A friend in college once told me, “I’ll be really happy when I get a new car. As long as I’m driving around in this old clunker, I feel like a failure and people think of me as a failure. A new car will show them I’m not.” Well, I bet he did get that new car sometime during his life, but I’m not so sure it made him happy or content — not in the long term, at least.
I’ve seen plenty of people like that, they won’t be happy until they get that next new thing on their list — some showy thing that announces their success to others. The problem is, their unhappy yearning usually lasts a longer time than their satisfaction from finally getting it; the scale of pain to pleasure is always tipped in the wrong direction.
The things one wants don’t just include new toys (for children or adults) or cars or appliances, or something else that is physical, it also includes emotional satisfactions, like love, marriage, family, friends and spiritual things. Their list never ends and their unhappy yearning continues their whole life. They keep accumulating stuff and the happiness only lasts as long as the newness lasts; that goes for even friends, spouses, and religion. I’m sure, too, that they spent a lot more time unhappily dwelling on the realization of not having something, instead of reflecting on all they do have.
Look around this world and you will notice that all the riches and fame that one can achieve won’t, necessarily, make them happy. Even with lots of money, mistakes are made, marriages fail, angers arise, people go to jail, and so much more. That long lasting happiness they were looking for never arrives. Finally, the grim reaper pays a visit and walks through the door bringing a close to their unhappy life.
To me, money is a tool and I would have liked to have had a little more of it, so I could have fine-tuned the engine moving my life down the road. But I’ve learned that real happiness doesn’t come with something new that I can buy, but on things I already have. And, to be honest, I figure I have a lot.
So, the answer to being content is to appreciate what you already have, not that which you don’t. I did not always think this way, for I had to learn from my experiences. My life journey was not always smooth — a few bumps here, a detour there, maybe a creek or two to cross. So, I’ve suffered sadness and I’ve felt pain many times, but overall, God has been very good to me and I greatly appreciate that.
My past molded my personality, but I don’t want to continually dwell upon all the errors and sad things that raised road blocks in my path. I would much rather concentrate upon my blessings. God provided me many blessings, despite my many accidents, difficulties, and errors of judgement.
Advice from the Bible: Be Content
I would say that the majority of people in the world have a common goal of finding happiness or contentment in their lives. Everyone wants to be happy in their leisure, their careers, and their relationships, but sometimes obstacles get in the way to prevent one from finding that contentment or blessedness. You might try finding joy in less conventional ways, like money or fame or power, but the true happiness you seek, can only be found through God.1 There are dozens of Bible verses dedicated to being content, but I will present a short list of just a few of my favorites.
Probably the scripture most suggested by the subject of this article is in Philippians, when the apostle Paul’s own joy comes out when he receives a gift sent to him. Even as he is becoming weak in prison and uncertain of his future, he has learned to be content in all circumstances. He recognizes their gift to him as a sacrifice which delights God, and he assures them that God will honor their generosity and meet all their needs as well.2
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me, (Philippians 4:11-13, ESV).3
Now, the apostle James also knew that his Christian brothers and sisters had many troubles, themselves, as they were tempted and persecuted. “But James urges them to welcome their trials joyfully, as tests which will strengthen them. If they treat these attacks as spiritual exercises, they will grow strong and become fully fit in their faith.” James teaches that the Christian way to become content and wise is by asking for God’s help. “God gives to anyone who asks — and he does so generously and immediately.”4
He tells them, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).
Actually, the whole book of James is great for teaching Jesus’ thoughts recorded in the four Gospels. James mirrors the criticisms that Jesus spoke against religious hypocrisy. “Like Jesus’s teachings, the book of James is both a source of exhortation and comfort, reproof and encouragement. Finally, James is known for being extremely practical, yet it contains some of the most profound theological truths of the New Testament.”5
Also in the New Testament, I like this message in John, when Jesus said. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you’,” (John 15:11-12). This was a primary command given to believers — they were to have mutual love, for Christians grow by caring for and nurturing each other.6
That scripture shows that Jesus found “his own deep joy in communion with God, his Father. He wanted his disciples to have that joy that comes from dependence upon him. He wanted his joy to be theirs.” Many people try to find happiness without God, but “the Lord taught that real joy comes by taking God into one’s life as much as possible.”7
There are a couple of pertinent scriptures on this subject in the Old Testament, too. One verse in Ecclesiastes says that if you look at life as being a blessing from God, it keeps you from believing that life is only menial routine work. Having God on your side presents an exciting dimension to life, making it interesting and fulfilling.8 “For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:26).
The other Hebrew scripture I like is in the Psalms. “Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall! Blessed are the people whose God is the LORD! (Psalm 144:15). “It is a picture of unparalleled happiness, the happiness that belongs to people who acknowledge Jehovah as their God.”9
All these thoughts came to the forefront of my mind on this past Thanksgiving Day of 2020, as I was listening to a gospel song, while trying to think of something about me, to write in a book for my family. So part of this discourse is what I wrote and now I share it with you.
The song which sparked these words was titled ‘Thank you Lord for Your Blessings’ and part of the lyrics went something like that listed below. I did search and find a music video of a slightly different version by Jeff and Sheri Easter and there is a link to that one listed in References & Notes.10 It is quite uplifting.
There’s a roof up above me
I have a good place to sleep
There’s food on my table
And shoes on my feet
I don’t have much money
But Lord, I have you
You gave me your love
And a fine family, too.
Thank you, Lord
For your blessings on me!
God has blessed me with two daughters, a son, and a mighty-fine wife that will put up with me. We all get along, too. I have a house, a dog, and a picket fence. There is a beautiful yard my wife, Mary, takes care of, along with feeding the birds and squirrels that drop by to share their day with us. Sometimes deer even show-up and visit for a while, too.
Yes, that reaper guy will show up one day, and I’ll be ready to go. Sure I am getting old and have some medical issues, and sure I still drive a car that is near twenty years old. But I figure God has helped tip my scale of happiness very far to the blessings’ side. Thank you, Lord, for your blessings on me!
Copyright © 2020, Dr. Ray Hermann
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Reference & Notes
- Caraballo, Sophia, “Happy are the people whose God is the Lord.” (Woman’s Day Magazine, 2 October 2019), https://www.womansday.com/life/inspirational-stories/g29249196/bible-verses-about-happiness/
- Knowles, Andrew, The Bible Guide, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2001), p. 629.
- All scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV), ©2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. The text has been used by permission. All rights reserved.
- Knowles, Andrew, The Bible Guide, (see above), p. 672.
- Watson, R. Gregg, CSB Study Bible: Notes, (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), p. 1963.
- Blum, Edwin A., The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), vol. 2, p. 326.
- MacDonald, William, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, (Ed.) Arthur Farstad, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), p. 1550.
- Knowles, Andrew, The Bible Guide, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2001), pp. 262-263.
- MacDonald, William, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, (see above), p. 776.
- “Thank you Lord for Your Blessings”, Artists: Jeff and Sheri Easter; CD/DVD: Harmony in the Heartland, (© 2012, Spring House Music Group, Licensed to YouTube by UMPG Publishing, SonyATV, BMI, others) – MUSIC VIDEO: https://youtu.be/R9gEo0_Abc4