The Sunday before Thanksgiving is a time when we normally stop to focus our attention on the multiplied millions of blessings that Almighty God has showered upon us during the past year. We are supposed to continually remind ourselves how blessed we are simply by being called “God’s people,” but I find that mindset often escaping me during the day-to-day grind of life. So often I find myself entangled in lists, appointments, duties, and chores that drain energy and life from me. I have come to realize that the problem is not inherent in the lists and duties, but in me.
Let me give you an example. This week I have been studying the topic of gratitude and contentment from God’s Word and yet this has been a week when contentment has escaped me. I have longed for a quiet cabin on the backside of a snow-covered mountain in Colorado where I can curl up with those I love, drink in the beauty of God’s creation, and escape the responsibilities of life. How can someone study gratitude, possess an awareness of the goodness of God demonstrated in one’s life, and yet experience a longing for something more? I don’t know if you can relate, if you can identify with what I am talking about then hopefully you can gain something this morning. If you can’t relate, then let’s just say that I’m preaching to myself this morning. I need to be reminded of my need to possess an attitude of gratitude.
I read a piece written by Chuck Swindoll this past week that hits at the heart of the matter. Chuck writes,
Many folks eat their heart out, suffering from the contagious “If Only” disease. Its germs infect every slice of life.
If only I had more money.
If only I could make better grades.
If only we owned a nicer home.
If only we hadn’t made that bad investment.
If only I hadn’t come from such a bad background.
If only she would have stayed married to me.
If only our pastor were a stronger preacher.
If only my child were able to walk.
If only we could have children.
If only we didn’t have children.
If only the business could have succeeded.
If only my husband hadn’t died so young.
If only I would’ve said “No” to drugs.
If only they had given me a break.
If only I hadn’t had that accident.
If only we could get back on our feet.
If only he would ask me out.
If only people would accept me as I am.
If only my folks hadn’t divorced.
If only I had more friends. (Chuck Swindoll, Daily Grind I, p.222)
I could go on with the “If Only” list for the rest of our time together this morning, but I’m sure by now you’ve gotten the picture. The most life-threatening disease of our day is not cancer or AIDS, but the disease of more. “More, more, more…” The cries rise up from the inner-city ghettos and barrios to the palatial palaces of luxurious homes housing languishing hearts. “If only I had more then I could really be happy, content, and secure.” More time to do the things I want to do. More money to have the things that I want to have. More friends who could help me feel better about myself. More status in society so that I could feel appreciated for what I am doing. More love from my kids so that I would feel my efforts are not in vain. More attention from my husband or wife so that I could have a better self-esteem. More gratitude from my church so that I could find joy in doing the things that I do. More, more, more…If only I had more then I could…
This past week Ray read to me a passage from Deion Sander’s new book, Power, Money, & Sex. If anyone knows the potential of “more” to satisfy then it would have to be Deion. Deion has been known for a long time for his extravagant lifestyle, his huge paychecks, and his passion for the “finer” things in life. Deion writes,
But if you have money without a proper focus, you’ll never be satisfied. I found that out, and whenever I give my testimony I tell people what I discovered in my own life. If you have five dollars you want six; if you have ten you want twenty. That’s just human nature. So no matter how much money you have, you’re never satisfied. You always want more than you’ve got.
More money, more money, more money! That’s why the people on Wall Street are going crazy all of the time. All they think about day and night is how they can get more money. When are you going to be satisfied with what you have? The answer is never. Unless you have God in your life, and unless He gives you the capacity to put it in proper perspective, you will never find peace with money. First you’ve got to have peace with God, and then with yourself. (pg. 117)
I don’t know if you have sensed it or recognized it, but there is a spirit of discontentment that is running rampant throughout our land. The toll of victims is mounting up like lives lost in a World War. The really strange thing is that we do have more. Our generation has more than any other generation that has ever lived and yet we are more discontent than any generation that has gone before us. Stop and think about it. The economy is booming. There is more money in our society than you or I can count. We have more billionaires and millionaires at this moment than any other time in history. Food supplies are of a magnitude never before experienced. Just look at the grocery stores all around us. They are getting bigger and bigger. There are so many choices for us to make concerning what we will eat on any given day that it is mind-boggling. There are more people alive today than at any time in history. If you want to have more friends then you are living at the right time. You have six billion folks to choose from in this world.
If there is such a surplus of everything imaginable, then why are we as people so discontent? We are discontent because our banks may be bulging at the seams, but our souls are withering away. We are discontent because our cupboards may be brimming, but our souls are barren. We are discontent because potential friends may be plentiful, but our souls are puny. We are suffering from soul sickness and very few of us wants to pursue the cure. We would rather settle for placebos that promise to alleviate our problem for the moment than to make the sacrifices and pay the price necessary to experience the cure.
There is a lady who knows all too well about the passing pleasures of placebos. She was at a cocktail party trying to look happy when a friend noticed the huge sparking rock on her finger. The friend said, “My! Mrs. Callahan, what a gorgeous diamond!” “Yes,” the woman said, “It’s a Callahan diamond. It comes with the Callahan curse.” “The Callahan curse?” asked her friend. “What’s that?” “Mr. Callahan,” she said with a frown.
The beautiful, sparkling diamond that masked her discontent on the day she received it, now failed to have the power to bring her what she needed most – contentment in life.
Regardless of what society tries to tell us, bigger, better, and more have absolutely nothing to do with living a contented, meaningful life. That is really the entire focus of Deion Sander’s book, Power, Money, & Sex. Deion has lived it up. He has everything that the world holds out before us as the ingredients for a happy life and yet he ended up wanting to take his own life. Deion writes,
Power, money, sex. They’re such powerful urges in most people. Some people spend their whole lives thinking that if they could just get more power, money, and sex, they would be happy.
But I know all those things on a first-name basis, and I can tell you this: Those things can blind you to other things that are a lot more important to your success and your happiness in life. My experience, including my nearly fatal collision with doubt, emptiness, and disillusionment, was dramatic, even if it’s not all that uncommon anymore. But all over the world people are discovering what I discovered on that roadside along the Ohio River. You’ve got everything your mind can conceive of. You’re holding all the toys the world has told you that you’ve got to have if you want to be happy. But you’re desperately hungry, empty, and you’re just dying inside. (pg. 119-120)
Deion Sanders is not the first to make this discovery, neither is he the most flamboyant person who has pursued the pleasures of life. Deion Sanders is small change compared to Solomon.
Solomon sought out the best that life had to offer in his day and he came away with the same empty emotions that we carry with us today. He said in Ecclesiastes, “Meaningless, meaningless – it is all meaningless.” Solomon explored the outer limits of knowledge, pleasure, money, wine, women, and song. Solomon knew power – He was the King of Israel. Solomon knew money – he was the richest man who ever lived. Solomon knew sex – he had 700 wives and three hundred mistresses. Solomon had it all, he was a 90’s kind of guy and yet he came to a conclusion. Let me share with you just a few verses of Solomon’s experience and his final assessment.
1I said to myself, “Come now, let’s give pleasure a try. Let’s look for the ‘good things’ in life.” But I found that this, too, was meaningless. 2″It is silly to be laughing all the time,” I said. “What good does it do to seek only pleasure?” 3After much thought, I decided to cheer myself with wine. While still seeking wisdom, I clutched at foolishness. In this way, I hoped to experience the only happiness most people find during their brief life in this world.
4I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. 5I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. 6I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. 7I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned great herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who lived in Jerusalem before me. 8I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire!
9So I became greater than any of the kings who ruled in Jerusalem before me. And with it all, I remained clear-eyed so that I could evaluate all these things. 10Anything I wanted, I took. I did not restrain myself from any joy. I even found great pleasure in hard work, an additional reward for all my labors. 11But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless. It was like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere. (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 NLT)
Long before Deion Sanders made his discovery that true meaning is found in having an attitude of gratitude for God’s grace, Solomon found that there are more meaningful things to life than money, power, and sex. Solomon wrote in another book, the book of Proverbs, what he had gleaned from a lifetime of searching for meaning in life. Let me share with you some of his insightful proverbs.
(17) It is better to eat vegetables with those who love you than to eat meat with those who hate you. (Proverbs 15:17 NCV)
(19) It is better to be humble and be with those who suffer than to share stolen property with the proud. (Proverbs 16:19 NCV)
(1) It is better to eat a dry crust of bread in peace than to have a feast where there is quarreling. (Proverbs 17:1 NCV)
(1) It is better to be poor and honest than to be foolish and tell lies. (Proverbs 19:1 NCV)
(1) Being respected is more important than having great riches. To be well thought of is better than silver or gold. (Proverbs 22:1 NCV)
How many of the things that the world holds out before us as guarantees of our happiness are contained in Solomon’s list? You got it – zero! Solomon was a wise man and in his more thoughtful times he wrote about what really mattered in life. Being with those you love, having peace, humility, honesty, and being respected and well thought of – these are the things that make life so meaningful, so rewarding. If Solomon would have said that having many houses or being King was what made life so meaningful then I would be in trouble. Those things are out of my reach. If life is made meaningful by enjoying those you love, possessing peace, humility, honesty, and being well thought of – then that gives me hope. These are well within the grasp of each of us who are here this morning.
Each of these things comes from having a meaningful relationship with God. God gives me a deep love for those around me. By having a relationship with God I will desire to live truthfully. If I desire to walk in Jesus’ steps, pattern my life after His – then others will see the best of Jesus exhibited through me and appreciate what they see and receive. They will think well of me because of the honesty, humility, and integrity they see at work through my life.
We have much to be grateful for this morning my friend. We need to know that we will either be grateful or we will be a grumbler. You and I have to make a decision each morning when we open our eyes what we will choose to be. The choice has nothing to do with what we have or do not have. Our schedules can be so full that we have precious little time for ourselves, but we can still be grateful. We can barely get by in paying our bills each month and still fall on our faces in gratitude and thank God for providing for our needs. We can never receive any praise from people, but still praise God for His approval. Gratitude has nothing to do with what I have or don’t have. Gratitude has everything to do with my awareness of God’s grace at work in my life.
On the other hand, we can have it all and never experience the gratitude that God desires for us. There was a world-class grumbler who couldn’t find anything about which to give thanks or praise. Although financially he was a very successful farmer, because of a very sour attitude, no one enjoyed his company. Nothing seemed to please him. His pastor tried to help brighten the outlook, all to no avail.
At the time of the potato harvest, the disgruntled farmer enjoyed a bumper crop. Wanting to strike a more cheerful note, the minister suggested, “Brother I understand you’ve had a tremendous season with potatoes this year. That certainly must be cause for rejoicing!”
The chronic complainer never even smiled, but sourly responded, “Yes, it’s true. The harvest was good enough. But my problem is, I don’t have any bad potatoes to feed my pigs.”
That reminds me of the times that I have complained because my freezer was too full or I didn’t have any room in my closet for my clothes. A thankful heart is not only a virtue, but the parent of all other virtues.
The real tragedy is that the art of grumbling has been almost perfected by God’s people. My experience has been that some of the best grumblers, some of the most discontent folks are people in the church. We, who have had the veil pulled back and have experienced the majesty of the Savior still want more. It is not enough that He has saved us, freed us from the penalties of sin, and set His purposes before us – we still want more.
There was a brother who joined a monastery because he wanted to serve God with all of his heart and learn more and more of God’s ways. One of the rules of the group was that you were only allowed to speak two words every ten years. At the end of ten years he said, “Bad food!” Ten more years went by and he said, “Hard bed!” Finally, on his 30th anniversary with the brothers, he went to one of the leaders of the monastery to speak his two words. When he entered the room he looked at the elderly monk and said, “I quit!” The priest in charge said, “Well, you might as well quit. All you do is complain anyway.”
I know many grumblers, as a matter of fact I have been a member of that club. I have never met anyone who expressed a desire to be a grumbler, we just grumble. Ungrateful for what God has done in our lives we grumble about everything that we think is wrong with our lives, what is keeping us down and unable to experience life as we think it should be experienced. How do we break out of this prison and experience the glory of gratitude spilling out of our lives each day? Great question!
If you and I want our lives to be characterized by an attitude of gratitude then we must allow Jesus to seize control of our lives. The Spirit of God will quicken your mind to all of the manifold blessings of God extended to you and me each day. It was the Spirit of God at work in the life of Paul that caused him to be able to write,
7Let your roots grow down into him and draw up nourishment from him, so you will grow in faith, strong and vigorous in the truth you were taught. Let your lives overflow with thanksgiving for all he has done. (Colossians 2:7)
15And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are all called to live in peace. And always be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)
16Always be joyful. 17Keep on praying. 18No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
Paul never knew the pleasures that the world promises us will bring happiness, but he did experience the glories of God that caused him to overflow with gratitude every day of his life.
I want to be known as a person of gratitude. A person whose life of thanksgiving overflows into the lives of others and blesses them. I want to know Jesus in such a deep way that His life marks my life through and through. I want to be so aware of God’s blessings at work in my life that there is no room for grumbling, discontentment, or ingratitude.
Let me ask you this question as we wrap things up this morning, “Is your life marked by gratitude or grumbling?” Before you answer that question let God search your heart and mind. Has gratefulness and thanksgiving seasoned your conversations with others this past week? Have you stopped this past week to thank God for His blessings? Are you yearning for more out of life?
If you would like to know gratitude as part of your daily life then I want to invite you to come to know Jesus as your Lord and Savior this morning. He can turn grumbling into gratitude in an instant. He can turn a sinner into a saint in a heartbeat. He can turn discontentment into deep contentment in a flash. Won’t you invite Him in?
“Finding Contentment in a Discontented World”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18