If you grew up in the country, or even if you didn’t, you probably have seen the proverbial cow stretching her long neck between the wires of the fence, trying to reach a little patch of green on the other side. Is she thinking, “It’s greener over there”? Most likely she was standing in grass that was very much the same.
But something about the grass “over the fence” looks greener, even to the cow!
Some years ago a local company had an employee who resigned to take one of those “dream,” “too-good-to-be-true” jobs. Greener grass! Only days later he was calling to ask if he could come back to the job he had resigned. He thought the grass “over there” was greener, but, to use his own words, “when I got there, it was all burnt.”
No greener grass.
Oh, that beautiful virtue of being content!
At the present time, discontent is everywhere. Especially during this time of pandemic. The things that many people worked for and lived for are not there, and what they have isn’t what they want. For some, there seems to be no green grass on either side of the fence.
Do we think we are the first to experience this? Isn’t a lot of it in our point of view?
What we lack is only PART of the story. It’s the “glass half full” or “glass half empty” dilemma. Which will we look at?
Using the greener grass simile, don’t the lenses closest to our eyes have something to do with the color of the grass for us?
I’m sure you are thinking of the apostle Paul, as I am. He made a profound statement about being content, and if we think about his experiences we can see he had many, many opportunities to be discontented—with people who disappointed him (like Demas, and Alexander), and places that were not comfortable (like prisons), and nights that he spent in the sea, and so on and on.
What did Paul say about it all? Did he complain that life was too harsh, too difficult, too upside down? No, he had another view. Because he was serving Christ, He saw green grass everywhere!
Philippians 4:11 11Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:
Content! Not even looking for greener grass—because ALL the grass around him was already lush and green, and full of promise! Notice he says it is “in whatever state I am”—full coverage for his life! ALWAYS content. Anywhere. Anytime.
How did he come by this amazing inner state of mind? He says, “I have LEARNED….” He wasn’t born with it. We can be sure that aspiring, competitive youth wasn’t born contented. He was driven by life itself. Higher, better, stronger! More, more, more!
What does he think about his proud young confidence in himself and what he knew and had done? As he saw it then, it was all “confidence in the flesh.”
Philippians 3:4 4… If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so:
The New English Bible highlights it well.
Philippians 3:4–6 (NEB) 4…If anyone thinks to base his claims on externals, I could make a stronger case for myself: 5circumcised on my eighth day, Israelite by race, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born and bred; in my attitude to the law, a Pharisee; 6in pious zeal, a persecutor of the church; in legal rectitude, faultless.
He says, I was “faultless!” Can’t you feel the pride in it? He had it all, and then some. The young Paul (Saul) had every reason NOT to be content, either with what he HAD or what he WAS. He was headed for the TOP!
Then suddenly, like a blast out of the blue, everything changed with that stunning, blinding mid-day appearance of Christ. Suddenly everything—everything!—looked different. The green grass around him was suddenly all burnt!
Philippians 3:7-8 (NEB) 7But all such assets I have written off because of Christ. 8I would say more: I count everything sheer loss, because all is far outweighed by the gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I did in fact lose everything. I count it so much garbage, for the sake of gaining Christ…
No wonder he could say, years later, “I have learned… to be content.”
Learned, because he had to give it conscious study and application.
Learned, and now he could teach it to others—and us!
Now let me ask a question: Does being content mean we don’t even look for greener grass? Does it mean that we live in a house where the roof leaks, and the front door won’t latch, and the windows rattle in the wind? Not at all.
No, contentment is being content with things we cannot change. I am reminded of a saying from years ago:
If your trouble can be helped, HELP it.
If not, BEAR it.
Remember the “serenity” prayer?
God grant me: the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Contentment 101. It is as simple as that. Contentment means we are not straining our necks to see the grass over the fence, grass that is outside the range of Christian vision and Christ-like conduct. We are not craving more and more of this world. We can step back and instead of complaining about what we lack, look at the green grass around our feet and start counting, counting, counting our blessings!
The great apostle gave yet another lesson on contentment in another of his epistles. This was written to young Timothy. Very possibly Timothy was at times looking at the apparently green grass over the fence. Did Timothy want to get ahead? Paul reminds him where REAL value lies.
1 Timothy 6:6–12 6Now godliness with contentment is great gain.
There is the recipe: Godliness plus contentment. And the result? “Great gain.” REALLY green grass. And right where he was!
7For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.
“Food and clothing” suggests more than the two elements. The word translated “clothing” or “raiment” means “either clothing, or a house” (EDNT); “that which serves as a cover, hence a protection; covering…chiefly clothing, also house” (BDAG).
Then he speaks about those who think they see greener grass over the fence; who are discontented, always wanting more, more, more. Paul says, verse 9
9But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.
10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
The “love of money” feeds discontent, greed, and “all kinds of evil.”
So hear Paul’s fatherly advice to Timothy. He says, in essence, keep your eyes on the grass around you. That is your responsibility.
11But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.
What a beautiful list of gentle virtues! Paul says, Timothy, you have been called, you are doing well. Keep on! “Pursue”—RUN after—
11…righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.
Then he gets a little tougher: Fight!
12Fight the good fight of faith…
The result? Nothing could be greater:
12Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
The grass where you are is LUSH and GREEN with promise! Be content!
Keep on, dear Timothy, and all of you, and you can one day “lay hold on ETERNAL LIFE!”
There is NO “greener grass” ANYWHERE!