Not too long ago, a pastor friend of mine visited us at Heritage Baptist Church, and our conversation went to the subject of gratitude. My pastor friend made a statement to me, which at the time I felt was rather harsh, but upon reflection have recognized its validity. The church that he pastors takes excellent care of visiting speakers, but if that well-treated visiting speaker doesn’t write a thank you note, he doesn’t invite him back. Gratitude has much to say about who we are as people.
It is interesting that Paul lists ingratitude as one of the earmarks of our depravity (Romans 1:21) and part of the apostasy of the last days (2 Timothy 3:2). An entitlement mentality has brought to many of us a spirit of ingratitude. We feel that we are “owed” certain luxuries and fail to see the gifts that come our way as God’s grace. Every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17).
Luke’s gospel records the cleansing of ten lepers, only one of which returned to thank the Lord for healing (Luke 17:11–19). I have often wondered if the statistics have improved over the years. I doubt it. When God provides health or wealth, we should be thankful. Has God brought healing to you? Has God given you the strength to earn a wage (Deuteronomy 8:18)? Are you thankful that you have a job, or do you gripe about the wage that you currently are paid (Matthew 20:10–11)? Through the years as a supervisor, I can attest that far more people have been in the office to complain about perceived inequities in the workplace than to express thankfulness for raises and benefits received. We should be thankful for the provision of God.
We often complain when we feel that life (or really, God) is not being fair to us. We must stop and consider, however, that often God’s denials are blessings in disguise. When Paul prayed for his thorn in the flesh to be removed, God denied the request in order that Paul might learn the sufficiency of God’s grace (2 Corinthians 12:8-9). This gift of grace was a greater gift than renewed health, and Paul was able to “glory” in it because God had given him a greater yes.
Many of us, for example, can now praise the Lord that we are not married to someone we dated in high school. History will reveal that even the denials of God were for our benefit. Not all things that happen to us are good, but all things that happen to us are for our good (Romans 8:28). Therefore, we can praise God even when things go wrong, and give thanks “in” everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
When Job, a shining trophy of grace, received inexplicable trials, he praised the Lord (Job 1:21). It never entered Job’s mind to blame the natural disasters, or even the human adversaries, for his reversals. Not even the devil was given credit for his problems. Job said, “The Lord hath taken away.” Job praised God because he trusted the wisdom of God’s sovereign hand even though he did not humanly understand it. May the same be true of us.
The Bible commands us to do all things without complaining and arguing (Philippians 2:14). This is a tall order, but it is moral obligation. If you and I were only invited to places where we manifested gratitude, how wide would our circle of influence be? I venture to say that even if we are invited, we lose influence when we are characterized by gripes rather than gratitude.
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.—1 Thessalonians 5:18