Day 12

Give Thanks in Plenty and in Want

from the reading plan

Psalm 23:1-6, 1 Chronicles 29:10-13, Deuteronomy 6:10-15, Haggai 1:2-6, Philippians 4:10-12

When the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, he was chained inside a Roman prison for his faith. As he assessed his situation, his ministry and what the future might hold, he speculated that his imprisonment would not end in execution.

But there was always the chance. 

The Roman Empire—to put it mildly—did not look favorably on Christianity. Paul, like many fellow first-century believers, paid dearly for his faith. Early Christians paid for their faith in family relations, finances, social standing, personal freedom, and physical health. Many paid with their lives. This is helpful to remember when we read Paul’s words in Philippians 4:12: “I know how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need.”

Our ideas of abundance and need in twenty-first-century America are a far cry from Paul’s. When Paul mentioned making do with a little, he wasn’t talking about cutting back his daily morning latte from seven days a week to five. When he mentioned making do with a lot, he wasn’t referring to a 5,000-square-foot home with a three-car garage on 1.5 acres. Paul’s “a lot” included gratefully receiving ministry-sustaining gifts from his church partners. Paul’s “little” was hunger, deprivation, shipwrecks, floggings, and imprisonment.

Through it all, Paul encourages the Philippians by telling them of the source of his contentment and giving thanks. This is remarkable, but it’s certainly not out of our reach today; in fact, to grow in our faith, it’s a necessity. Contentment, however, is not a natural byproduct of our sinful nature. So often, we are like the post-exilic Judeans in Haggai 1:6: “You eat but never have enough to be satisfied. You drink but never have enough to be happy. You put on clothes but never have enough to get warm.” True contentment is not predicated by external factors. It doesn’t start or end with what we have—or don’t have. Our health, status, possessions, and affluence are superfluous to genuine, godly contentment. Contentment is a posture of the heart that is learned and fostered through the empowering work of God’s Spirit. It’s something we must choose and pursue. It’s something we must pray for. It comes through daily cultivation. Yet even as God expects this of His children, He does so as a patient, compassionate Father. And praise God for His patience! 

A thankful, content heart begins with remembering who God is—trusting in His nature, character, and the promises He has given us in His Word. Because God is unchanging in every way—including His holiness, sovereignty, wisdom, goodness, and love—we can be truly content in Him.

Psalm 23:1 says, “The LORD is my shepherd; I have what I need.” The more this assurance grows in our hearts, the more content we will become. And the more we will give thanks to the Lord for both the “little” and the “a lot” in our lives.

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