Many of us grew up looking forward to when the Sears, Montgomery Wards, or J.C. Penney Christmas catalog came out. My mother got the other catalogs throughout the year, but they all lacked one important quality. Toys! Lots and lots of toys. Even when they stopped sending them automatically, I would walk the two blocks from my mother’s beauty salon and buy them, just so that I could circle everything I wanted for Christmas. EVERYTHING!
My family grew up below the poverty level, but I never knew it. Unfortunately when I became aware of it was when I started wanting to keep up with the kids whose parents were lawyers, doctors, and bowling alley owners. If I wanted new clothes from The Buckle, I would now have to buy them. With my own money. At the time I learned the value of a dollar. One pair of Z Cavaricci pants at the price of $79 was the last time I “had to have” designer clothes. Sadly though, I had already bought into the lie that wealth equals happiness. It was only later in life that I started to see that those I wanted to be like, because they had money, were not happy. They were in debt, had poor relationships with family and friends, and they looked miserable. I was also not any happier regardless of my success, larger salary, or new stuff. I was growing more anxious, unhappier, and my faith was no longer growing, glowing, or showing.
In Paul’s Letter to the Church at Philippi, some of his final words to the Church is to communicate his appreciation for their generosity as well as why he was thankful to God regardless of his financial status. Paul had traveled extensively, started several churches, and experienced the ups and downs of discipleship and life, yet he remained full of joy. Philippians 4:10-20 offers three truths that stand boldly against the lie that money equals happiness.
The first truth is that God is the source of the ability to be content in any circumstance. Contentment leads to happiness and joy. If our circumstances are permitted to dictate our joy, we are going to be hard pressed to be happy because life is not a bowl of cherries. Sometimes it is just the pits. If we are content with what we have, we will only seek out what we need and realize that we need very few materials because what we value is relationships with God and others.
The second truth is that generosity, both receiving it when in need and giving when others are in need, is a key to joy. When you have lost everything that truly matters, it is the generosity of others expressed when the expression, not the amount, matters can change lives. It is praying for the cancer patient visiting a food pantry to help those in need and inviting the man or woman that just lost their spouse to join you for a meal. Both are great expressions or generosity through relationship.
The third truth is ultimately being thankful. When we train our heart to complain, our world seems much dimmer than when we look to give thanks for what we have in our lives. Paul could either focus on the one church that was providing for him or on the several others who were not. If we practice giving thanks, we often find we have more than we thought.
Do I practice being content and thankful or let my wants run unchecked?
Is God the source of my contentment or do I still want more and more?