“First world problem” has been a trendy catchphrase for the past several years. It can be defined as any minor or trivial annoyance experienced by someone who has an otherwise comfortable or privileged lifestyle. “That new air conditioner is so loud I can’t even hear the TV!”
Often used as a witty disclaimer on social media, the phrase allows its users to comment or complain about things that they know are relatively ridiculous. “OK, first world problem, but I’m annoyed that my Wi-Fi signal doesn’t reach out to the pool deck."
It’s a sarcastic approach to mask the fact that quite often the “problems” in our culture are, in reality, rather trivial. But what may sound funny on the surface can become a more serious issue. It can create a mindset of discontent… a subconscious habit of seeing the negative in a positive situation… a constant longing for more. Even if we don’t complain about the “big stuff” in life, it’s easy to drift into negative thought patterns. We begin to overlook our gratitude for the “little things” -- and even turn them into a complaint in the same sentence. “I can’t believe they ran out of pizza before I could go back for seconds!”
While examples like these may sound humorous, the Bible teaches that discontent is a dangerous mindset.
In Numbers 11, we see that the Israelites developed somewhat of a “first world" mentality, and the Lord didn’t take it lightly. Numbers 11:1 says, “Soon the people began to complain… and the Lord’s anger blazed against them, and he sent a fire to rage among them, and he destroyed some of the people in the outskirts of the camp.”
Wow. Aren’t you glad the Lord doesn’t rain fire down upon us every time we complain? This was serious stuff!
We can sympathize with the Israelites to some extent. The book of Numbers follows their forty year “wanderings” in the Middle Eastern wilderness. It was hot. The land was rugged and harsh. Sand got into everything. Forty years is a long time to maintain a positive attitude in the desolate outback. Just a couple days without A/C and we’d be complaining too, right?
While their wilderness accommodations may not have been five-star, we know that God took great care of His people. Miraculous care. He had just brought them out of slavery in Egypt through an array of astounding miracles (Exodus 7-12). He protected them from the Egyptian army, and guided them through the parting of the Red Sea (Exodus 14). He delivered food and water for them in extraordinary ways (Exodus 16-17). But the Israelites came down with a case of "spiritual amnesia" and began to take those miracles for granted. They wanted more! They were rich in God's plan and provision, but like we often do, they developed a “first world" mentality. Look at verses 4-6: “…and the people of Israel also began to complain. “Oh, for some meat!” they exclaimed. “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!”” [emphasis added]
Manna, of course, was God’s miraculous meal ticket for His people. This amazing food source fell from heaven on the camp on a daily basis. Verse 8 says it tasted like pastry baked with olive oil. Fresh Foccacia in the wild? Not bad! Plus it was easy to gather, and it was free!
No, the wilderness carte du jour was not a smorgasbord of exotic treats, but the Israelites were not starving or rationing supplies. The lack of culinary variety was a #FirstWorldProblem. They weren’t satisfied with God’s provision. They longed for the things they had back in Egypt – the pleasures they enjoyed while actually enslaved in the cruel Egyptian culture!
Does this attitude sound like the mindset in our culture today? The media tells us we deserve more, and our “Amazon Prime” society sure makes it easy to get more... But the Bible doesn’t agree with these cultural trends.
In 1 Timothy 6:6-8 the apostle Paul wrote, “True godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.”
In stark contrast to the complaining Israelites, Paul may be one of the greatest examples of contentment in Scripture. In Philippians 4:11, Paul said that he learned to be content in all circumstances. Remember, Paul wrote those words while he was imprisoned -- chained to a Roman guard 24/7! Forget first world problems, try #SignificantHardship or #MajorInconveinience! But Paul learned to be content. Look at what he wrote in Philippians 4:12-13, “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of being content in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”
He learned to be content by relying on the Lord’s strength. He looked for opportunities to rejoice, rather than complain. Although he was under house arrest, he was thankful it wasn’t a dungeon. Although he could no longer travel to preach the gospel, he was grateful he could teach anyone who came to his house (Acts 28:30-31). Although he was chained to a guard, he seized the opportunity to write letters to the churches he had established. Paul looked for the blessings. He was content with where the Lord had placed him.
Can we do the same? When our coworker gets the latest iPhone, can we still be thankful for our “old” phone? When we visit a home that’s bigger or better than ours, can we be thankful we have a place to live? When we see someone in a job we envy, can we be grateful for the job the Lord has provided for us… and look for new opportunities right where God has placed us?
True contentment isn’t dependent on the latest technology, the number on our paycheck, or the amount of attention we get on social media. True contentment and thankfulness — regardless of our situation — are reflections of our heart. Let's replace our #FirstWorldProblems with a continually #ThankfulHeart.
Hebrews 13:5 - “…be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.”
- Ron Reid
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