I remember my 30th birthday celebration like it was yesterday. Many of my best friends from South Carolina to New York came out to Los Angeles to celebrate with me for few days. We drank countless bottles of beer and liquor. We made our way to more clubs and bars than I can count. As we sometimes say, we were “actin’ a fool” all weekend long. That was when I was still chasing things that I thought would bring fulfillment to my life: women, money, and VIP connections at parties all across L.A.
During those times in my life you could not have told me I wasn’t happy. I had my own personal training business with a few celebrity clients, controlling my own schedule, dating whomever I wanted whenever I wanted, wild nights and wild friends. Up until that time in my life birthdays were just a great reason to make the entire week (or month) about me and drown myself in alcohol. After all the shenanigans were over I was left to nothing but memories of empty experiences that added nothing of substance to my life.
Fast-forward to today, turning 42 years old, with just enough gray in my goatee to think I have at least some wisdom. Having gone through many trials and difficult seasons (as we all have) and I find myself in the most peaceful and content space I’ve ever been in in my entire life. The beauty of all those trials is that God used them to strip away all self-sufficiency, self-centeredness, and worldly pursuits leaving me with the greatest gift I could never have been able to purchase on my own…contentment!
I was just sharing with a friend of mine earlier this week that loss has taught me the lesson of complete dependency on God. The moment I lost whatever material things I had in my possession I used to be upset, disappointed and even depressed. All this because I felt this deep sense of entitlement, or better yet unbeknownst to me, I had made that thing or person a god in my heart. So between the constant pursuit of worldly things and the emptiness from the loss of some of those very same worldly things, I realized I was never content in the first place. And at the rate I was going and the direction I was headed I never would find such contentment.
Here are three reasons I have this contentment at 42:
- There is nothing I am not willing to accept God taking away. Once you’ve been to the place where you have lost just about everything except your freedom, you learn to appreciate the simple things, right down to waking up with all your needs met. I shared in a sermon recently that “whatever my hands have a grip on and won’t let go of is what actually has a grip on my heart.” “whatever my hands have a grip on and won't let go of is what actually has a grip on my heart.” Click To Tweet In other words, whatever it is in my life that I absolutely can’t let go of (relationship, money, position, material possessions, etc.) is the very thing that actually has my heart. God does not want to compete with anyone or anything for my heart, even though he often does. In the Bible in Philippians 4:11,12 Paul says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content…I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” Plenty and abundance seem very compatible with contentment. But are they? Sometimes we get all we need and want and something inside just wants more of it so we never really are content. It’s when we are hungry and in need that contentment is best seen if it’s in our hearts in the first place. God has removed plenty from my life that I once thought I had to have. Although I don’t want to lose much (who would?), I am willing to trust God enough to let him take whatever he wants because I know those things can’t compare to what he really wants to bless me with in his timing.
- There is nothing I want more than to enjoy God. Because I want nothing else more than I want to simply enjoy God, it is very hard to be governed by my wants. Don’t get me wrong, contentment doesn’t mean you don’t dream, aspire, and have goals. It does mean that all those dreams, aspirations and goals are kept in proper perspective and in their proper places as they relate to God. If there is anything in my life that I desire more than God, that thing or person is an idol. Even the concept of it is shaped and formed in my heart as the golden calf was shaped by the Israelites in the wilderness leaving Egypt. I’m sure there is something there in my heart that I crave, if so it just hasn’t been exposed yet. We’ll cross that challenge when we get to it.Here’s why I want nothing more than I want God, because God is the only thing that is eternal, the only one that will last. The joy, peace and sense of security do not have to dissipate. Everything else really is temporary. All will be left behind. Nothing will continue with me beyond my last breath on this earth. If there is something or someone you want more than you want God, what will you do when you can’t acquire it or them? What will you do when you lose it or them?
- There is nothing God can’t do in and through my life. I am so much at peace on this birthday because I know, in my limited mind, what God can do in me. I know God can and will continue to transform my thinking and my behavior. I know that I can mature and heal as I keep seeking to know him. I also understand what God can do through me. I’ve seen the fruit of ministry in my life. I have the privilege of watching people’s lives be changed year after year. Even as I write these words I know that my knowledge is limited and God can no doubt exceed all that I imagine he is capable of doing in and through me. God is never limited by my understanding of my own potential. My perceived ceiling of potential is the floor where he can begin to operate; it’s where he begins to accomplish “big things” in my life. Those “big things” he does are not exclusive to the blessings for me, but includes the blessings through me.
Often times we quote the Bible verse in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Too often it is quoted in the context of accomplishing things in our lives like getting that job promotion, passing that intense exam, or graduating from school. Paul’s context and key though is contentment. He is talking about begin content in every season of life whether you have a lot or a little. He is saying the contentment is the reason he can do all things, particularly enduring all situations, the temptations and pride of abundance and the difficulty of not having much. Because he is content in Christ he won’t be swayed or tempted by the material world. He can endure because he has all he needs and desires in Jesus.
On this birthday I reflect on the times I have had all that I thought I needed or wanted in my life and the times when I have had literally nothing at all. On this birthday I am at peace. I reflect on what God has done in my life and I rejoice at what he is doing in the lives of others around me. I thank him for getting me through the tough times and I feel the pain of others as they endure their losses. And in the midst of it all, there is Jesus. Right there, celebrating 42 years with me. I think this will be a fruitful year. A great one!
Thank you God for the gift of contentment, the most fulfilling birthday gift I’ve ever received!