“But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”
— I Timothy 6:8
Practically every country has its own special Thanksgiving Day traditions. Most of them are in the autumn, beginning as early as early October—as in Canada, and getting as late as the end of November—as in the United States. We have these celebrations because, when you really think about it, no one can remain unmoved after the harvest has been gathered. There is a need to give thanks.
Often there are religious services held on Thanksgiving Day. Sometimes in those services, tokens of harvest are sacrificed and offered up to some deity. Sometimes special offerings are taken for needy causes. Whatever differences may exist in the rituals of the day; high on every list in every country is a special meal associated with the holiday. And, if there is going to be a special meal, there is going to be a special recipe—a special dish that is prepared the way only mother can make it.
Many families have certain delicious salads and desserts with their Thanksgiving meal. They will spend the whole day before the holiday preparing the customary ham, the stately stuffed turkey, and getting the house ready for all the company. In many cases the recipes used for this special dinner are handed down from generation to generation. In case mother’s special recipe has been lost, almost every magazine on every newsstand will be filled with new ideas and new recipes to try out on the family.
Many people, myself included, look forward to the Thanksgiving Day season because of the marvelous food that is associated with the holiday. That is all well and good. This article is not about gluttony and one about fasting can be found elsewhere in this issue. Eat hearty; smakelijk eten; bon appetite—or whatever you say as you sit down to your feast. Say it and enjoy the time with your family.
While you are rummaging through all those recipes and making last minute preparations in anticipation of that mouth-watering meal, allow me to ask you this question: Do you have a recipe for thanksgiving? I’m not asking about the recipes you have for salads, meatballs, and pies. I am asking if you have a recipe for thanksgiving itself. By this I mean the emotion that we are supposed to feel on Thanksgiving Day—the quality of the heart that we call thankfulness.
Just as you need a recipe to prepare certain Thanksgiving Day dishes, you also need a recipe for thanksgiving itself. Just as Thanksgiving Day recipes demand certain ingredients, so also, true thanksgiving cannot exist unless a certain ingredient is also present. Without this ingredient, true thanksgiving will never exist.
The Main Ingredient
Thanksgiving is really a very simple thing. In fact, the recipe for true thanksgiving has only one essential ingredient and you can mix this ingredient with just about any kind of life. If you would add this ingredient to your life then whatever circumstances you may find yourself in, you will be able to experience the reality of thanksgiving. The trouble is that while the recipe is easy to follow, this particular ingredient seems to be very rare.
The rare ingredient is contentment. That is what God calls it and, through Paul, He gives us the foundation for thankfulness. Paul writes, “but godliness with contentment is great gain” (I Tim. 6:6). Contentment has become a rare commodity today because discontent is shared by the rich and poor alike.
Because this particular ingredient is so hard to find, true thanksgiving is rare, as well. That is why many people may fill themselves up with food on Thanksgiving Day and yet are left empty emotionally and spiritually. A lack of thankfulness expresses the measure of our souls. When is the last time you assessed your life on Thanksgiving Day and honestly said, “I am overwhelmed with thanksgiving to God”? People who can say that are people who are truly content. You, too, can be content if you have certain requirements in your life.
The requirement for true contentment is a modest appraisal of your physical needs. Paul writes, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” Then he continues by adding, “if we have food and clothing we will be content with that.”
Can you think of anything that contradicts the spirit of our age more than that? Food and clothes, and I am content with that—not the latest fashions and styles—just food and clothing. Our age is one that has a passionate desire for things. We live in a soft, luxurious age and we have grown up to be spoiled children as far our wants are concerned.
Through our wealth and commercial age we have given ourselves a bad case of the “I wants”: “I want this; I want that, and, did you see that ad? I want that, too.” Unfortunately we are never satisfied, are we? We run to the local Stuff-Mart for more and more stuff and, once we have all of that stuff, we want more stuff. Our favorite cry has become: “MORE!” More cars, more DVDs, more books, more electronic gadgets, more toys, more entertainment, and then, of course, more abortions so that we do not have to share the more that we have with others.
No matter how much we have, the salesmen of the world keep knocking on our door; they keep appearing on our televisions and computers; they fill our mailboxes with all kinds of fliers and they keep on urging us to somehow try and get more, more, and more. All too often we fall for their sales pitch and then we have to build bigger barns to store it.
We fully acknowledge that there are people who have less than we have, some who are deprived of some of the basic necessities of life. They do not have the food and clothes mentioned by Paul. Certainly, we believe that they should be helped but we really do not want to give to them from the more that we have. We will give them some loose change from our pockets and they should be happy with that. We have become a culture of avarice and greed, filled with jealousy and covetousness. It smolders in our hearts so that we are no longer able to be truly satisfied.
When you step out of that world and into the world of the Bible, it is like stepping onto another planet. The Bible appraises our physical needs very differently than our world. Paul writes, “If we have food and clothing, we will be content.” Jesus taught His disciple to pray for daily bread—bread enough for the day. The Bible teaches that if we have the bare essentials, we have enough.
The happiest people are not those who have all kinds of material goods, but those who are content with what the Lord has given them. And so, the first requirement for a thankful spirit is that we realize we do not need all the stuff we think we need. Rather we need to learn contentment.
The End Result
Quite honestly, there is no earthly way we can shake our desire for things, but by God’s grace we can. God will show us that all the things we want, and all those things that mean so much to us, are only temporary. Whenever we find ourselves in love with stuff or green with envy because of all other have, we need to remember the words Jesus spoke in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food and the body more important than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25). Jesus pointed out the birds in the air and the lilies of the field. He asked if they worried accumulating all manner of things or worrying about keeping up with the Jones.’ For all we do and all we gather in our meager lives, who can add a single hour to our lives?
Jesus said that our Father in heaven knows what we have in need of and will take care of us. Then He added, “Seek first the kingdom of heaven and all these things will be given to you as well.” That does not mean that after you become a Christian and seek the kingdom of heaven, you will gain great personal riches. Instead, you will get something far richer, far better than earthly goods. You will get contentment—contentment in what God does give to you. And then you will have a true Thanksgiving Day today.
The author of Hebrews reminds us of the very same thing. He writes that the best way to celebrate Thanksgiving is through contentment. It is interesting that here again God reminds us of His promise to take care of us. Hebrews 13:5 says: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have because God has said: ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.”
Our God has said that! So in the final analysis, true contentment can only come to those who rest in God and trust Him to keep His promises. And He has kept His promises! Those who are content are those who know the love that God has revealed to them in His Son, Jesus Christ. They know that God’s Son has died for them on the cross of Calvary. They also know that Jesus rose from the dead and now lives and reigns forever. He has been given all authority on heaven and on earth. He rules the world and He makes daily provisions for His weak and faltering children.
A content person is the person who has built his life around the promises of God. Paul writes about that in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also give us graciously all things?”
If God provided His Son while we were rebels, surely He will provide us with every good and perfect gift now that we are His children. When you have Jesus Christ in your life everything changes! You can free yourself from all the entanglements of material things. You will become satisfied with less.
You will also begin to look at material things differently than most people look at them. It is not that you cannot have material possessions or that you need to get rid of them. By the Spirit, you are made to be more thankful for them. You see them as a gift from God and you love the Giver of the gift rather than the gifts He give. With Christ, you can experience the wonderful gift of contentment.
Rev. Wybren Oord
is the co-pastor of Trinity United Reformed Church in Lethbridge, AB, and the editor of The Outlook.