When discontent rears its head, I sometimes find myself playing the “if only” game.
If only I could win the lottery . . .
If only the kids were older. . .
If only we lived closer to town. . .
If only I had more time to write. . .
If only I could drop that last 10 pounds. . .
I’ve got a pretty good “if only” list. But what all my “if only’s” boil down to is discontentment–that sneaking suspicion that life would be better, easier, and more fun if only one or two things were different.
There’s some people in Joshua who sound kind of like me:
The people of Joseph said to Joshua, “Why have you given us only one allotment and one portion for an inheritance? We are a numerous people, and the Lord has blessed us abundantly.”
“If you are so numerous,” Joshua answered, “and if the hill country of Ephraim is too small for you, go up into the forest and clear land for yourselves there in the land of the Perizzites and Rephaites.”
The people of Joseph replied, “The hill country is not enough for us, and all the Canaanites who live in the plain have chariots fitted with iron, both those in Beth Shan and its settlements and those in the Valley of Jezreel.”
But Joshua said to the tribes of Joseph—to Ephraim and Manasseh—“You are numerous and very powerful. You will have not only one allotment but the forested hill country as well. Clear it, and its farthest limits will be yours; though the Canaanites have chariots fitted with iron and though they are strong, you can drive them out” (Joshua 17:14-18).
I’ll provide a helpful recap for you:
Tribe of Joseph (TOJ): There are too many of us! The land you gave us doesn’t have enough room!
Joshua: Since there are so many of you, go clear the trees in the forest.
TOJ: But that would be hard! And there are mean people there! And they have iron chariots!
Bottom line: God had given the tribe of Joseph their share of the land, but they didn’t like it. There were trees to cut down. Enemies with iron chariots to drive out. Instead of relying on God’s strength to conquer all their territory, they chose to live in a corner and complain. Life would better if they had more room. Different room. If there weren’t all those trees. If their enemies didn’t have all those chariots.
The problem with the if only’s is that they cause us to miss the blessings God has already given us. God had given the tribe of Joseph ample room. But they chose to live in a portion rather than doing the hard work of tree-clearing and enemy-chasing so they could stretch out right up to the borders.
And I wonder if I sometimes do the same thing–choosing to live small rather than cleaning out the corners and chasing the shadows of sin out of my life so that I can enjoy the fullness of the blessing God has given me.
Because I am convinced of this–that God gives to each of us differently but he gives all of us what we need. And he gives us the strength to take it all.
I’m reminded of Paul’s words, written as he sat in a prison cell:
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:11-13).
Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes we have trees to cut down. Sometimes we have battles to fight. But the solution isn’t found in the if only’s. Victory comes by pressing on to claim what God has already given us, knowing that he gives us the strength to stand.
I have learned to be content through him who gives me strength.
That’s what keeps the if only’s away.
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