Come with me to the most populated prison in the world. The facility has more inmates than bunks. More prisoners than plates. More residents than resources.
Come with me to the world’s most oppressive prison. Just ask the inmates; they will tell you. They are overworked and underfed. Their walls are bare and bunks are hard.
No prison is so populated, no prison so oppressive, and, what’s more, no prison is so permanent. Most inmates never leave. They never escape. They never get released. They serve a life sentence in this overcrowded, underprovisioned facility.
The name of the prison? You’ll see it over the entrance. Rainbowed over the gate are four cast-iron letters that spell out its name:
The prison of want. You’ve seen her prisoners. They are “in want.” They want something. They want something bigger. Nicer. Faster. Thinner. They want.
They don’t want much, mind you. They want just one thing. One new job. One new car. One new house. One new spouse. They don’t want much. They want just one.
And when they have “one,” they will be happy. And they are right – they will be happy. When they have “one,” they will leave the prison. But then it happens. The new car smell passes. The new job gets old. The neighbors buy a larger television set. The new spouse has bad habits. The sizzle fizzles, and before you know it, another ex-con breaks parole and returns to jail.
Are you in prison7 You are if you feel better when you have more and worse when you have less. You are if joy is one delivery away, one transfer away, one award away, or one makeover away. If your happiness comes from something you deposit, drive, drink, or digest, then face it-you are in prison, the prison of want.
That’s the bad news. The good news is, you have a visitor. And your visitor has a message that can get you paroled. Make your way to the receiving room. Take your seat in the chair, and look across the table at the psalmist David. He motions for you to lean forward. “I have a secret to tell you,” he whispers, “the secret of satisfaction. ‘The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Ps. 23:1 NKJV).
David has found the pasture where discontent goes to die. It’s as if he is saying, “‘What I have in God is greater than what I don’t have in life.”
You think you and I could learn to say the same?
Think for just a moment about the things you own. Think about the house you have, the car you drive, the money you’ve saved. Think about the jewelry you’ve inherited and the stocks you’ve traded and the clothes you’ve purchased. Envision all your stuff, and let me remind you of two biblical truths.
Your stuff isn’t yours. Ask any coroner. Ask any embalmer. Ask any funeral home director. No one takes anything with him. When one of the wealthiest men in history, John D. Rockefeller, died, his accountant was asked, “How much did John D. leave?” The accountant’s reply? “All of it.”
“Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand” (Eccles. 5:15 NIV).
All that stuff-it’s not yours. And you know what else about all that stuff? It’s not you. Who you are has nothing to do with the clothes you wear or the car you drive. Jesus said, “Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot” (Luke 12:15 MSG). Heaven does not know you as the fellow with the nice suit or the woman with the big house or the kid with the new bike. Heaven knows your heart. “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7 NIV). When God thinks of you, he may see your compassion, your devotion, your tenderness or quick mind, but he doesn’t think of your things.
And when you think of you, you shouldn’t either. Defme yourself by your stuff, and you’ll feel good when you have a lot and bad when you don’t. Contentment comes when we can honestly say with Paul: “I have learned to be satisfied with the things I have. . . . I know how to live when I am poor, and I know how to live when I have plenty” (Phil. 4:11-12).
Doug McKnight could say those words. At the age of thirty-two he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Over the next sixteen years it would cost him his career, his mobility, and eventually his life. Because of MS, he couldn’t feed himself or walk he battled depression and fear. But through it all, Doug never lost his sense of gratitude. Evidence of this was seen in his prayer list. Friends in his congregation asked him to compile a list of requests so they could intercede for him. His response included eighteen blessings for which to be grateful and six concerns for which to be prayerful. His blessings outweighed his needs by three times. Doug McKnight had learned to be content.
Traveling Light, Max Lucado, 2001, W Publishing Group, Nashville, Tennessee. All rights reserved.