Gratefulness vs. Unthankfulness

For this 38th week of the year, my character focus is on Gratefulness vs. Unthankfulness.

Gratefulness is expressing sincere appreciation to God and to others for the ways that they have benefited my life.

Gratefulness is receiving all things from the sovereign hand of God and finding the benefits in each one.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” – James 1:17 (NIV)

Gratefulness depends on the ability to see or anticipate the benefits in God’s bigger program.

If a neighbor burned down an expensive garage you had just built, how would you feel? Would you feelings change if you learned that your father had taken out an insurance policy on the garage, in your name, for one million dollars (or euros, or rubles)?

The Barrier to Gratefulness

Nothing holds back a heart from gratitude so much as holding on to expectations.

Expectations of others, based on a false assumption of one’s personal importance, destroy a spirit of gratefulness and instead produce presumption and murmuring.

“A proud man is seldom a grateful man; he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves.” – Henry Ward Beecher

“When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” – G.K. Chesterton

“My soul, wait only upon God and silently submit to Him; for my hope and expectation are from Him.” – Psalm 62:5 (AMP)

Thank God for what you do have instead of murmuring about what you do not have.

“So much has been given to me, I have no time to ponder over that which has been denied.” – Helen Keller

Gratefulness is defined by God as a sacrifice because it means surrendering our natural tendency to murmur and complain.

“I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving and will call on the name of the Lord.” – Psalm 116:17 (AMP)

True gratefulness springs from an awareness of our total unworthiness and inadequacy before a holy and just God. If we received what we deserved, we would all be destroyed in an eternal hell. “It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed” (Lamentations 3:22).

In light of our condition before God, Jesus instructs us to be “poor in spirit.” This attitude is like that of a beggar along the side of the road hoping for his daily needs to be met and being sincerely grateful for anything that anyone does for him.

The Importance of Gratefulness

Gratefulness is the foundation of a believer’s walk with God and of God’s daily will for our lives. “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” – 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (KJV).

By giving thanks for all things, including unexpected problems, unpleasant conditions, people who abuse or mistreat us, mundane necessities of life, and distressing situations, we will pass the test of the Holy Spirit and receive the power of genuine love, joy, and peace. It is for this reason that we are to have grateful spirits.

Reasons to Thank God for All Things

It is easy to thank God for the things that obviously benefit us; but to be grateful for problems requires faith and obedience, even when we don’t understand.

1. Because all things come from God’s hand.

It is easy to understand that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17 NIV), but what about evil attacks? Job had the wisdom to understand that all his sufferings, ultimately, came from God, in the sense that God could stop them if He chose to do so. After losing everything he had, he worshiped God by saying, “Naked (without possessions) came I [into this world] from my mother’s womb, and naked (without possessions) shall I depart. The Lord gave and the Lord [not Satan] has taken away; blessed (praised and magnified in worship) be the name of the Lord!” – Job 1:21 (AMP)

“’We accept good things from God. So we should also accept trouble when he sends it.’ In spite of everything, Job didn’t say anything that was sinful.” – Job 2:10 (NIRV)

Paul had the same discernment when he spoke of the messenger of Satan that came to harass him. “. . . a thorn was given me in the flesh . . . Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” – II Corinthians 12:7–9 (ESV).

God rewarded Job’s gratefulness by giving him back double what he had lost. (See Job 1:2–3 and 42:12–13.) Paul was rewarded with the power of God and the glory of eternal rewards.

Gratefulness engages God to intervene on our behalf in the circumstances of life.

When Daniel knew that laws had just been signed to target his life, he prayed and gave God thanks. In response, God protected him and delivered him when he was thrown into the lion’s den. (Daniel 6)

It was after Jonah gave thanks to God from inside the belly of the fish that the Lord spoke to the fish to release Jonah. (See Jonah 2:9-10)

Ten lepers were cleansed by Jesus, but the one who returned to thank Him received a greater blessing. He was made “perfectly whole”. (See Luke 17:12-19)

2. Because all things are for our good.

The statement is true that “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28). Even the sufferings that we go through bring benefits that we could not have experienced otherwise. Paul wrote, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” – Romans 8:18 (NKJV)

The prophet Jeremiah also observed,
“It is good for a man to carry a heavy load of suffering while he is young.
Let him sit alone and not say anything.
The Lord has placed that load on him.
Let him bury his face in the dust.
There might still be hope for him.
Let him turn his cheek toward those who would slap him.
Let him be filled with shame.

“The Lord doesn’t turn his back on people forever.
He might bring suffering.
But he will also show loving concern.
How great his faithful love is!” – Lamentations 3:27-32 (NIRV)

3. Because all things can produce Godly character.

The verse following Romans 8:28 explains how all things work together for good. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” – Romans 8:29 (NIV)

The best response is not to resent trials or tribulations but instead to welcome them as friends, because they are given to develop godly character.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” – James 1:2-4 (NIV)

4. Because a right response will produce genuine love.

After being filled with the Spirit, we will be led by the Spirit into a time of testing, just as Jesus was. If we thank God for and rejoice in every test, we will then experience the power of the Spirit, which begins with love, joy, and peace. This sequence is explained in the fifth chapter of Romans: “. . . we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” – Romans 5:3-5 (NRSV)

Love is the greatest power on the face of the earth. Through love, God is able to accomplish in our lives and the lives of others supernatural work that will result in lasting, eternal rewards.

5. Because all things, including trials, can bring us closer to God.

When things go well with us, we tend to forget God. The psalmist testified, “In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord …” (Psalm 77:2). The psalmist stated, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. … It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes … I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right and righteous, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.” (Psalm 119:67, 71, 75).

Even when God removes the pressure of a difficult circumstance, we tend to forget Him and neglect to be grateful. When ten lepers were healed, only one returned to thank Jesus. Because of this tendency to forget Him, God will often put us in “impossible” situations so we can experience His deliverance and glorify Him. “And call on Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall honor and glorify Me.” – Psalm 50:15 (AMP)

The Devastating Effects of Ungratefulness

Ungratefulness, on the other hand prevents God’s blessings and intervention on our behalf, and can have devastating results.

“Because when they knew and recognized Him as God, they did not honor and glorify Him as God or give Him thanks. But instead they became futile and godless in their thinking [with vain imaginings, foolish reasoning, and stupid speculations] and their senseless minds were darkened.” – Romans 1:21 (AMP)

“As I live,” says the Lord, “I will do to you the very things I heard you say: your dead bodies shall fall in this very wilderness; and of all your number, included in the census, from twenty years old and upward, who have complained against me” – Numbers 14:28-29 (NRSV)

“And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.” – 1 Corinthians 10:10-11 (NIV)

An ungrateful spirit is a rebuke to those who are providing for you and a complaint against God.

In response to the Israelites complaints against their leaders because of the limited food choices they were provided, Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.” – Exodus 16:8 (NRSV)

Grateful people appreciate what they have; complainers don’t want what they are given.

“Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,” – Philippians 2:14-15 (NKJV)

Gratefulness energizes people.

“To say ‘well done’ to any bit of good work is to take hold of the powers which have made the effort and strengthen them beyond our knowledge.” – Phillips Brooks

People are motivated to improve the areas of their lives in which they receive praise.

“We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers” – 1 Thessalonians 1:2 (ESV)

Practical ways to thank others

A genuine spirit of thankfulness to God will also produce a practical gratefulness to others. Here are some suggestions for ways in which true gratefulness can be expressed.

1. By telling them – Thank others for what they have done and for the qualities demonstrated through their actions. Be alert to notice and praise the good in people!

2. By writing to them – messages should be prompt, well thought out, and carefully written. People are touched when they see that you have gone out of your way, and taken some pains to express your sincere gratefulness.

3. By public recognition – Tell others of the kind deeds done by specific individuals and how your life has been benefited by their actions.

4. By giving gifts to them – These gifts should be appropriate and of value to the ones receiving them. The personal thoughtfulness behind the gift is of greater importance than the actual gift.

5. By spending time with them – For the lonely or discouraged, quality time or a special outing would mean more than a message or gift.

6. By informing them of your prayers for them – Paul routinely began his letters by explaining how he thanked God for the believers to whom he wrote. (See Ephesians 1:16; Colossians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; and 2 Thessalonians 2:13)

Personal Evaluation: How Grateful Am I?

  1. Do I begin each morning by thanking God for a new day?
  2. Do I look for things I usually take for granted and thank God for them?
  3. Do I thank God for my health and strength?
  4. Do I quickly express thanks to other people?
  5. Do I rejoice in trials and tribulations?
  6. Do I think of creative ways to express gratefulness to God and others?
  7. Do I look for benefits in the things that normally cause complaining?
  8. Do I give public recognition to individuals who have helped me?
  9. Do I pray for those who have benefited me?
  10. Do I thank God for my human authorities and pray for them?

(From meditations on Bill Gothard’s book, “The Power of True Success: How to Build Character into Your Life”)