Many Americans, especially church going folk, are concerned about the cultural decay and moral decline in our country today. Never before have we seen movies more violent, advertising more suggestive, video games more shocking, language more profane, pornography more acceptable and available, music so contemptible, and the list could go on and on. However, what I want to focus on for the next few paragraphs is a malignancy far worse than all the violent movies, skimpy outfits, murderous video games, trash talk, porn magazines, and vulgar music CD’s combined. It is as much if not more a sign of the End Times than violence, homosexuality, wars and rumors of wars, and man’s inhumanity to man. What is this devastating, deplorable, destructive force? Quite simply, a lack of gratitude!
Romans 1:21-32 clearly states that what we believe to be the vilest vices (i.e. murder, homosexuality, etc.) stem from two factors. The first is worshipping the creation instead of the Creator, and the second is failure to give thanks. Believers are quite right to rant and rail against the sensational sins of our day, but do we spend enough time nipping these headliner sins in the bud by focusing on the underlying gangrene of ingratitude?
I remember a time in my life when the Lord strongly convicted me about the need to be thankful. It was as if a searchlight were put on the focus of my devotions. A Holy Ghost Google search on the content of my prayers discovered a whole heap of requests, some flowery introductions with attempts to sound eloquent, a few blustery excoriations of the devil (which I deleted from my prayer life after intently studying the book of Jude), and some obligatory “amen’s” and “in the name of Jesus’.” However, seldom appearing on the radar screen were offerings of thanks. In short, I was giving God a great deal of attitude, but very little gratitude. I sensed the Lord instructing me to lay off my laundry list of prayer requests for a while and to simply pray for a grateful heart. To this day, hardly any other prayer has made such a change in my life! (*note: there is nothing wrong with making requests to God, in fact there is everything right about it. However, I do believe God is grieved when requests are perpetually made without the accompaniment of praise/thanksgiving.*)
A study of the prayers recorded in the Bible reveals the fact that most of the air time was given to thanksgiving and praise. The length of this article does not permit an exhaustive listing of passages, but I encourage you to look at Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10, Mary’s prayer (The Magnificat) in Luke 1:46-55, and the prayers of Jesus (Matt. 6:9-13; Mark 6:41; John 6:11; Matt. 15:36; John 11:41-42; Luke 9:21; Luke 22:19). All of these and many more that could be cited contain a deliberate expression of gratitude. Indeed, giving thanks is an imperative for the child of God who longs to walk close to Jesus. The psalmist declares that we enter the gates of God’s domain with thanksgiving, and that we enter His courts with praise (Psalm 100:4). The obvious, glaring, and true converse is that if we do not have gratitude, then we are not near as near the vicinity of God as we may think!
There are many points that could be made about gratitude, but here we shall focus on three. The first is that gratitude comes from perspective. There’s an old sentiment that, “I thought I was bad off because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.” We may not be the richest person in the world, but likely no one reading this is the poorest either. We may not be eating filet mignon, but we probably aren’t eating the “leftovers” out of a trash can. We tend to call places where people have no shelter and very little food “third” world countries. Truth is, those folks are part of the “two-thirds” world, we in America and other western civilizations are actually the third (“one-thirds”) world. Most people on the planet live in squalor and poverty that the poorest among us in the USA will likely never experience. Whatever you have or don’t have, whatever you’re going through, knowing that there are others, likely millions of others, who have much less and are going through far worse can help make you grateful.
That being said, as much as considering the material and physical realm can give bring us into thankfulness, how much more should a spiritual perspective instill a grateful heart? We who are genuinely redeemed were once a child of wrath but are now children of God (Eph. 2:3; 1 John 3:1)! We who once had a rap sheet before the Almighty now have the resume of Christ through His sacrifice if indeed we have repented of sin and put trust in Jesus (2 Cor. 5:21)! We who deserve eternal, conscious torment in a place where the fire is not quenched and the worm dies not have inherited everlasting life in the presence of the glorious Lord of All! No matter what our situation or circumstance, the child of God who is saved and heaven bound has much more to be thankful for than they will ever have to complain about. Indeed, in the same Epistle where the Apostle Paul recounted the hardships he had been through for the sake of the gospel of Christ (such as receiving 39 lashes on five different occasions, being beaten with rods three times, being stoned and left for dead, going through three shipwrecks, spending many nights in cold and exposure, etc.), he also stated that these are momentary and light afflictions compared to the eternal weight of glory that awaits the genuine believer (2 Cor. 11:22-33; 2 Cor. 4:17)! Truly, gratitude comes from perspective!
Secondly, gratitude provides purpose. Machiavelli, a political philosopher from centuries past, most famously proclaimed, “the ends justify the means.” The idea here is that if what you want to achieve is good (at least you or your country or your political party deemed it to be good), then whatever you have to do to accomplish that goal is justified. Many nations and powerful leaders have followed this line of reasoning throughout history committing terrible, tragic travesties all in the name of a good overarching purpose.
That having been said, many individuals who never lead countries or corporations live their personal lives in a similar fashion. They may never have murdered anybody or stolen from anyone but they have stepped on people on their way up a ladder of success. They have kept themselves away from meaningful relationships and family ties because such entanglements only get in the way of achieving their personal dreams. No price is too high, no deed is too low—all must be sacrificed and done in service to what they deem as their ultimate purpose.
What we view as our purpose affects our lives as believers as well. If we see the goal of our prayer life and church discipleship as simply to get requests answered, see needs met, and to become better people, then our devotional life will be molded into incessant beseeching homilies and a desire to bend God’s Word and will to match our own. However, if we see the endgame of our spiritual experience as getting to know God and His attributes better and developing a closer relationship with Him, then our prayers are formed into times of powerful praise along with penitent petition. If our life’s purpose is biblically informed, pressing towards the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, then we will walk in thanksgiving towards Him (Phil. 3:14; 1 Thess. 5:18).
Finally, gratitude produces passion. There are many motivators that can be used to engage people in various activities. Money, position, pride, fear, guilt, etc. can all be powerful influences. However, at the top of the Godly taxonomy of motivators sits gratitude. When someone does something good for you, you generally want to do something good back because you’re grateful. When someone loves you, gratitude makes it easier to love that person back.
Unfortunately, much of what passes for the modern day gospel has degraded the magnitude of the love of God and has consequently diminished the gratitude people have for what He has done. How so you might ask? Many, I would say most, contemporary “Christian” messages portray humanity as people who are mostly good. We just slip and fall now and then. With just a little more information and inspiration we would go from being good to great! Who can give us that information and inspiration? The Person of Christ and the Words of Scripture. Someone taught us and inspired us. We’re grateful, but not passionately grateful.
Fortunately, the truth of the gospel presents what Christ has done for us as much more than what a life coach could provide. The human race, every member of it, yes that includes you (and me!), is sinful and hopelessly lost and undone without God or His Son. We are destined for trials on every hand in this life and more tragically doomed for hell in the life that is to come. We need more than information and inspiration, we need salvation! In steps the Savior! Jesus laid down His life for us, bearing the penalty for our sin and shame, dying so that we may live, descending in the temporal that we might rise in the eternal (John 3:16; 1 John 3:16; Isaiah 53; Philippians 2)! Blessed be His Name forevermore! When we realize what we were truly in need of and what Christ has truly provided, then we can’t help but be thankful. As I’ve oft said, “the life that has genuinely been infiltrated by grace can’t help but to exude gratitude.” No one has done more for you or loved you more than God. Knowing this, truly knowing this, makes it easier to live for Jesus with the gusto that He so richly deserves!