Let us beware of the sin of ingratitude! It’s not as small a matter as we may think. We may feel that gratitude is nothing more than saying a polite “thank-you.” We may regard it merely as a nice add-on to Christian experience, rather than as a critical component of Christian character or an essential element for victorious living. If we think that way about gratitude, we “do greatly err.”
An attitude of gratitude is by far the most life-changing, Christ-exalting, God-honoring mindset that we can adopt. More than any other virtue, this attitude has the power to unseat the wicked inclinations of our fallen nature and bring lasting joy and blessing to our lives and to the lives of those around us.
By contrast, when we choose to be unthankful, the roots of our ingratitude sink deeply into the contaminated soil of our fallen nature and produce all kinds of corrupt fruit, unhealthy attitudes that negatively affect our spiritual health and emotional wellbeing. Few things are less becoming to a child of God than an ungrateful spirit.
Ingratitude is at the core of our fallen nature. Paul tells us that idolatry, the worship of self and the veneration of created beings is rooted in our unwillingness to be thankful to God. The source of idolatry is not intellectual but moral. It is not a matter of ignorance, but of a stubborn choice to reject God: “for although they knew God, they did not [or would not] honor him as God or give thanks to Him” (Rom 1:21, ESV). Notice too that ungratefulness was met with God’s judgment: “they became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened.” We can trace most of what is wrong in our lives to a single source; an attitude of ingratitude.
We criticize and complain far more than we would like to admit. If we choose to nurse a grumbling, faultfinding spirit, we may sadly feel a sense of justified satisfaction for a short time. But where is the line? When does God say, “Enough is enough?” And what are the consequences?
We may be tempted to believe that in this day of grace the Lord will excuse or overlook our attitude of ingratitude, but that is not so. The things that happened to the children of Israel “were written down for our instruction” (1Cor 10:11, ESV) and we are explicitly told we are not to try the Lord (v9) or murmur, as some of them also murmured (v10).
A little more than a year after Moses led them out of Egyptian slavery by spectacular signs and wonders, the children of Israel “complained … and the Lord heard it; and His anger was kindled” (Num 11:1). God had borne their frequent earlier complaints, but on this occasion his judgment was immediate and severe: “And the fire of the Lord burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp.” It was never God’s intention that an entire generation should live and die in a dry and barren land, but that is what happened (Num 14:29).
If we choose an attitude of ingratitude, we too will find ourselves wandering in a “spiritual wilderness,” a place where our lives will become increasingly empty and barren. If we lose sight of God’s goodness and adopt the world’s ungratefulness, we will forfeit God’s joy and instead experience the world’s frustrations.
If we consume enormous amounts of time and mental energy ruminating over the same problematic people and frustrating situations, we will, by our own choice, be constantly unhappy. Dwelling on dissatisfaction is a destructive emotional habit that diminishes our capacity to experience joy and thanksgiving.
Need and Want
God knew what the congregation of Israel needed and He gave them manna, bread from heaven. But they chose to be ungrateful, and from that moment forward the manna seemed to them common and unattractive. In their hearts they began to crave something different, something from Egypt (Num 11:5-6).
When we start to feel that what God has given us is less than we deserve, our unfulfilled desires will turn to resentment. We will lose appreciation for the many blessings we have, and become despondent because we lack the kind of house, job, spouse, or children that others have. Those frustrations may break out in fighting and quarrelling with one another, because we keep craving what we “do not have … and cannot obtain” (James 4:2). As Israel loathed the manna, so we push away God’s daily provision with disappointment or disgust. Then we wonder why our spiritual strength has dried up, and why we are so drawn to sinful behaviors that seem to offer the personal fulfillment we lack.
We may waste years pursuing unspiritual relationships or material possessions in our quest to find the satisfaction for which we long. God may allow us to indulge for a while, but at some point those things will become “loathsome” to us, when we realize that self-serving desires can never be satisfied (Num 11:19-20). Somewhere along the line, we must learn that true contentment comes from being satisfied with what God has already given us.
Like any Christian virtue, an attitude of gratitude is not developed in a day. It is the fruit of daily moment-by-moment choices we make to follow the Lord’s command to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1Thes 5:18, ESV). It includes training our hearts to look for and identify our daily blessings and His goodness.
Being mindful of our benefits and expressing thankfulness to the Lord and others will displace our inclination to be ungrateful. A thankful spirit will place us in the middle of the Lord’s will.
Only God can transform us into the truly grateful people we want to be (Phil 2:13). When we yield to Him, our faith will grow and mature, God will be glorified, and it will be our joy to see Him in every step of the way.