The first Thanksgiving celebrated by the Pilgrims took place among people who sacrificed and suffered beyond words. During their first harsh winter in America, they lost almost half their number. Yet those who lived thanked God for His provision in the midst of widespread grief.
The apostle Paul suffered trials and persecutions almost without number. Yet he says he has learned to be content under all conditions, whether good or bad. “I can do all things,” he writes, “through Christ who strengthens me.”
Paul’s experience and that of the Pilgrims indicates that contentment and thanksgiving are not natural human traits. They are learned experiences that come over time through daily, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They are the product of seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness. When we do this, Jesus says, “all these things [including contentment and thanksgiving] will be added unto you.”
We live in a general culture of discontent. We see signs of this all around us in high consumer debt and a high rate of mobility. Increasing numbers of people identify as victims. We become anxious over what we do not have. We exhibit jealousy and envy. We engage in self-criticism and self-hatred. We focus on everything else but God to meet our needs, but since God made us for Himself, these other things can never help us.
Discontented people are miserable people. Miserable people are not thankful people. Unfortunately, many such people are found in the church. Are we among them?
Contentment and thankful spirits are acquired traits. How do we acquire them? By learning to submit to God as sovereign, knowing that He puts us where we are and is fully able to give us all we need for the situation. By learning to serve the Savior who has served us to the fullest degree. By learning to trust the One who is all-sufficient in all circumstances.
Paul, who suffered many things, experienced the love of God poured out into his heart through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). How does this work out in real life? Read the testimony of a young man, 19 years old, dying of a fever, lying on a straw bed in a hovel with broken windows:
“I would not change my state with the richest person on earth . . . Blessed be God! I have a good hope through Christ, of being admitted to those blessed regions where Lazarus now dwells, having long forgotten his sorrows and miseries. Sir, this is nothing to bear, while the presence of God cheers my soul and where I have access to Him, by constant prayer through faith in Jesus Christ.”
“Only the love of God is constant,” said Henry Venn, who experienced shifting circumstances in his life. He learned to practice constant prayer, meditate on scripture, engage in fasting and keep a spiritual diary. To him, these were not mere religious exercises, but means to develop intimacy with the living God.
Henry Venn had lost two wives and a 16-year-old daughter through death. Through his trials, he recognized his sin and his need for humility before God. He experienced the love of God poured out in his heart. It was more than enough, and he thanked God.
Do we have that kind of contentment that leads to thanksgiving? When we learn contentment, we will have a testimony the world cannot ignore.