Not thankful?

Learn to say, "O Solomon, my son, my son"

Issue: "Forbes," Nov. 20, 1999

Ten years ago I ran across a program for adults with IQs far below normal that trained them to be baggers at supermarkets. What made the program work was its retraining component: Graduates of the program could do a decent job, but every few months they would start putting gallons of milk on top of bread, and would then need a refresher course. That's the way many of us are when it comes to contentment. I'm generally very happy with the blessings God has given me, including a good wife, four fine sons, and a productive calling. Yet, every few months I do have a day of general discontent, and that's when I pick up a book that is a refresher course: Jeremiah Burroughs's The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, written in the 1640s but republished by Banner of Truth. As Thanksgiving approaches, I recommend Burroughs because he has cogent replies to our typical reasons for not being thankful. Burroughs shows that we receive less punishment than our sins deserve, and that to be discontented in the midst of God's mercies, because we don't have even more, is wrong. He also offers each whiner a challenge: If you put all the afflictions in the world in one huge heap and divided them up equally among everyone on the globe, would you have fewer? Burroughs writes about developing contentment during struggles by remembering how often God brings good out of hardship, and thinking of previous afflictions that proved beneficial. (This is good for a columnist who is struggling to get started; often the best columns are those that do not flow easily.) What about when we are physically uncomfortable? Burroughs notes that we are soldiers of Christ, and soldiers do not assume that they will receive hot meals and a cozy bed. And what if nothing good seems to be coming, and our reputation suffers? Burroughs notes, "If you hear others report this or that ill of you, and your hearts are dejected because you think you suffer in your name, your hearts were inordinately set on your name and reputation." Sometimes we need to have lower self-esteem: In the Old Testament, David reacted properly to Shemei, who scorned him, because he discerned that the mocker actually was God's instrument. We fight discontent, in short, by keeping our chief purpose-God's glory, not our own-in mind. But that is so hard when probably the worst thing that can happen to a parent-the death of a child-takes place. Burroughs does not minimize how terrible that is by saying that God will use the death for good; how that could be true is often beyond our understanding. Instead, Burroughs instructs us to remember the good that we are able to grasp; for example, when King David heard of Absalom's death, he should have remembered the son who was still living and said, "O Solomon, my son, my son." That is still hard to swallow: Time does heal deep wounds, but months or years often are necessary. The key to everyday contentment, however, is to remember that our internal state, not our external environment, is the chief determinant of our content or misery. Do we think we are discontent because we don't have enough goods? We should realize that taking in air does not satisfy the stomach, and taking in things does not satisfy the soul. Burroughs provides the solution to discontent: "not in bringing anything from outside to make my condition more comfortable, but in purging out something that is within." Instead of buying a more prestigious car, purge covetousness by taking delight in what God already has bestowed on us. Instead of checking out Internet pornography, purge lust by enjoying rightful pleasures. Easier said than done, according to those addicted to wrong. But Burroughs concludes his book with "considerations to affect the heart in any afflicted condition." As opposed to name-it-and-claim-it theology, he stresses that we should not presume on God: "Do not promise yourself great things." Instead, even if we don't get what we asked for, we should "make a good interpretation of God's ways" and thank Him for "the abundance of mercies" already bestowed. Good advice for all of us, when we start putting the milk on top of the bread.

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Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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