Because I know- not just in my head but in my heart- that giving thanks is as close to a silver bullet to joy as there possibly could be. While we cannot force thankfulness, the feeling; we can coerce the action.Even if we don’t feel thankful, we can give thanks.
And if we do, if we force ourselves to be thanks-givers, I say this from experience, the thankful, joyful feeling follows. It works like this: I wake up and feel the discontent not gratitude oozing out of me. But if I make myself thank God for five things before I roll out of bed, I hit the ground happier, and more thankful. Because I forced the issue. I talked to myself instead of listening to myself. I grabbed the reins and took myself in hand.
It works. Every. Single. Time. When I feel discontent because of what my husband didn’t do, I can thank him for what he did do. When I feel envious about a girlfriend’s gift, I can thank God that she is my friend. And when I’m grumpy about a sink full of dirty dishes, I can thank God for mouths to feed. One or the other: grumble or give thanks.
Because you can’t ride two horses with one heinie.
You Can’t Ride Two Horses
You simply can’t feel thankful and entitled at once. You can’t ride the I-Deserve and the All-Grace thoroughbreds together. You just can’t. I can’t. And believe me, I’ve tried.
I’ve tried to ride the Thankful bay and the Self-pitying painttogether and it never works. But sometimes I still try to saddle up the Envy pony right alongside the Gratitude gray and climb up.
But no matter how hard I try I cannot ride both. Because I’ve only got one heinie.
Ride The Thankful Horse
How it went down yesterday: I started saddling up my Envy pony after hearing opportunities for friendship and ministry that some friends of mine have because they don’t work outside the home. I had one foot in the stirrup before I came to my senses and climbed on Gratitude Gray. God’s got me at this job for his good reasons and I’m thankful- YES THANKFUL!- for the ways He’s using it to grow and shape me.
That was yesterday. Today when I was tempted to mount the Comparison mare and let it gallop off again with my old dreams for a quiver full of kids- the Spirit counseled me off her back and onto the strong Thankful stallion. The Father promised He’d provide all your needs. So if you don’t have it, you don’t need it. No good thing does he withhold.
Those were Spirit-wrought victories. Other days I ride too long on the wrong horse’s saddle. I climbed on the I-Didn’t-Choose-This chestnut and let him get the best of me. He charged off to You-Deserve-Better Land. And if I spend any time at all there, I return quarrelsome and harsh with my family.
All because I got on the wrong horse and let it take me for a ride.
Defeat The Dark Horse: Give Thanks
The best way to drive out my self-focused, self-pitying, envious grumps is to be a thanks-giver. Gratitude, John Piper explains, is the song that defeats the enemy. Suppose, he says, that you discover that there is a song which the enemy and their sympathizers cannot tolerate or approach. Whenever they hear it, they pull back and run the other direction.
Isn’t it certain that you would want to learn this song? And after you learned it, you would sing it when you went to bed at night and when you got up in the morning. You would sing it on the way to work, and among strangers… Others would see and hear and learn the song from you. And in the end you would conquer the enemy.
The enemy rides a dark horse. He steals our joy and deceives us with lies. We play right into his hand when we compare and complain. One of his most convincing, joy stealing lies starts like this, But you deserve.
And the song that drives the dark horse and his lying rider away is thanksgiving.
Sing the Song of Thanks
You can give thanks or you can grumble. One will drive out the other.
An unthankful person is like a container with a hole in it and all the blessings that are in it just leak out. The grateful person has unlimited capacity to truly enjoy God’s blessings, while the ungrateful person can’t enjoy the blessings he does have.
Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, The Attitude to Gratitude
Do you leak?
Not- Does your thanks spill out and overflow? I mean leak– as in accidentally lose the contents. As in, God’s gifts are lost on you.
A little grumbling here and there might not seem so bad, but it says a lot- about us and about what we believe about God.
Reason #1: Our grumbling proclaims that our God is not good.
We might call it venting, or keeping it real, but take a minute and ask yourself: About what or whom do I grumble?
I’ll start with me. Sadly, the question is easy: I grumble when my time feels “wasted” and, if others poor choices caused the “waste,” I might complain about them.
There- I said it.
But how, you wonder, can I draw such a straight line from my grumbling against the people and circumstances down here straight up to God?
Well, when the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the desert, God heard it. Then he told Moses to tell them, Your grumbling is not against us but against the LORD (Exodus 16:8, Numbers 14:26-27). Our Father in heaven heard their grumbling, and hears ours.
When we whine like deprived children, we don’tadorn. We don’t make our loving Lord look good. We slander his loving care to watching eyes and listening ears.
Grumbling, John Piper explains, only adds to the darkness because it obscures the light of God’s gracious, all-controlling providence.
But there’s more.
Reason #2:Our grumbling demands that God submit to our wishes.
We don’t put it like that, but at the end of the day, isn’t that what our complaints say? That we wish God would do it our way, would submit to our wishes. When we grumble, we’re rebel children, pots second-guessing the potter.
For has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? (Romans 11:34-35). A complaining spirit, therefore, reveals a problem in our relationship with God.
But there is a difference between grumbling and groaning. Groaning, for the record, can actually be a sign of our faith and hope in God’s promises (see Romans 8:22-24).
Groaning and disappointment, criticism and disagreement need not be the same as grumbling and complaining.
[T]he Bible is full of examples of godly people who say, “I’m upset. I wish this were different. Lord, would you do something? I don’t like this.” …Grumbling, however, is not a humble cry for help, but saying to God, “I know how to run the universe a bit better than you do.” Instead of saying, “This really hurts, but I’m ready to receive whatever I must receive from God’s hand,” grumbling says, “This stinks, and I’m ready to rebel against God’s heart.” That’s the difference…
We’re talking about rebellion against God. Not that the situation is hard, but that God is hard.
God has promised to provide all our needs according to his riches in glory (Philippians 4:19) and that he will withhold no good thing from him whose walk is upright (Psalm 84:11) and that all things work for good to those who love him and called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). Not to mention that his mercies are there for the picking, new every morning.
But grumbling says we don’t believe those. Or, at least, for the moment, we’re choosing to ignore them. Grumbling says we don’t trust God.
More from DeYoung,
Though you might direct it toward your spouse, your kids, your parents, or someone in authority, you’re saying to God, “You’re not taking care of me…” Grumbling dishonors God.
The problem with complainers is that they don’t really trust that God is big enough to help and good enough to care. That’s what you think when you complain. “This God?! I may say that I believe him, sing songs about him, and read a Bible about him, but I don’t really believe that he’s big enough to do anything about it or good enough to care about me.
Who knew a little complaining about the rain and work and delays and aches and pains could betray so much?
That grumbling could be such a hard habit to break?
Fill the house with gratitude.
Habit is overcome by habit. It’s called replacement. Breaking bad habits means we fill the void with something good.
Just stopping up the leak isn’t enough. In other words, Quit yer grumbling, is not the goal. That’s just the empty house. And Jesus warned that if the house stays empty, the final plight might be worse than the first (Matthew 12:43-45). We need to fill the house.
We need to do something hard: replace grumbling with thanks and turn that frown upside-down and, by God’s grace, choose gratitude.
I was taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others. We deserved this, because we had gone away from God, and did not keep his commandments. Patrick, who turned with all my heart to the Lord my God, and he looked down on my lowliness and had mercy on my youthful ignorance.
That is why I cannot be silent – nor would it be good to do so – about such great blessings and such a gift that the Lord so kindly bestowed in the land of my captivity. This is how we can repay such blessings, when our lives change and we come to know God. Why we praise and bear witness to his great wonders before every nation under heaven. (Confession 3)
I’ll Never Stop Giving Thanks To My God
I’ll never stop giving thanks to my God, who kept me faithful in the time of my temptation. I can today with confidence offer my soul to Christ my Lord as a living victim. He is the one who defended me in all my difficulties. I can say: Who am I, Lord, or what is my calling, that you have worked with me with such divine presence? This is how I come to praise and magnify your name among the nations all the time, wherever I am, not only in good times but in the difficult times too.
Whatever comes about for me, good or bad, I ought to accept them equally and give thanks to God. He has shown me that I can put my faith in him without wavering and without end. However ignorant I am, he has heard me, so that in these late days I can dare to undertake such a holy and wonderful work. In this way I can imitate somewhat those whom the Lord foretold would announce his gospel in witness to all nations before the end of the world. This is what we see has been fulfilled. Look at us: we are witnesses that the gospel has been preached right out to where there is nobody else there! (Confession 34)
I Want To Give Thanks To God Without Ceasing
So I want to give thanks to God without ceasing. He frequently forgave my lack of wisdom and my negligence. More than once did not be come very angry with me, the one who was meant to be his helper. I was not quick to accept what he showed me, and so the Spirit prompted me. The Lord was merciful to me a thousand thousand times, because he saw in me that I was ready, but that I did not know what I should do about the state of my life…Indeed, I was not quick to recognise the grace that was in me; I know now what I should have done then. (Confession 46)
Nothing I Have That Is Not His Gift To Me
So I shall make a return to him for all that he has given to me. But what can I say, or what can I promise to my Lord? There is nothing I have that is not his gift to me. But he knows the depths of my heart, my very gut feelings! He knows that it is enough that I desire very much, and am ready for this, that he would grant me to drink of his chalice, just as he was pleased to do for others who loved him. (Confession 57)
Patrick was faithful to God’s call on his life. In the end, the Lord didn’t demand that Patrick drink the cup of the martyr’s death. He supposedly died in 463 AD, at the ripe old age of 120. Which happens to be the age that another of God’s great servants died.
But it’s not how many years Patrick lived that matters most. It’s that Patrick was a grateful saint.
Enjoying an undeserved dinner out tonight, the caption under the smiling couple in the bright booth read.
Correction: Deserved, a friend’s comment said.
It was a sweet comment with kind intent. Completely innocent.
But it still made me wince.
Why Deserve is a Dirty Word for Me
Because if I’ve learned anything on my own clumsy quest to keep a thankful heart, it’s this:
Banish I deserve. Replace with My pleasure to serve. Or with that line from Luke 17, I’ve only done my duty.
Because I’ve learned that whenever I start to think I deserve- whether praise or a shout-out or a dinner out-I’m heading right for Discontent Falls. Whenever I start thinking relaxation or reward is my right or appreciation or applause is my due, I’m setting myself up for an ugly spill.
Because deserve means worthy and earned, and flies in the face of unmerited favor. Deserve, therefore, cannot coexist with grace. And God’s servants stand in grace.
Because I deserve breeds ingratitude and God’s Word says ingratitude is a sin (Romans 1:21, 2 Timothy 3:2).
That’s why I wince at deserve.
Owned, Not Owed
Being a Christian means we are owned by God, not owed by God. We have been purchased by the blood of Christ, redeemed from sin at very high price.
No matter how long we’ve been at these works of faith and labors of love. Or how many dinners we’ve served and dishes we’ve washed or how many times we’ve forgiven when we’ve been hurt.
No matter how many years we’ve written the checks or worked the nursery or taught Jr. High Sunday School.
Because all that’s our job- all a day’s work. Because we are owned not owed. We’ve only done our duty.
When Pride Rears Its Ugly Head
But the flesh isn’t totally dead. If it doesn’t get us with self-pity when we don’t get the praise we crave, it might snare us with boastful pride.
It can happen like this: You start feel like God is using you, and it feels good, so then you start to think, “You know, I’m doing okay living for Jesus. There’s some fruit. I’m helping folks know Christ. My life is sort of in order, I’m growing in self-control and getting more patient and kind and… Aren’t you impressed, God?”
That may have been happening with the apostles in Luke 17.
So Jesus told them a little story.
We’ve Only Done Our Duty
The parable, found in Luke 17:7-10 takes aim straight at my I-deserve, entitled heart.
“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’?Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’?Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
Did you catch the three questions? Jesus meant them to be obvious- no-brainers.
v. 7- Would the master treat the servant like an honored guest, and invite him to sit down to dinner? (No.)
v. 8- Would the master expect the servant to do what servants are supposed to do? (Yes.)
v. 9- Would the master thank the sermon for doing what he was told to do? (No.)
Easy, right? Because most of us don’t have any problem pretending we’re the master.
But, then, verse 10 hits us like a cold shower: So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”
Duty is defined as a moral or legal obligation; conduct due. It’s what’s expected of our station.
It’s why we’re not applauded for paying our bills. WeEnergies and Kohl’s don’t throw a party for me when I pay my bills. My boss doesn’t throw a party when I meet my deadlines at work.
Nor should they. I’ve only done my duty.
There’s no fanfare, applause, or medals. But there are a couple big perks for servants.
Servant Perk #1
The Greek word for servant in the Luke 17 story is doulos.
A doulos was bound to a master and cared for, kept in the home like a family member. He had stability and work to do there. This is doulos, a bond slave, which meant he was basically attached to the owner, lived in his house, was cared for, provided for… It was a wonderful thing when it was handled well.
By contrast, day laborers would have to hope someone would show up and hire him each new day. No long-term work meant no security and no stability.
So that’s servant perk #1: Servants have steady work and provision.
The second servant benefit is even better.
Servant Perk #2
Servant Perk #2: A servant is close to the action of his master.
In John 2, when Jesus turned the water into wine, the host didn’t know where the wine had come from. But the servants who had drawn the water knew. They were close to the Master had done the miracle.
Darrel Cook says, In Christian service, when we’re up close to the Master, when we’re right out there where the action is, when he chooses to do something for his name’s sake-we’ll get to see what He’s doing for his glory.
It’s counterintuitive to think that we’ll see God’s glory when we are just doing our duty. But it’s how He designed it.
We look for visions from heaven, for earthquakes and thunders of God’s power… and we never dream that all the time God is in the commonplace things and people around us. If we will do the duty that lies nearest, we shall see Him. One of the most amazing revelations of God comes when we learn that it is in the commonplace things that the Deity of Jesus Christ is realized.
If we will do the duty that lies nearest- the dishes, the youth group, the forgiving, the patience and kindness- we shall see God.
Blessed are the [dutiful, undeserving] pure in heart for they will see God.
I like the answer Lorne Sanny, former president of the Navigators, gave when a man asked him how he could know if he had a servant attitude.
Sanny replied, “By how you act when your are treated like one.”
When someone treats you like a servant, do you get offended and think, “I deserve better treatment than this?”
Or, do you say- and mean it- “It’s all good. because I’m an unworthy servant.”
For a servant’s duties might not be ones they’d pick, or would have imagined. Like what just came at me tonight- recouping pricey Pokemon cards stolen from one son and acquiring an Abe Lincoln hat the another.
George Eliot was right: We must find our duties in what comes to us, not in what we imagine might have been. The Master assigns the tasks we can’t imagine.
And, yes. This can be so hard.
I feel it too. Because too often after a day at work then helping with homework then dinner and dishes, I do feel like I deserve better. Like confetti from heaven should dump down and we should all hear the thunderous voice declare, “This is my hard-hardworking daughter. With her I am well pleased. She deserves a night out.”
Because Jesus told another parable about servants and masters and sitting down to eat. It’s recorded in Luke 12,
Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps alight. And be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks.Blessed are those slaves whom the master shall find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them.
2. I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention in a post on duty, what John Piper famously called, “that dangerous duty of delight.”
The Bible does not teach that we should treat delight as a mere byproduct of duty. C. S. Lewis got it right when he wrote to a friend, “It is a Christian duty, as you know, for everyone to be as happy as he can.” Yes, that is risky and controversial. But it is strictly true. Maximum happiness, both qualitatively and quantitatively, is precisely what we are duty-bound to pursue.
3. A favorite George Washington quote: The consideration that human happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected will always continue to prompt me to promote the former by inculcating the practice of the latter.
4. A poem.
“When He Comes”
There’s a king and captain high, And He’s coming by and by, And He’ll find me hoeing cotton when He comes…
There’s a Man they thrust aside, Who was tortured till He died, And He’ll find me hoeing cotton when He comes.
He was hated and rejected, He was scorned and crucified, And He’ll find me hoeing cotton when He comes.
When He comes! When he comes! He’ll be crowned by saints and angels when He comes.
They’ll be shouting out Hosanna! To the Man that men denied, And I’ll kneel among my cotton when He comes.