“We’re hungry,” they cried, and awoke to find bread on the ground, food they did not have to prepare. “We need meat,” they cried, and quail came to the camp. “We’re thirsty,” they cried, and water came from the rock.
“How will we get across the Red Sea?” they asked, and a dry path was made. “How will we know where to go?” they asked, and a pillar of cloud or of fire led them.
“We’re here at the land God promised but we can’t conquer it,” they complained, and spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness. “We can’t conquer these cities,” a new generation cried, but they were given victory after victory. They settled in the new land, living in houses they had not built, eating fruit from trees they had not planted, and tending fields they had not cultivated. Yet they were not grateful to God.
Don’t Forget God
The Israelites were never grateful. Oh at times they listened to God and obeyed him, offered sacrifices of thanksgiving, but then returned to lives without God.
We marvel at the ingratitude of the Israelites. How could they? Why did they? Then we realize that sometimes we are much like them. We take for granted the luxuries around us—cars that talk and tell us where to turn; phones that take photos and tell time; cars that park themselves. We ask for more. “That’s not fair,” we complain when we don’t get what we want. “Why don’t I have that?” we ask as we look at a neighbor’s new house or car. Once when I was traveling in Europe we complained that people there do not put ice in their drinks and were ungrateful for a drink of water on a hot and humid day.
Why were the Israelites so ungrateful? They were spoiled. They became used to God’s blessings and took them for granted. They felt that this was what they deserved and they would always be taken care of. Before his death Moses reminded the people of what God had done through the years. He said over and over again, “Remember. Don’t forget God. Don’t forget God.”
Why are we so ungrateful? For many of the same reasons. When we forget God we do not make him our priority and we take his blessings for granted.
How then do we live a life of gratitude? How do we have a consistent attitude of thanksgiving and gratitude to God that reflects our understanding of his goodness and mercy?
It begins with God. First we have to know him, not just know about him. How do you get to know someone? By spending time with him. If we are to know God we must spend time in his presence: being still and knowing that he is God; speaking to him in prayer; letting him speak to us through his Word. Through his revealed Word, we can know something of his majesty, his glory, his power, his grace, and his love. We can know that he is infinite, unchanging, all-knowing, ever-present, holy, loving, patient, and merciful.
Once we know God and are aware of all he is and all he does for us, how can we help but thank him with a heart given in full surrender? Then and only then can we begin to live gratefully. We practice the spiritual disciplines in a heartfelt way not just so we can check Bible reading and prayer off our list. Instead we look forward to time with God; we want to; we need to. We are no longer careless in expressing our gratitude.
Some safeguards protect us against ingratitude.
- Make God your top priority.
- Don’t expect God to “bail you out” all the time.
- Don’t take God’s blessings for granted.
- Beware of being too busy—too busy with work and with things.
- Don’t put God last and fall asleep “saying” your prayers.
- Don’t stand too close. If you stand too close to a mountain, you might fail to see its grandeur and its beauty. If you stand too close to a forest, you may see only a few trees not the beauty of the height of its majestic green. If we stand too close to the material things in our lives, failing to see the whole and to put things in perspective, we find ourselves “sweating the big stuff and the small stuff.” We “write” ourselves big and God small.
Getting There Gratefully
After having been injured in a car accident, I was transported to the emergency room. My shoulder was out of place, ligaments and muscles were injured. In that emergency room I experienced more pain than I knew was possible. Pain injections did little to help. I agonized in pain; I cried out in pain. Later I told my preacher, “I will never again partake of the Lord’s Supper in the same way.” Each Lord’s day at communion time, I try to relive my awful pain and then think of Christ’s pain. No comparison of course. But I try to imagine the pain of the thorns in his brow, the beatings on his back, the nails in his hands and his feet, the sword in his side. And I remember that he didn’t have to endure that awful pain. He did it all because he loves us. “What wondrous love is this, oh my soul!” Remembering this, how can I not give him a life of gratitude?
Ships from all over the world come into Tampa Bay’s port. But no captain, no helmsman, ever steers his own vessel into Tampa Bay. He drops anchor out in the Gulf of Mexico. And from the home port a pilot goes out, a pilot who knows the harbor, knows the currents, the rocks, the dangers. And the pilot brings the vessel safely into the harbor. I have such a Pilot; he guides me day by day. How can I not give him a life of gratitude?
I spent weeks and months recovering from the injuries to my shoulder. I was in pain and in dark despair. I still held on but at times my faith was weak and I was holding only by a thread. Sometimes I would take courage and say to my preacher, “I will climb out of this pit of despair.” Then it was as if God said, “No. I will lift you out.” And he did. When I thought my life was over, he gave it back to me. Gratitude permeates every area of my life, every moment of my days. God gave me back my life. What then can I give him? A life of gratitude evidenced by worship, service, and love for others.
“Here, Lord, I give myself away.
‘Tis all that I can do.”
Ruth Odor is a retired editor and writer living at the Christian Village at Mason, Ohio.