Thanksgiving Day has long been my favorite holiday because of its simplicity. Well, it used to be anyway, until merchandisers and marketers got a hold of it and turned it into an annual feeding frenzy. What Fantasy Football is to the avid football fan, Black Friday has become to the hoards of Christmas shoppers determined to join the thrill of the hunt to find the perfect gift. Armed with wads of credit cards and Excel spreadsheets, early morning Black Friday warriors top off their tanks with high-octane lattes before assaulting the malls like even the most highly trained soldiers – and believe me; it is armed conflict! Black Friday mayhem is the ultimate in suburban warfare; the definitive challenge for elite special forces.
Consumer creep on Thanksgiving began a little more than fifteen years ago, and really hit its stride after the economic crash when everyone jumped on the bargain bandwagon. Gone are the days when the focus of Thanksgiving was on family, food, and football. Black Friday changed all that. Black Friday fights and stampedes truly reflect what is hideous about American capitalism. Consume, consume, consume! But that’s not even the worst of it. The worst part of it for me after I joined a Black Friday binge one year was the discontented spirit I dragged through the entire Advent season that followed. The hysteria and hype left me disappointed and discontented for days.
Thanksgiving used to be the perfect lead-in to the Christmas season. Just before the hectic demands of the holidays descended on us, Americans would stop en masse. For one day our country stopped. We paused. We remembered and thanked God for all His amazing grace, gifts, and blessings to us as a nation. We thanked him for our country, and for the freedom we enjoyed in America. We looked around. We shared with those in need and invited in those who were alone; we embraced the stranger. Then, as the calendar turned from November to December, we began our Advent march toward the most anticipated day of the year when we celebrated the greatest gift of all – Jesus.
Last year at this time I sat alone in a bar in Colorado desperately trying to enter into the spirit of Advent’s celebration. We were living in a hotel and I had nowhere else to go but to the bar on the hotel grounds. I went to be alone with God, but instead ended up feeling isolated and forgotten by Him in that wayfarer’s tavern with its artificial Christmas tree and broken twinkly lights.
What a difference a year makes! Today marks the first day of Advent and I’m in Ohio about to begin the annual Advent march toward Christmas surrounded by a community of people who love what I love. While we are still without a home of our own at the moment, we are no longer hopping from hotel to hotel or housesitting for vacationers. Surely, Christmas will be a breeze this year, right?
Not unless I’ve learned how to be content in all situations. The Apostle Paul puts his finger on the challenge I’m facing this year in Philippians 4:11-12 when he says: “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstance I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.” Philippians 4:11-12
“I have learned…” Paul said. What had Paul learned? He learned the secret of being filled or going hungry; he learned contentment. Contentment needs to exist regardless of our economic situation. Frankly, it’s easier for me to be content with little; it’s familiar. Struggling to provide a meaningful Christmas for my family when there wasn’t much money turned Advent into a living, breathing month-long running conversation with God about how we were going to pull the whole thing off. Poverty was adventurous; it was dynamic. It was also exhausting, but over the years I learned how to be content with very few financial resources and my dependence on God grew deep.
Contentment doesn’t come instantaneously when someone decides to follow Jesus; it’s a discipline. It’s something that is learned. Contentment is something we work at, maybe fail at, but eventually rise again to incorporate into our lives. The process of contentment for the Christian is similar to the process of completing a marathon for the long distance runner. A marathon is difficult enough to destroy them, yet attainable enough to produce power, endurance and sweet victory once it’s completed.
Sweet victory awaits those who have “learned” to be content, but there’s often a hidden unidentified roadblock. “Coping” with our needs is not the same thing as being content in the midst of them. In fact, I would go as far as to say that if we are simply coping with a struggle (ie. gutting it out until it’s over), then we probably are not growing as God intends for us to grow. One way to determine if you are learning contentment in the midst of your struggle (or simply coping until it’s over) is to check what is resourcing you.
What is helping you get through your circumstance? Is it alcohol, drugs, psychology, obsessions, extreme involvement in good causes, other people, a best friend, the church, busyness, or over-achieving? To what resource do you run to when you feel overwhelmed by your need or your prosperity? Coping is not the answer; contentment is. Coping implies that we’re just going to treat our symptoms until the trial passes by. Coping will never lead us Jesus; it distracts us onto a spiritual detour full of potholes and blind corners.
Jesus is the only source of true contentment; draw near to Him and He will resource you with all that you need.
So what produces contentment?
An unwavering trust in the Provider of all things.
“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything you may have an abundance for every good deed.” 2 Corinthians 9:8
- Our job is not our provider.
- The government is not our provider.
- Our inheritance is not our provider.
- Our talent, ability, and hard work are not our providers.
- Our clever cunning is not our provider.
- Our spouse is not our provider…
God is our provider…of everything!
If He provides little, there’s a reason and a purpose for our journey through humble circumstances.
If He provides much, there’s a different reason and purpose for our journey through prosperity.
The key to contentment, then, is to find the purpose of God’s provision and exploit every opportunity to shine God’s glory through how you steward those provisions.
* * * * *
After leaving the hotel bar that day last year in Colorado, we went to a small town nearby to join their annual festival ushering in the Christmas season. It was the night they lit the star that would shine over their city every night until the end of December. Standing in the cold night air in the midst of a town of strangers, we waited. We had come as spectators and outsiders to share in their annual tradition and were welcomed as neighbors.
A woman from city hall climbed up on a fireman’s ladder with a bullhorn to address the crowd:
“Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord,” she read from Luke, chapter 2. After she finished the Christmas story from the pages of the Bible, she led the town in singing Silent Night.
Instantly, a wave of contentment washed over me. I was standing among total strangers in an unfamiliar city, facing a Christmas without my own traditions and a future that was totally uncertain, yet I was more content that I had been in a long time.
Because the lady with the bullhorn had reconnected me to my power source; my Provider. I was no longer filled with anxiety about my circumstances because she reminded me whose child I really was; I belonged to Jesus and He was my resource; the only one I’d ever need.
Redirecting the excesses of Christmas is possible if we learn to be content in every situation. In order to be content in every situation, we have to develop an unshakable faith that God will provide what we need when we need it. How do we know if He will provide for us? We have to experience moments where we hang in the balance of the “lack” and then watch God meet those needs with His spectacular provision.
Contentment isn’t only about finances; it’s about so many other things. We need contentment when dealing with our health, relationships, job situations, church situations, family dynamics, and a host of other things that challenge us. Contentment in my life was born during seasons of poverty and I’ve had to contend for it in times of prosperity.
How do we cultivate contentment this Christmas season?
We won’t find the answer in Black Friday because the answer is in Good Friday. “For God so loved the world that He gave…”
You want to learn the way of contentment?
Give this Christmas. Give like you’ve never given before! Give your time, your abilities, and yes, give your resources. Give your encouragement to those in despair, and offer your strength to those who are weak. Give your song to those who’ve gone silent; wait with them until God restores their hope. Give your shoulder to those who mourn and accompany them to a cemetery during this most difficult time of the year. Send tangible reminders of God’s love to those hemmed in by disease, and seek out those who serve others to lend them your support.
“Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstance I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.” Philippians 4:11-12
Here’s the secret Paul learned – cultivating a spirit of contentment ensures that you will always have more than you need so you will have plenty to give away to others. Give joyously this Christmas season. Give, give, give!
Happy Advent everyone!
© Copyright, 2013 by Donna Tallman.