“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” Philippians 4:11
At nearly all Thanksgiving or pre-Thanksgiving services, the congregation is encouraged to share something for which he or she is thankful. I’m in favor of this, especially since in this setting, it can or should be assumed that the One receiving the thanks is God. I suspect this may not the case at many Thanksgiving tables, however. But I would go further. It’s easy to say, “I’m thankful for such-and-such,” but our lives may contradict the claim. It would seem to me that the mark of true thankfulness is contentment.
Lest we take this too lightly, I would remind you Paul said it’s something that doesn’t come naturally; it has to be learned. Since he spoke these words from a prison cell, I tend to believe he had passed the course. An old Anglican minister of by-gone years offered five rules to help us gain contentment:
1. Allow thyself to complain of nothing, not even the weather.
2. Never picture thyself to thyself under any circumstances in which thou art not.
3. Never compare thine own lot with that of another.
4. Never allow thyself to dwell on the wish that what has been or is now, were otherwise than it was or is. God almighty loves thee better and more wisely than thou dost thyself.
5. Never dwell on the morrow. Remember that it is God’s, not thine. The heaviest part of sorrow often is to look forward to it. “The Lord will provide.” (“Daily Strength for Daily Needs” Mary W. Tileston)
Rule number three speaks of “thine own lot.” This reminds me of Psalm 16:5, where David says, “The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot.” God was His portion in life, passed down to him from those who came before (v. 6), and experienced personally for himself: “my cup.” (A cup that sometimes spilled over, I might add! Psl. 23.)
Then David tells God, “Thou maintainest my lot.” We speak of our “lot in life,” the circumstances in which we find ourselves. The dictionary defines this usage of the word as “the choice resulting from a decision made by random choice.” Some would simply call it luck. You remember the disciples, in Acts eleven, drew lots to see who would take Judas’ place, and “the lot fell upon Matthias.” But according to Proverbs 16:11, we may cast the lot, but God is the one who decides. David believed this. He knew that God was holding the reins, and drawing the lines in his life: “The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places…) His lot in life—who he was, where he was, and what he possessed—were allotted to him by God, and God was the One maintaining that lot. David knew it. But do we?
Do we truly thank God on Thanksgiving (or any other day) for joy, heartache, recognition, disapproval, sickness, health, disappointment, success, criticism, encouragement, riches, ruin…equally?
God help me not only to speak the words of Thanksgiving but also bear the mark: