Contentment, Week 1
God can help you be okay no matter what.
Zoe groaned and pulled the pillow over her head. “Five thirty? Seriously?” she mumbled.
It was only two months ago that Zoe’s parents had dropped the news at breakfast.
“Your mom was just offered a new job,” Dad said.
Zoe’s little sister, Talia, had bounced up and down in her seat. “Are you still gonna work at the house?”
“You can still drive us to school, right?” Zoe demanded. Zoe had seen her parents exchange a glance. “Actually . . .” Mom said at last, “the job is in the city.”
Zoe had looked out the window at their big backyard, perfect for soccer— and their oversized golden retriever, Sherlock. The rambling yard blended into the woods where she and her friends had explored every summer since she could remember. They lived nowhere near the city.
“That’s like more than an hour away!” Zoe exclaimed. “The job is a big promotion,” Dad pointed out.
“But we don’t think it’s a good idea for me to spend so much time driving,” Mom added. “I wouldn’t be around for breakfast or dinner some days.”
“So you’re not going to take the job?” Zoe asked.
“No, honey,” Dad said. “We’re going to move. Into the city.”
Zoe stared at him, stunned. “Like . . . downtown?”
Talia seemed unfazed. “Oh! We can go to the zoo every day!”
But while Talia saw the whole thing as an adventure, Zoe could only see what she was losing.
Now here she was, wide awake long before breakfast with no hope the traffic noise would allow her to go back to sleep.
To make matters worse, the new condo was much smaller than their old farmhouse, and Zoe had to share a bedroom with Talia, who talked in her sleep.
“Don’t give Mr. Muffles the bacon,” Talia said clearly. “It makes him laugh.” Then she rolled over, still fast asleep.
A rough tongue licked Zoe’s hand, and Sherlock placed his huge paws on Zoe’s bed. She had begged to keep Sherlock, even though their new home was small—and three floors up. So Zoe now had to walk Sherlock twice a day instead of just opening the door to let him run in the yard.
Zoe sighed and sat up. “Fine. Not like I’m going to sleep anyhow.”
She rolled out of bed and pulled on a jacket in the dark since she couldn’t turn on the light and wake Talia. When they reached the elevator in the hall, Zoe saw a sign tacked on the door: “Out of service.”
“Great,” she grumbled.
After jogging down three flights of stairs, Zoe found herself out on the already busy street. She shivered in the autumn chill and wrinkled her nose at diesel fumes. Sometimes she took Sherlock to the park down the street, but this morning he happily nosed around the trash can on the small strip of grass between the sidewalk and street.
“How can you be so happy with a patch of weeds after you had a whole big yard at home?” she demanded.
Zoe’s rant was interrupted by the surprising sound of beautiful string music; she turned to see that the cello player was out once again. The old man wore a dark woolen jacket and a red cap, and she knew he lived just down the hall from them. He sat on a battered folding chair, right on the sidewalk as the chaos of the morning rush unfolded around him.
“How can he even focus out here?” Zoe wondered. She had seen the man several times before, always playing his heart out.
He must have felt her gaze, because he looked up and smiled, still playing. Zoe started to glance away, but then smiled back instead.
“You like it?” the man asked, his accent thick, but understandable.
“I don’t know how you play in the middle of . . . all of this!” she exclaimed, waving a hand at the chaos.
The old man smiled as he continued to play. “The traffic, the sound, the people . . . I make it the pulse of my music.”
“Oh,” said Zoe. “Well, it’s beautiful.”
The man nodded. “I have seen you in the hall. Your family is new here?”
“We moved from Arcadia,” replied Zoe. “It’s just a little town, but I knew everyone. I had friends. There was . . . more room.”
“Yes. I had more room at home, too,” the man agreed.
“Where’s home?” wondered Zoe.
“The Ukraine,” the cello player explained. “When the rebels destroyed my town, we had no home. Until we came here.”
Zoe tried to imagine what it would be like to lose not just your house, but your entire country. “Wow. That’s . . .” she searched for words. “Weren’t you, I don’t know . . . sad? And angry?”
The old man finished the song and put down his bow. “Of course. But I could not change what happened. Only what I did about it.”
“Well, you make it very beautiful out here,” said Zoe. “For six a.m.” “Thank you, young lady. I do not have much. But this, I can share.”
“I’m glad you do,” said Zoe. And as Sherlock barked and wagged his tail, she added, “That’s Sherlock. And I’m Zoe.”
“It is nice to meet you,” said the man. “I am Anton.” “Thank you, Anton.”
Anton nodded and picked up his bow again as Zoe corralled Sherlock back into their building.
When she returned to her room, Talia was still sleeping. The room was small, but it was actually kind of fun to share with Talia. Several nights, they’d stayed up late, just talking. Zoe recalled what Anton had said.
“I could not change what happened. Only what I did about it.”
It sounded familiar. Zoe dug out her phone and did a quick search. Sure enough, she found the Bible verse she’d memorized at church, years ago.
I have learned to be content no matter what happens to me. I know what it’s like not to have what I need. I also know what it’s like to have more than I need. I have learned the secret of being content no matter what happens. I am content whether I am well fed or hungry. I am content whether I have more than enough or not enough. I can do all this by the power of Christ. He gives me strength.
Smiling, Zoe opened the window, just a little. The strains of cello music poured in along with the rumble of traffic. She was grateful for a reminder that no matter what happens, or where you find yourself, you can still ask for strength and chose to be okay.
Share with each other at least one thing you wanted this week and didn’t get—whether it’s a toy or making a team, or even a nap!
It seems to be how we’re wired: no matter what we get, we always find something more to want. But Paul, writing to the Philippians, flips this on its head. He says that with God’s help, it’s possible to be happy with whatever you have right now, whether it’s a lot or a little bit. Now, take time to remind each other of several things you do have. Pray for each other, that God would help you to be happy with those things instead of spending lots of time and energy worrying about getting more.
Contentment, Week 2
Don't Be Controlled by Money
Stuff can't keep you happy.
Connor had never wanted anything in his life as much as he wanted a pair of Mr. Beat headphones. He tried them on every time he went to Tech Buy, absorbing everything from hip hop music to classical piano. “I’ve never heard such amazing sound in my life!” he proclaimed.
Incredible music wouldn’t be the only advantage to a pair of Mr. Beats. Connor imagined how awesome it would be to cancel out his least favorite sounds—like when his little sister, Jill, started whining and begging him to play games with her.
Connor’s mom, however, refused to buy him a pair of Mr. Beat headphones. “Four hundred dollars?!” she exclaimed. “You can get a perfectly good pair of ear buds at the SuperStore for 10 dollars.”
“Mr. Beats are not ear buds,” Connor declared. “These are an entirely new way to interface with sound. With music. With reality!”
“Aren’t you being a little dramatic?” his mom asked.
“I can’t believe you just said that,” Connor said, rolling his eyes. “It’s a total cliché.” “If you want these ear bud phones—” Mom began.
“Headphones!” Connor corrected.
“If you want them, you’re going to need to earn the money yourself, okay?” she said.
“Fine,” Connor pouted. “Will you pay me a hundred dollars to rake the leaves?”
“That’s already your responsibility,” his mom pointed out. “But if you want to power wash the driveway, we’ll pay you $20.”
Over the next few weeks, Connor became consumed with finding ways to earn money. He could think of nothing else and spent every free moment doing odd jobs around the neighborhood and counting up what he’d earned.
“Connor, want to go for a run with me?” his mom asked one morning. “We could do the Fall Fest 5K in a couple weeks.”
“Yeah, no.” Connor shook his head. “Power washing Mr. Jefferson’s deck.”
Connor’s dad walked into the kitchen at lunch with his violin, playing the melody to a Beatles song. “You want to do a jam session with me and Jill this afternoon?” he asked. “I want Jill to watch how you improvise on keys.”
“Yeah, no,” Connor snapped. “I don’t have time for piano right now. Raking the Watsons’ yard.”
Connor even skipped out on his Sunday evening small group at church to paint Ms. Leanne’s front door for $45. He got a text from his leader while was covered in bright green paint.
“Hey, missed you tonight,” he read. “If you want to catch up for next week, we looked at Hebrews 13:5 today . . .”
While Connor waited for the first coat of paint to dry, he idly pulled up the verse. Don’t be controlled by love for money. Be happy with what you have. God has said, “I will never leave you. I will never desert you.”
Connor pocketed his phone. “Cool. But . . . it’s not like we’re rich or anything. I have to work for my allowance. Even for stuff I really need like headphones!”
At last, Connor saved up enough money to buy a pair of Mr. Beats. Mom even drove him to Tech Buy. “You’ve certainly earned it,” she said.
As soon as he got home, Connor unboxed his spiffy new headphones and put them on. Instantly, the rest of the world faded away into incredible sound. For several days, Connor lived in a happy dream, listening to every single song in his collection. The headphones even made gaming way better.
But late Saturday afternoon, Connor ventured out of his room to grab a snack. As he passed through the family room, he found his dad packing away his violin.
“You were practicing?” Connor asked.
“Just showing Jill a few things. She’s got a great ear.” “You didn’t ask me to play.”
“Oh, we knew you were busy.”
In the kitchen, Connor grabbed a bag of chips from the pantry. He glanced out the window to see the sun setting on a crisp fall day. His mom blew into the kitchen, tugging off her running jacket.
“Best run I’ve had in months!” she declared. “Think I’ll do the 10K race instead of the 5K.”
“You didn’t ask me to go along,” Connor pointed out. She shrugged. “I knew you were busy.”
Connor still spent the rest of the weekend, and most evenings that week, testing every possible setting on his Mr. Beats. But by the following weekend, he found himself restless as he pulled out the headphones once again. Plus, the sound hadn’t seemed quite so crisp since he accidentally got queso in the headphone jack.
At last Connor had to admit to himself: he was bored. He stood, stretched, and opened his door. He could hear his dad on the violin. Jill was trying to follow along on piano, but it was pretty rough.
“Hmm,” Connor mused. “She needs some help.”
Connor hurried down to the family room, where Dad was playing a simple tune on the violin. Jill tried to pick out harmony on the piano.
“You’re thinking too hard, Jilly,” he said. “Okay if I show you?”
Dad smiled as Jill scooted over on the piano keyboard to make room for Connor. It was a lot of fun to show Jill some new techniques. And satisfying when she finally got it.
As they were finishing up, Mom breezed through in running gear. “Tacos for dinner,” she announced. “I’ll be back in half an hour.”
Connor hopped up from the piano. “Gimme five minutes and I’ll come with you!”
A short time later, Connor and his mom were heading for the trail, feet pounding the sidewalk, crisp air in their faces. The setting sun seemed to set the crimson and gold leaves on fire, and somewhere he could smell a bonfire. Connor took deep breaths and realized he’d hardly been outside in two weeks.
“How are those headphones working out?” asked Mom.
“The Mr. Beats? Great. Good . . .” He paused. “But, well . . . they are just headphones.
Picking up the pace, they turned onto the gravel trail through the woods. Connor was discovering the truth of Hebrews 13:5: Don’t be controlled by love for money. Be happy with what you have. God has said, “I will never leave you. I will never desert you.”
God’s presence in his family and beautiful creation was of far more value than even the most incredible pair of headphones money could buy.
You may have a lot of “stuff” — toys, clothes, electronics.
Or you may have very few things. But whether you have a lot or a little, it’s still easy to want more and to rely on what you have—or don’t have—to make you happy. Share with each other something that you really, really wanted . . . and actually got! Did it make you happy when you got it? How about the next day? Or the next month? It’s true that money can buy you stuff. But it’s also true that things, no matter how amazing, can’t keep you happy. God made us so that stuff can never fill us. His love is the only thing that can give us true joy. Chasing stuff won’t make us happy in the long run, but showing love to God and to others will. Pray for each other, that you will grow closer to God and not depend on the things you own to make you happy.
Contentment, Week 3
King Ahab and Naboth's Vineyard
1 Kings 21:1-19, 27
Wanting what others have can make you miserable.
Some of the kings who ruled God’s people were wise and kind. But many of them were foolish. The very worst of a long line of terrible kings was King Ahab. He built temples and altars to false gods and wanted God’s people to worship them too. He ignored the prophets of the One True God, men like Elijah, and made his own plans.
In fact, Ahab always got exactly what he wanted, when he wanted it. So, when he went out for a drive one day and passed a lush, leafy vineyard, he ordered an immediate halt.
“Yes, your majesty,” said the driver, halting immediately.
“Look at the size of those grapes!” exclaimed King Ahab. “Must be fantastic soil.”
“Yes, your majesty,” agreed his driver.
“You know what would grow just brilliantly right here? Vegetables!” “Yes, your majesty.”
“I’m thinking . . . maybe sweet potatoes. Sweet potato hash! Sweet potato pie. Sweet potato doughnuts! I can taste those buttery sweet potato biscuits right now.”
“Yes, your majesty.”
“I’m going to buy this place for myself!”
“Yes, your majesty.”
Ahab hopped down from the chariot and called out to a man pruning the grape vines. “You there. What’s your name?”
The man bowed low before the king. “Naboth, your majesty,” he said.
“Naboth, do you own this vineyard?” asked Ahab.
“Yes, your majesty,” Naboth said.
Ahab scratched at the dark, loose dirt with a stick. “This looks like the best soil in all of Samaria!”
“Yes, your majesty,” agreed Naboth.
“I think I’ll strip out all the vines and grow sweet potatoes,” King Ahab declared. “I’ll trade you another vineyard or pay you for it.”
Naboth’s eyes widened. “No, your majesty.” “No?” repeated Ahab in disbelief.
“No,” said Naboth firmly.
Ahab frowned. “What is this ‘no’ you speak of?” he fumed.
“No, I am not going to sell you my vineyard,” Naboth explained.
Ahab’s face grew thunderous with rage. “You can’t say no to me! I’m the king!”
Naboth stood his ground. “This land belonged to my father, and his father and so on all the way back. May God keep me from giving it to you.”
“But I want it!” whined the king.
“You can’t have it,” said Naboth.
“You’re so mean!” pouted Ahab. “I don’t like you.” “Sounds like sour grapes,” commented Naboth.
King Ahab leaped into his chariot and returned to the palace. He threw himself down on his bed and pounded his fists. “No fair, no fair, no fair!” he screamed.
Ahab even refused the plate of gazelle steak and mashed sweet potatoes his chef sent up. “They didn’t grow in my own gaaaaardeeeeeen!” he howled.
Ahab’s wife, Queen Jezebel, heard the wailing and marched up to discover what was wrong. “Why are you throwing a tantrum?” she demanded.
“Naboth won’t sell me his vineyard and I waaaaaaant it!” fussed the king.
“Hello, you’re the king,” Jezebel pointed out. “Get up, eat up, cheer up. I’ll get the vineyard for you.”
Jezebel lost no time in writing a few letters and signing Ahab’s name. Then she sent the letters to the leaders of the town where Naboth lived.
Several leaders opened the seals and read her message. “Make Naboth sit in an important place. Have two mean guys tell lies about him. Then throw stones at him to kill him.” The men stared at each other, stunned. But they did exactly what the letter commanded and sent a message back to Jezebel.
“Naboth is dead. We killed him by throwing stones at him.”
Jezebel ran to find the king. “Ahab! Get up!” she commanded. “Naboth is dead. You can go take over his vineyard!”
“Yippeee!” cried Ahab. Leaping up, he rushed back to the vineyard and danced up and down the rows between the vines.
“Mine! It’s all mine!” he laughed. “Go me! Go me! Go, go, go, me!”
“Not so fast,” said a stern voice.
King Ahab looked up to see the prophet Elijah staring him down. “My enemy!” gasped the king. “You have found me.”
“God says, ‘Haven’t you murdered a man? Haven’t you taken over his property?’” Elijah began.
“I didn’t actually write those letters,” protested Ahab.
“You’ve done terrible things,” said Elijah.
“But I’m the king. I can take what I want, right?” said Ahab.
“God says, ‘I’m going to bring horrible trouble on you [and your family],’” Elijah told him.
Suddenly, the beautiful vineyard seemed like a trap instead of a prize. Ahab slunk back home, where he tore up his royal robes and put on clothes made of rough cloth. Once again he refused food.
“Poor me,” he moaned. “Poor, poor me.”
Ahab had gone to great and terrible lengths to take over Naboth’s vineyard. But owning it had failed to make him happy.
Is there something someone else has that you really, really want?
That person might be a friend, a sibling, or just someone you’ve seen. Share with each other what you want—whether it’s simple like a toy, or big, like an awesome house with a huge yard. Do you think about that thing a lot? How does it make you feel? When you want something you don’t have, it can really take over your thoughts. You start focusing on it, and pretty soon it’s all you can think about. You get frustrated and angry quickly and start overlooking the good things you already have! Now, take a few minutes to list all the great things you do have. Help each other with your lists. Then, pray together and thank God for all those amazing things. Ask Him to help you focus on what He’s already given you, rather than on the things you don’t have.
Contentment, Week 4
Israelites Long for Egypt
Exodus 16:2-21; 17:1-7
Don't miss out on what you have now.
For hundreds of years, God’s people had lived as slaves in Egypt. Life was difficult, but the Egyptians wanted their slaves to be strong, so they made sure the Israelites had plenty of food, at least.
Over and over, God’s people cried out for help, and at last God led them out of slavery . . . and into the desert.
Instead of being grateful, the Israelites found a host of new things to whine about. They crowded around their leader Moses and his brother Aaron with their complaints.
“It would have been easier if we’d just stayed back in Egypt.” “We had a meat buffet every day!”
“You brought us into this sand trap to die.”
God had kept the Israelites safe from Pharaoh’s entire army when He rescued them in Egypt, yet they didn’t trust that God could give them what they needed now.
Moses poured out his frustration to God. “What do I do?” he cried. “They’re whining about everything they had in Egypt!”
God spoke to Moses, who called together the people.
Moses and his brother Aaron shared God’s words with everyone.
“Come to the Lord,” said Aaron. “He has heard you speaking against him. He knows how unhappy you are.”
As Aaron spoke, the glory of the Lord appeared as a cloud, hovering in the desert.
Moses added, “God says, “When the sun goes down, you will eat meat. In the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.””
“Well, the sun’s setting. But I don’t see any onions and crocodile,” griped one man. “Soup of the day still looks like sand stew.”
Just then, the people heard a rush of wings. “Wait . . . are those quail? I bet they taste like chicken.”
God had sent flocks of birds, and that evening, the Israelites had all the meat they could eat. And in the morning, they woke to something new on the ground: thin white flakes that looked like frost.
Moses called out to the people. “It’s the bread the Lord has given you to eat. Gather as much as you need for the day.”
Each morning, the bread, called manna, appeared again. And every evening, the quail returned.
The Israelites were no longer hungry, but they still found reasons to complain. Once again, they crowded around Moses. “Why did you bring us out here? We’re about to die of thirst! If God was really with us, things would be better.”
“Why are you arguing with me?” demanded Moses. “Why are you testing the Lord?”
Instead of remembering all that God had given them and how He promised to take care of them, the people got so upset they tried to take it out on Moses.
He cried out to God. “What am I going to do with these people? They’re ready to throw stones at me!”
“Go out in front of the people,” God told him. “Take in your hand the walking stick you used when you struck the Nile River. Go. I will stand there in front of you by the rock at Mount Horeb. Hit the rock. Then water will come out of it for the people to drink.”
Moses did as God commanded, and a stream of cold, clear water gushed from the solid rock. Even though the people had continued to whine, God gave them water to drink.
God had continually given the Israelites what they needed, as they needed it. But they were so focused on what they had in Egypt that they kept missing out on what God was providing for them each day in the wilderness.
Whether you’re a kid or a parent, it’s easy to start complaining, especially when it seems like things used to be better.
For example, it could be the memory of your old house, your old school, or that sugary brand of cereal your mom stopped buying. Each of you share something you’ve heard the other person complain about recently. Whining tells a lie: things used to be great, but they’re terrible now. The truth is, God was with you then, and He’s also with you now. God wants to use your new situation and the things you have now to do something amazing in your life! But when you whine and focus on what you had, you miss out on the cool things God wants to do right now. Pray for each other, that God will give you eyes to see what He’s given you and how He wants to work in your life right now.