Rejoice, Give Thanks and Be Content

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4)

In our era of self-centered wish fulfillment, life inevitably disappoints. A wise man once said most people are unhappy because they are entitlement-minded. They expect to receive life’s rewards, whether it be health, wealth, good fortune or countless friends and admirers.

But when the level of expectation is incessantly fed, as the world loves to feed us, it’s difficult not to be disappointed, whatever the outcome.

If we find that we don’t get what we expected to be ours simply because we wanted it, we are disappointed. But even if we receive the worldly rewards, we tend to not appreciate them. After all, we expected to get them, so what’s the big deal? We were entitled to them, weren’t we?

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One of the most difficult lessons of being a Christ follower, at least for yours truly, is to be content with whatever life brings.

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” (Philippians 4:11)

Contentment, it is safe to say, isn’t a hallmark of American culture. My favorite movie gangster portrayed by Edward G. Robinson was “Rocco” in Key Largo. A man being held captive by Rocco asked him what the villain wanted. Almost instinctively Rocco replied, “More!” And then, after giving it some thought, Rocco conceded he probably never would get enough.

A persistent desire for “more” can never be satisfied, and it’s the antithesis of being content “in whatever situation” one finds himself.

But if fallen men and women find it difficult to be content with their lot in life, how much more difficult is it for them to be grateful?

Again, if your expectation is that you deserve to receive everything on your wish list, “Thank you” probably isn’t the first thought that crosses your mind if you receive any of it. Probably, like Rocco, you’re more likely to ask, “Where’s the rest?”

The Bible, however, tells us differently.

“give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Notice the similarity of “in all circumstances” and “whatever situation.” Those verses don’t hedge or waffle. They are about as absolutely all-inclusive as statements can be.

Our family has observed a tradition for many years when we gather around the table at Thanksgiving. We take turns for each person to mention just one thing he or she is thankful for. Just one thing each. Imagine how cold the dinner would get if we asked everyone to give prayerful thought and then consideration of all the things he or she is thankful for.

The Bible gives us a list, which certainly isn’t complete, but nevertheless it’s plenty long by just itemizing some of the more obvious things we should be thankful for as followers of Jesus Christ, including…

for national salvation (1 Chronicles 16:35), for God’s everlasting loving kindness (2 Chronicles 20:21), for God’s deliverance (Psalm 56:12–13), for God’s wonders (Psalm 107:8), for God’s goodness (Psalm 118:1), for answered prayer (Psalm 118:21; John 11:41; 2 Corinthians 1:11), for God’s truth (Psalm 138:2), for food (Matthew 15:36; Acts 27:35; 1 Corinthians 10:30), for the bread and cup representing Christ’s body and blood (Matthew 26:27; 1 Corinthians 11:23–24), for healing (Luke 17:15–16), for other believers (Acts 28:15; Romans 1:8; Philippians 1:3), for obedience of believers to Christian teaching (Romans 6:17), for victory over sin through Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57), for eating and even for not eating (Romans 14:6), for fellow workers in Christ (Romans 16:3–4), for divine grace given to believers (1 Corinthians 1:4), for victory over death (1 Corinthians 15:57), for victory in Christian living (2 Corinthians 2:14), for the spreading of God’s grace (2 Corinthians 4:15), for earnestness in Christian servants (2 Corinthians 8:16), for God’s indescribable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15), for all things (Ephesians 5:20), for receptivity of God’s message as His word (1 Thessalonians 2:13), for all men (1 Titus 2:1) and for God’s reign Revelation (11:17)

The list is not exhaustive, as you can prove with just a few moments to reflect on the blessings of your life that you may ordinarily overlook, which I admit to doing. It’s so easy in our age of entitlement thinking to barely give a second thought to the blessings God showers on us constantly, beginning with opening of our eyes every morning …

“This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)

… to even the trials that test our faithfulness.

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)

None of these blessings are entitlements in the sense that they just come merrily along into our lives simply because we want them and feel that we deserve them. Rather, they each are acts of a loving God who so delights in blessing His people that there exists nothing that can prevent Him from doing it.

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

It is therefore critical that followers of Jesus always be mindful that they receive more blessings than they can even number, and that as fallen sinners we are entitled to none, if it were not for our loving God who made the supreme sacrifice that He might bestow on us immeasurable joys.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Happy Thanksgiving.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Mark Landsbaum
Mark Landsbaum is a Christian husband, father, grandfather and journalist who has written for a living for 43 years, ever since discovering he had no particular talents. He can be found on Facebook, Linkedin, and in the archives of the Orange County Register where he wrote another column for 10 years. He can be reached at Mark.Landsbaum@gmail.com.

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