Do you feel you have everything you should in life? Were you born to the right parents? Do you live in the right home? Did you get the education and other opportunities you ought to have gotten? Or do you feel you’ve been dealt a raw deal, so to speak–that you’ve been deprived of experiences you should have had? If so, there is something you must understand.
“…be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
According to the Declaration of Independence, we are entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” but the truth is that apart from this historically incredible document, we aren’t even entitled to that much! Countless other human beings throughout history have experienced the miserable reality that life itself is frequently snuffed out wrongly and even thoughtlessly. The slavery humans have subjected their fellow mankind to throughout the ages further demonstrates that personal liberty is neither an inalienable right nor even the norm in some cultures. And as for the pursuit of happiness–much less actual happiness itself–many live merely to survive.
Yet God tells all of His people–regardless of their situation in life–to be content:
“…I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” (Philippians 4:11)
“Now godliness with contentment is great gain.” (I Timothy 6:6)
“And having food and clothing [a protection from the elements which can also imply shelter] with these we shall be content.” (I Timothy 6:8)
Happiness and well-being are not God-given inalienable rights. They are what God graciously gives as we voluntarily subject ourselves to His authority over us, yet even though He then gives us the ability to appreciate our station in life–whatever that may be–we are not all given “ideal” circumstances. And while it is true that as we immerse ourselves in God’s Word He makes us wiser and better able to structure our lives in a way that is both pleasing to Him and better for us and others in the long run, the external realities of our lives themselves do not necessarily always dramatically improve.
When we trust Christ for salvation and immerse ourselves in Him, we do receive joy–that deep-seated attitude of happiness that external circumstances cannot take away from us. Yet objectively, our lives may remain far from ideal. Our families will still be made up of frail, imperfect human beings; we may still be taken advantage of, yelled at or at risk of abuse. We will still have the same body, subject to the problems all people experience. Neither may our spouse become the ideal mate, our job rewarding, fulfilling, and stressless, our house a picture from a magazine, or car the latest and most expensive model. What changes is we ourselves–the way we see our real circumstances–not necessarily the circumstances themselves.
So why is it that so many of us believe we are entitled to so much, both in terms of family and opportunity, as well as material blessings? Why do we even feel we need these things to be satisfied?
One reason we often feel ungrateful and disgruntled with our lot in life is because we fail to recognize that God uses these less than ideal circumstances of our lives to mold and shape us into the people He wants us to be–into people suitable for His kingdom. A “perfect” environment would meet our every want and need and give us little desire for Christ. After all, if I already feel I have everything, why would I desire anything more? Yet when I experience pain or suffering–when things don’t go exactly as I would like them to–that’s when our human natures turn to the hope of something–Someone–better, and cry out to Him for deliverance.
Another reason we find ourselves feeling deprived in life, even though objectively most of us fare far better than the majority of the remainder of the world’s population, is because of the media. The poorest of us have free and usually frequent access to advertisements showing the best in life–from expensive cars to luxury homes and vacations–which give the illusion that everybody else has these things, and stirs up discontent. Furthermore, movies and television programs tend to depict families as ideal, even when they are endowed with the quirks of a supposedly dysfunctional family unit. The result of this is that we walk away seeing the very real imperfections of our particular situation–of our family life or our financial circumstances–and feel genuinely deprived.
Of course, the real reason we tend to complain about our lives is simply because of our sin natures. The sin we are born with, which inhabits our being unless we are daily filled with Christ’s Spirit through Scripture study and prayer, is ungrateful and always tends to see the glass as half-empty rather than half-full. So what is the solution? What can fix our situation?
The solution to our disgruntlement is a recognition of the good God has given each and every one of us. This is why, in addition to contentment, we are commanded to go a step further and be grateful for what we have been given: “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (I Thessalonians 5:18)
Regardless of your situation, there is something you can thank and praise God for. At a bare minimum, we can be grateful we are still breathing and thus able to repent of our ingratitude, yet most of us possess far more than mere breath. We have relationships, whether biologically or otherwise based, and we have minds capable of thinking, planning, hoping, and accomplishing. We have opportunities of some kind, and we have at least some control over what happens to us in life. Typically, we also have people who genuinely love us, even though they may not have always made the right decisions in life, and even though they might not be the people we would always like them to be.
So instead of sitting as the guest of honor at your very own pity party, sit up and look around you. Whose life can you impact? What can you do to be an agent of good in the life of someone else around you? As you begin seeing your existence–each subsequent day you live–as another opportunity to do something worthwhile and good to another human being, instead of feeling deprived and categorizing yourself as a victim you will become an agent of change–powerful to accomplish good with the time, energy and life God has allowed you.
Thank You for ALL that You have given me–for the pain as well as the good, because the pain helps me long for You more, and conforms me to Your image. Help me be the person You want me to be. Help me do the good that You have prepared beforehand that I should do, and be grateful to You! Amen.