of contentment springs from the soil of gratitude.
Even the flawed fruits of harvest in our lives can be nourishing if we'll choose gratitude, joy and contentment. As we face the great joys and sure disappointments of the holiday season, I encourage all of us with these words from Paul, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4, NIV).
Lord, even though our lives are imperfect, we pray You would give us strength to be thankful for Your faithful provision and abundance. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
TRUTH FOR TODAY:
I Timothy 6:6, "But godliness with contentment is great gain." (NIV)
Colossians 2: 6-7, "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness." (NIV)
REFLECT AND RESPOND:
Make a list of things in your life for which you are grateful. On a second piece of paper, make another list of circumstances that are currently difficult.
Putting one hand on each list, pray for God's strength in the hard places and for focus on the blessings He gives. Rejoice in a moment of contentment!