Maybe it’s time to start asking ourselves: “What else do I need?” Europe is in rough shape, with Italy near the top of the list. People are always complaining how hard it is to make ends meet. Yet parking lots around malls, stores, and restaurants are always full! Which makes me think of Psalm 23!
Here in the First World most of us have all we need. Food, clothing, shelter, water, and ever so much more. Fancy homes, with every luxury imaginable. Comfortable, air-conditioned cars to travel in. And more ‘stuff’ than we can even manage! So what else could most of us possibly need?
Yet there is one thing we often seem to lack: Contentment.
Contentment is defined as “happiness with your situation in life”. And it seems to us that we Christians should have more of it than anyone! Why then, do we often struggle with it?
Paul says just having food and clothing should make us content. And like him, find contentment in any state.
Yet Paul knew deprivation. He lived long years of it. In jail, shipwrecked, enforced fasting. But when we read of Paul’s life, we tend to gloss over these, seeing the adventure and excitement. And because we know the end of the story, we see success, and nations brought to know the Lord.
Five times from the Jews I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I suffered shipwreck. I have been a night and a day in the deep. I have been in travels often, perils of rivers, perils of robbers, perils from my countrymen, perils from the Gentiles, perils in the city, perils in the wilderness, perils in the sea, perils among false brothers; in labor and travail, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, and in cold and nakedness, (2 Corinthians 11:24-27).
Yet Paul says he was content — no matter what! I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel like a whiny wimp! I can get so disgruntled over minor issues. A cold house, rude neighbors, delayed flights or trains. Nothing to wear, (yeah, right!) A burnt pizza, or even eating the same old thing all the time!
So how did Paul do it? What was his secret?
Or was he just a spiritual masochist? Have you ever met one of those? Someone who thinks they’ve got to suffer in some way, otherwise they aren’t a real disciple? They think suffering makes them more spiritual.
But I don’t think Paul was. He asked the Lord to take his thorn in the flesh away. He didn’t seem to particularly enjoy suffering. Yet, even the midst of deep suffering, he was content.
I often think of Hebrews 13:5, finding great help and encouragement in it. But we don’t know if Paul had ever read it:
Be free from the love of money, content with such things as you have, for he has said, ‘I will in no way leave you, neither will I in any way forsake you,’ (Hebrews 13:5).
But I do wonder how often Paul read or quoted Psalm 23:1: “Yahweh is my shepherd: I shall lack nothing.” Not trying to talk himself into being content, chanting “I will not wish for anything. I am content .” But because he truly believed that he would never lack what was good for him, because God always provided.
Obviously Paul had learned that God’s idea of NEED does not always match ours.
We don’t know who wrote Hebrews. But Hebrews 13:5 are words Paul could have penned.
Paul saw good in his prison cell and his shipwrecks. In hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness. And even in being beaten and stoned. He was even content in them. Because he knew even those hard things came from his Father’s hand. And that the Lord hadn’t left him, or forgotten about him.
No wonder Paul was a spiritual giant!
Not only did he not whine over minor things. He even lived content without basic needs, and in great suffering.
“The Lord is with me. He’s given me all I need.” If that can’t help me be more content and grateful, I don’t know what can! If the Lord is our shepherd, what else do we need?
Well, I need more contentment and gratitude, that’s what! How about you?
[Image of market curtain-stand ©TheScorziellos-Mario]