By Jim Harmon
“It’s not enough!”
“Men don’t listen!”
“Women talk too much!”
“I deserve more respect!”
“They can’t do that to me!”
“I have a right to be happy!”
“Men are ruining the environment!”
“Women are destroying the family!”
“My wife is supposed to submit to me.”
“If I submit to my husband, I’ll be miserable.”
“They don’t appreciate me at work like they should!”
When Christians Forget
Typically silent when we are buffeted by problems or unsettling situations is one of the premium qualities of Christian character—gratitude. On clear days, we remember the assurances of Scripture that we are secure in God, embraced by His holy love, kept by His great salvation, governed by His perfect justice, and motivated by His enduring promises. He is the very essence of joy and strength. He sustains us in all matters. Yet how quickly we forget when the clouds roll in.
Scripture portrays gratitude as more than a feeling or emotion. Like love, it is to be natural to our disposition, a growing part of our “new life in Christ,” held steadfast by our knowledge of God and our commitment of will. It should sober us to see in Romans that failure to be grateful is stated as one of the most basic of human transgressions, as a sin that provokes the wrath of God (1:18-23). It reveals a fickle and shallow heart, a heart empty of the thankfulness required to meet God’s command to be grateful.
Does God really command us to be grateful? He must if He judges ingratitude as sin. There are many references in Scripture to this requirement, but consider specifically the tenth commandment. It fundamentally reads, “Thou shalt not covet” (Ex. 20:17a). Based on the literary structure of other Biblical passages, we can be sure that there is a flip-side to “do not” covet…a “do” side. Implicitly, that “do” side points to gratitude, to having a thankful spirit. Covetousness demonstrates a prevailing dissatisfaction with what one has in life. Gratitude reveals a disposition that rests in God, content with His provision and His providence. We can learn from Paul: “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:11-13).
Matthew Henry elaborates: “The apostle was often in bonds, imprisonments, and necessities; but in all, he learned to be content, to bring his mind to his condition, and make the best of it. Pride, unbelief, vain hankering after something we have not got, and fickle disrelish of present things, make men discontented even under favourable circumstances.”
An Eternal Perspective
God has not left His people unprepared for the trials and tribulations of life. From the beginning, Scripture has informed us about God’s kingdom and the profound concepts of life and death, good and evil, sin and righteousness, and peace and trouble (e.g., John 16:33). Further, Scripture makes no apology, nor does it excuse God, for any of the incidents that had to do with people—even God’s people—suffering calamities of all kinds. In all things, God is seen as sovereign, all-powerful, everywhere-present, all-knowing and perfect in all His ways, governing His people and His creation just as He sees fit.
Jesus was committed to teaching His disciples what they needed to know about God’s kingdom. Their training would not only sustain them through perilous times that lay ahead, but would equip them to go into all the world…. Sometimes, there was mystery in how Jesus taught and what He did; at other times He told them directly what He was doing.
By the same standard, the Bible gives us the Lord’s complete instruction related to knowing Him and how we are to live (Isa. 55:8-11; John 14:7-12; Eph. 4:17-32; 2 Pet. 1:2-4). For this we must be thankful. But this thankfulness is much more than the good feeling we get about great weather or having “a good day.” Our thankfulness must not depend on the anarchy of circumstances. It must be anchored in our faith and trust in God ( Rom. 8:28; Col. 2:2-3). Through Scripture, we know that God has a purpose for trials in our life. We know that life is not random; there’s no such thing as chance. We know that the great “I AM” can never be caught off guard. With Him, nothing is unexpected. While Satan is real and powerful (1 John 5:19), he’s not autonomous. His deluding and destructive influences are limited. In a manner of speaking, God has him on a tether (based on Job 1:12, 2:6; Luke 22:31-32; 2 Cor. 12:7). God continues to work (John 5:17; Phil.1:6; Heb. 7:24-25).
God Tends Our Trials
One of the notable illustrations regarding God’s restraint on Satan comes in Jesus’ announcement to Peter that Satan wanted to “sift” him “like wheat,” presumably much like he had Job. Jesus could have said something like, “Don’t worry, Peter, you’re my man! I’ll just bind Satan! He won’t get even close to you!” Jesus didn’t. Instead, His pronouncement went like this: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:31-32).
Peter went on to do just what Jesus said he would do. In a few unexpected moments, he denied knowing the Lord. Peter, proud and presumptuous, had declared that he was ready to go to prison and to die with Jesus. He was not. When the test came, Peter not only blinked; he buckled. His failure brought him to bitter tears. Peter’s takedown was severe, but necessary. He emerged a changed man. This glimpse of history, highlighted by Jesus’ intense but gracious restoration of Peter (John 21:15-17), should be both instructive and comforting for us all (Rom.15:4).
James exhorts us to “count it all joy” when we encounter various trials (1:2-4). We are to understand that this is the furnace in which God forms and refines in us patience and endurance. Peter explains that we are wonderfully blessed by God, yet may be distressed or grieved by various trials. Why? That our faith may beproved genuine (1 Pet. 1:3-7). God did not save us just to bless us and make us happy; He saved us that we would become people of faith and Christ-like character. Faith and character will only grow and ripen as we live in day-to-day harmony with God’s Word. There’s no fruit any other way. While faith and character are distinctly personal, they are not given to be private. God intends that our lives be a testimony to Christ, that He is real and what the Bible says about Him is true, to God’s praise, honor, and glory.
In Biblical terms, gratitude and thankfulness are qualities of the “Light” (John 1:6-9; 1 John 6:7). Coveting, as well as discontent, envy, greed, and jealousy, belong to the “darkness.” These are the breeding grounds of broken relationships and all sorts of straining and striving. Notably, these traits mark those who “shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21). Gratitude to God stills the yearning for anyone else’s blessing, possessions, friends, or status, or the inclination to follow after the fads and frenzies of the day. Gratitude is naturally related to the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-24) and can anticipate God’s blessing. God is preparing His people for heaven. There is precious little time to spend on deceitful desires or unbiblical expectations. Paul made it clear: “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil.4:4-7).
Up Close and Personal
For you, yesterday might have been, “What now?” Today it may be, “Why me?” Stop! Step back. Quiet your fretting and fussing. The Lord is near. Thank Him for making you His child. Remember that you are a beneficiary of all of the benefits of Christ. Pray for wisdom (Col. 4:2; James1:5-6), that the Lord would give you insight and understanding so that you may not only endure the experience (1 Cor. 10:13), but benefit from it. For the unbeliever, focusing on the downside of things is a natural response in times of trouble. For the Christian, gratitude is an innate component of faith. “Now we walk by faith, not by sight,” Paul said (2 Cor. 5:7). Further, the writer to the Hebrews warns that “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (11:6). The need to be mindful of and grateful to God in bad times as well as good is no small matter. It touches the very heart of authentic, conquering faith (Rom. 8:31-39).
PAL V11N5 (Sept-Oct 2003)
Jim Harmon is a PsychoHeresy Awareness Ministries Board Member and is also the Web Master for <www.pamweb.org)