I’m doubting the title of this blog already. Is it correct to even say, “Balancing contentment, gratitude and responsibility”? I honestly don’t know, but hopefully by the end you’ll get what I’m saying.
There’s a story about one of the richest men to ever live. He was asked, “How much is enough?” He replied, “Just a little bit more.” Isn’t it true for many of us? Just a little bit more…more time, more house, more car, more money, just more (fill in the blank).
From the earliest of years, we’ve strived to “get ours.” Let’s call it self-protection. We are wired to feel safe and secure. Is striving for these things inherently bad? Well, no, unless we are looking for safety and security in the wrong places.
Perhaps the Apostle Paul was closest to mastering the idea of contentment:
“I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” -Philippians 4:10-13
Wow. These words are coming from an imprisoned man! How can that be? Answer: His Source of contentment. The last verse in the passage tells us “the secret” to his contentment – Christ strengthens him.
We do have responsibility in the midst of knowing we are not fully in control. What is that responsibility? To steward our bodies, our minds and our talents. We are called to run the race while at the same time resting in the fact that we aren’t fully in control. We can do all the right things, yet suffer an injury or a loss, whether that’s physical, emotional or financial.
A saying I heard years ago and quote often is this: “Paddle the boat and pray for wind.” Paddling the boat is referencing human responsibility. And the wind? Our great Creator. We can have the best paddles, boat and crew. Yet, they have little power over massive waves. In the end, the waves win…God wins. He is all-powerful.
Think of the apostle Paul. Once imprisoned, I’d be tempted to give up. “Well, there goes the work.” However, Paul was inspired by God to write the most powerful words ever written! He did not give up. He kept paddling.
Regardless of our circumstances, we are called to keep paddling; keep moving; keep showing up. It’s certainly not easy. But thankfully, we were never asked to paddle alone. Maybe that’s what you have been missing – paddle mates. If this is you, I encourage you to courageously seek out some teammates.
So, this last one could be the hardest. As I’ve aged, I’ve become more aware of the brokenness in this world. I can quickly become discouraged in the midst of political wars and injustices. If I’m not careful, I can live as though God is not working in the midst of this turmoil.
However, I’m then reminded that we’ve been at war with one another since the beginning of time. A basic history book will prove this point. So how are we to respond? Start with reflection. Here’s the Apostle Paul in the opening chapter of Philippians:
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” -Philippians 1:3-6
Listen to Paul’s confidence in God’s completion of a good work that He began. The Lord hasn’t forgotten. We can rest in this promise and be grateful.
Gratitude must be practiced. It’s like a muscle that must be exercised. Left to itself, it’s going to eventually get flabby and weak.
I personally do not believe contentment, responsibility and gratitude can be mastered. By mastered, I mean that you don’t have to regularly practice it. We may hear that someone has mastered an art or a sport. But don’t they still practice or else become weak? I’d say so.
This Thanksgiving, I hope and pray we can appropriately evaluate where we are in regards to each of these areas and start paddling where needed. The results will be worth it.