I want to talk about one of the most commonly tolerated sins among those professing to know God. It is a serious sin, and yet I encounter it often and find that it’s often excused or shrugged off as no big deal. In fact, many Christians aren’t even aware that it’s sin! I struggle with it myself. This sin rears its head in different forms: self-pity, grumbling, complaining, worry, anger, and defiance. Often, at the root of all these symptoms is the sin of ingratitude toward our gracious, sovereign God.
Ingratitude is a characteristic of those in rebellion against God. It was because of grumbling and ingratitude toward God that Israel was laid low in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:10; Ps. 95:8-11). In Paul’s treatment of human depravity, ingratitude is one of the sins which plunged the race further into sin: Rom. 1:21, 24.
On the other hand, believers are commanded to give thanks in everything (1 Thess. 5:18). As those delivered from Satan’s domain of darkness, we are to be “joyously giving thanks to the Father…” (Col. 1:12). A spirit of joyous, continual thankfulness ought to characterize us as Christians.
A thankful heart is focused on God, not on self.
One reason we wrestle with ungratefulness is that we’re self-focused. We pursue our own fulfillment, comfort, and happiness. The dominant theology in American Christianity puts man and his happiness at the center instead of God and His glory. It teaches that God exists to meet our needs. We’re even being told that Christ died for us because we’re worthy! So we have people, who by nature are self-centered, coming to Christ to get an “abundant life” which they think is their right and which they assume will fulfill all their needs. But they’ve never repented of their self-centeredness. Then they’re disappointed when God doesn’t do what they think He promised.
Churches are filled with people who expect God to solve their problems and make them happy. They want their problems solved so that they can enjoy a happy life. They’re focused on trying to get God to meet their needs for their gratification. They’re focused on self.
Jesus didn’t say, If anyone wants to follow Me, I’ll meet his every need so that he can live a happy, comfortable life. He said, “If anyone wishes to follow Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s shall save it” (Mark 8:34-35). If you want to be a thankful person, get your focus off yourself and your happiness and put your focus on God. If we focus on God, He graciously meets our needs. If we focus on self, we come up empty.
A thankful heart is submissive to God’s purpose.
I think of the time that David wanted to build the temple; God said, “No.” That answer would have been especially difficult to accept because David’s desire was good. He didn’t want something for himself. He didn’t want a new addition onto the palace or a higher salary. He wanted to build a house for God. His motives were pure. But God said no.
What was David’s response? He could have allowed his disappointment to grow into depression. He could have sulked and felt sorry for himself. He could have angrily thought, “See if I ever try to do anything again for the Lord!” He could have turned to self-indulgence to soothe his hurt feelings.
Instead, he worshiped God. He was overwhelmed with gratitude for all that God had done. He submitted to God’s purpose and was willing to be used however God wanted.
Because David saw God as the Sovereign of the universe and himself simply as God’s servant, he could submit and be thankful when God’s plans were contrary to his plans.
How about you? What do you do when God’s plans run counter to your plans? The test of thankfulness is not when God does what you want. That’s easy! The test is when God says no to your plans and to be thankful then you’ve got to see God as the Sovereign and yourself as His servant.
Thus, a thankful heart is focused on God, not on self. A thankful heart submits to God’s sovereign purpose.
A thankful heart is overwhelmed by God’s sovereign grace.
I realize that you may be so mired in personal problems that it’s difficult, if not impossible, for you to lift your eyes to notice what God has done. Maybe like David when he was running from Saul, you’re in survival mode. But remember that even when he was in survival mode, David was learning to trust God’s promises.
There is a promise of God for every need in your life! What is your need?
Do you need freedom from guilt? He promises to forgive if you confess your sins (1 John 1:9)
Do you feel lonely? (Matt. 28:20)
Do you need assurance? (John 10:27-28)
Are you troubled? (John 14:27)
Are you worried about financial pressures? (Matt. 6:31-33)
Do you struggle with powerful temptations? (1 Cor. 10:13)
Whatever our need, it is covered by a promise of God! No matter how overwhelming our circumstances, we can have hope and be filled with thanksgiving because our God is the sovereign God.
You may be thinking, “That’s great! But why don’t I see those promises fulfilled?” I don’t know. But maybe ask yourself, “Why do I want to see these problems solved? Why do I want to see these needs met? Is it so that I will be comfortable and happy? Or is it so that God will be glorified and His name magnified through me?” The Lord isn’t interested in meeting all of our needs so that we can live happy, self-centered lives. He wants us to be focused on Him, not on ourselves. From a thankful heart, He wants us to magnify His name.
May we all deal with the sin of ingratitude and become a thankful people to the praise of the glory of His grace!