It was late in the evening. The sun had already set. Rain was falling, and I had just unloaded some props for the church down the road. We were closing up the gates to the trailer as a man drove up in a car. “Excuse me,” he said, with a back seat full of little children. “I need some gas to get across town, but I left my wallet at home.” He looked back at the kids as a way of assuring me he wasn’t lying.
I believed him. So, I pulled out my wallet to find only a five dollar bill. “Here, this should get across town.” He looked at it with contempt. “Is this all you’ve got?” He was obviously upset that I didn’t give him more. “Sorry, that is all I have.” Rolling up his window, he shook his head in anger and then spun out of the parking lot.
We have a saying at our house: “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” He wasn’t family, but he needed it to hear it. Maybe he thought I had more cash than I was letting on. Maybe he expected something else. Either way, he typifies the way many of us respond to God when He gives us what He does. God has infinitely deep pockets and generously gives from them, but we are often ungrateful and want to drive away in contempt.
“Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18)
God expects us to be grateful. The story of the ten lepers reminds us. “Jesus,” they cried, “have mercy on us” (Lk. 17:13). Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem when He heard them calling from a distance. They dwelled outside the city for religious reasons. The Old Testament law required the priest to examine a person with a skin disease (Lev. 13:2-3). If the disease was found, they sent “outside the camp” (Lev. 13:46).
Leprosy was an infectious disease that attacked the nervous system so that the body literally fell apart. It symbolized sin in the Jewish camps. It had to be removed. If the infected person was healed, the priest would permit them to return. So, Jesus tells the ten lepers to “go and show yourselves to the priests” (Lk. 17:14). Essentially, He was healing them.
One of the lepers, recognizing that he was healed, “turned back, praising God with a loud voice” (Lk. 17:15). Drawing near, “he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks” (Lk. 17:16). The other nine continued on their way. The Bible doesn’t explain why only one gave thanks. Maybe their excitement was higher than their gratitude. Maybe they couldn’t wait to see their friends and family. Leprosy was a deadman’s disease, a walking nightmare. Their dreams had just come true. Undoubtedly, they were elated. So elated, they forgot to praise God.
We can be a lot like these lepers. Experiencing the great benefits of God can be thrilling. He makes us whole. Heals our body. Reconciles our families. Reignites our love. Awakens our joy. And sadly, we walk away with our benefits in hand withholding our gratitude from the Lord who deserves it.
Why is it that we withhold gratitude from the gift Giver? Thanksgiving is commanded by God. His grace abounds in us, so we have all that we need to recognize and express appreciation for it (2 Cor 9:10-11). Gratitude ought to be a natural overflow from our inward joy and peace of God that rules in our heart. Giving thanks in all circumstances should be an immediately reflex. However, it is more often than not.
Incessant gratitude is a Christian quality that we develop along the pathway of life. It is something we grow into as we mature in our faith. The road to it is not always clear of debris and twists. It often contains roadblocks that, if we are not careful, will put our gratitude to a complete halt. Here are some common roadblocks to biblical gratitude.
- Selfishness. Out of the womb we come—wanting and whining. Some of us grow up as adult babies. We nurture our greed and self-centeredness. It can be a hard habit to kick. A selfish person makes life about him. Jesus, desiring the Father to “remove this cup,” instead yielded his will (Lk. 22:42). Selfish people reject the will of God for their own. Gratitude is snuffed out while they continuously look for their next thing to consume.
- Worldliness. A close relative of selfishness is worldliness. It means to order your life in accord with the world. It is to be caught up in possessions, pursuits, popularity (1 Jn. 2:16). The image of carnality reflects in their eye. This is all they see. They have no vision for the Lord of eternity. Worldliness will distract you from the truly good things in life.
- Critical. We all know them. We all hate to be around them. Many of us are them. The people who see everything as a glass half-full. They lack joy. They are consumed with bitterness and are often judgmental, negative, and condemning of others. Nothing is worth giving thanks, because nothing is worthwhile.
- Impatience. Expedience is premium in our culture. We want everything done immediately. We are like Abram’s wife who couldn’t wait for God’s promise of a son to manifest (Gen. 16:1-2). Our daily calendar is full and things need to happen on time. God’s blessing needs to hurry. When it is late, we refuse to give Him thanks.
- Disappointment. A sister hindrance to impatience is disappointment in general. When we create expectations for God to meet that outside His good plan for what we need, we are unhappy when He gives it. Instead of Prince Charming, you got Peasant Boring. Instead of Tesla Roadster, you got Austin Allegro. Instead of Star Wars, you got Star Trek. Disappointment will hinder your gratitude because you don’t appreciate God’s gifts.
- Coldness. Nothing can hinder the Christian from growing in gratitude quite like spiritual lethargy. Worship becomes bland. Quiet time grows dull. Nothing God does excites us. When this happens, we become numb to the Lord’s goodness and life gets dismal. Coldness will hinder your gratitude because God’s gifts will have no emotional stimulation.
- Rebellion. It’s obvious but worth mentioning. A rebellious person runs from what the Lord desires. He defects from the household rules. And, when he does, his guilt overwhelms him. To the rebellious person, God is an interference. He can’t be grateful because God’s goodness stings his soul due to his mutiny.
- Forgetfulness. Maybe you desire to be grateful but just forget. It’s very common, and very wrong. It has less to do with your benefits and more to do you with your laziness. When something is important to you, it is immediately written down on a calendar or note app. Forgetfulness is really a symptom of unintentionality. You are not serious about giving God thanks.
- Entitlement. This one stings our culture today. We train our young ones to believe that they deserve everything they desire. They have little understanding of what it means to receive a gift. In their minds, it was something they had coming. People who feel entitled are people believe whatever God gives them is what they should have anyways. God was just finally getting the picture.
- Comparison. Another easy way to hinder your gratitude is by comparing your blessings with those of another. “He doesn’t deserve that.” Or, “How come his is bigger and better than mine?” With this attitude, God’s gifts to you never match up. They are never enough. Comparing will lead to discontentment for what you have received.
- Blindness. It is also possible that you simply do not notice what God gives you. It may be that you are not looking. Or, it may be that you have not looked hard enough. Or, it may be that you have not the eyes to see. Bad circumstances can easily get in the way of good blessings. The hospital bill might blind you from seeing your healing. The flooding of your home might blind you from seeing the closeness your family enjoyed. Blindness will hinder you from seeing the good benefits God has given you.
- Doubt. Maybe you can easily quote Romans 8:28: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good.” However, you doubt that God can truly overrule your calamities. “He is sovereign, but not even God can turn this around.” Doubting God’s ability will hinder your gratitude because you won’t trust that He will come through.
- Disbelief. Maybe the best thing to do is for you to surrender you life to Christ as Lord and Savior. Disbelief means that saving grace doesn’t abound in you. The Lord’s peace doesn’t rule your heart. Without believing God, you unequipped to give incessant gratitude. All of the other hindrances as non-issues until you believe Christ.
For the Christian, ingratitude is “out of place,” and should “instead be thanksgiving” (Eph. 5:4). The Hebrews, while wandering in the wilderness, were hindered from giving God thanks. They forget His wonders (Ps. 78:11). They doubted God (Ps. 106:1). They suffered just about every roadblock above. This resulted in mass grumbling (Num. 14:2), envy for their past lives (Num. 14:1-28), and eventually rebellion against God (Ps. 78:17).
Scripture points us to their story of grumbling to serve as a reminder to us that ingratitude will be judged by God (1 Cor. 10:1-13). Instead of grumbling, we ought to “do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:14–15).
Christian, be alert to the hindrances of thanksgiving. The enemy of our Lord is putting all kinds of roadblocks in our way to stop us from continuing on the pathway of gratefulness. Now is a good time to take a self-assessment. Am I giving God incessant thanks? Do I have a grateful heart? Do other characterize me as a grateful person? If not, clear the roadblocks.