"For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?" (Ecclesiastes 2:25)
A life that is severed from God cannot experience true joy. However, everyone, regardless of their eternal destiny, has reasons for thanksgiving. God manifests his goodness by supplying our needs daily. Even the unsaved are provided with food, clothing, and other necessities. But because of their unregenerate condition, they are incapable of heartfelt gratitude. Unfortunately, Christians frequently fall into the habit of complaining—some more, some less. We are contented as long as life continues as normal, but what if all that changed? Would we be thankful?
The Israelites didn't complain about luxuries they'd never had, but about the opulence of Egypt. It's depressing that we rarely appreciate someone or something until we lose them. The deaf, blind, and crippled are the only ones who truly understand the blessing of sound, sight, and a walk down the street. Never take your loved ones for granted; you might not see them tomorrow. Perhaps one of the reasons God takes His blessings away is to open our eyes, helping us to see tomorrow's joys clearer than we did yesterday's.
"Do not say, 'Why is it that the former days were better than these?' For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this." (Ecclesiastes 7:10)
We are all guilty of dreaming of having this or that. Our minds can become so entangled in possessions that only God can unravel the knots. We think happiness can be bought. Maybe that is because fun is confused with happiness. Fun can indeed be bought—theme park tickets, ice cream, movies—but not happiness. All these are temporal delights that won't last to eternity. "He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity" (Ecclesiastes 5:10). It is best "not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it" (Proverbs 23:4).
If anyone had a right to complain, it was Christ. He left the splendor of heaven to sojourn on earth. He was accustomed to glory, riches, and joy. The earthly poverty and pain must have been unbearable. Yet He did not utter a single complaint. His words were ones of gratitude (Matthew 15:36, 26:27, Luke 22:19, John 6:11). We must acquire a thankful heart, not for what we will have but what we do have. This mandates an attitude adjustment. "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones" (Proverbs 17:22).
People with a positive perspective are bound to live a happier life than those who dwell on the negative. "I want that shirt" becomes "Wow, I can't believe I have all these nice clothes!" "I have such a lousy job" becomes "God, thank You for this paycheck." When we focus on what we have, all the things we want fade into insignificance. "All the days of the afflicted are bad, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast" (Proverbs 15:15).
As John MacArthur once wrote, "If you question the love and goodness of God to all, look again at the world in which we live. Someone might say, 'There's a lot of sorrow in this world.' The only reason the sorrow and tragedy stand out is because there is also much joy and gladness. The only reason we recognize the ugliness is that God has given us so much beauty. The only reason we feel the disappointment is that there is so much that satisfies" (The Truth About Grace, p. 8-9).
"If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content." (1 Timothy 6:8)
No one's life is so awful that there's absolutely nothing to be thankful for. It's easier to appreciate the greater blessings such as your family, friends, home, food, and water. However, that's no excuse to forget the little blessings. Even toothpaste. Yep, it's something most people aren't exactly thankful for, but it keeps our teeth from rotting out. And if our teeth fell out, we couldn't eat, and if we couldn't eat we'd die (okay, we probably wouldn't die because we could just get fake teeth, but still). I know that's an extreme way of looking at it, but if it helps us to be grateful, isn't it worth a try? If we counted our blessings of every size, the number would be staggering and the list unending! I've found I’m more thankful if I actually list some of my blessings in prayer rather than if I thank God for an unnameable blob of blessings I don't take the time to mention.
"Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe." (Hebrews 12:28)
As Christians, we have numerous reasons to be thankful. But our primary impetus is our salvation. Through death, pain, poverty, hunger, and thirst, the reality of salvation endures. This is the greatest, most precious gift. It distinguishes us from others. How can we ever be ungrateful with such a wonderful assurance? How can any earthly blessing compare? Remember your salvation the next time you're tempted to complain. Is your situation really that unbearable? Don't your blessings outweigh your troubles? If you are struggling with contentment, prayer and Bible reading is the best medicine. Pray for His aid in your pursuit of gratitude. Thank Him daily. The Scriptures will teach you to be thankful. As I've already noted, His Word is bursting with verses of thanksgiving. The records of men and women with thankful hearts give us godly examples to imitate.
"For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude." (1 Timothy 4:4)
God has blessed us with many wonderful things. We can never repay Him for all His gifts. In light of this, is thankfulness too much to ask? Start at the heart and a thankful attitude will soon be visible outwardly. When you praise the Creator, especially in the midst of trials, it pleases Him and serves as a testimony to the unsaved. They may become curious why we are so happy when we seemingly have nothing to smile about. Our joyful demeanor might influence them to seek the same source of joy. However, if we complain, it automatically leads others to question God's goodness. Gratefulness glorifies God, witnesses to sinners, and produces joy. This Thanksgiving day I encourage you to be thankful—not only today, but as a habit. Let the song of our hearts mimic Paul's words, "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!" (2 Corinthians 9:15).
Ungratefulness is indigenous to the human race, although some of us seem to have a larger dose of it. We deserve higher wages, better jobs, nicer homes, and more clothes. Wait, when did deserve enter the equation? This mindset spawns more complaints than a ten-hour traffic jam on a ninety degree day. It is impossible for us to be thankful if we think we are entitled to more possessions and advantages. We don't deserve more, we deserve less; in fact, we don't deserve anything at all. We must first comprehend our unworthiness before we can truly exhibit a thankful attitude.
"As it is written, 'There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one. Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.' " (Romans 3:10-18)
We are not "good people." The blessings we receive are not rewards for upright conduct, but gifts bestowed upon helpless sinners. We follow in the footsteps of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-24) and deserve only to feed our stomachs on the pods of the swine. Were the gifts he received due him as a loyal son? Were they presents of love for his likable personality? No, they were unmerited, gracious gifts the son could never claim to have earned.
"Why should any living mortal, or any man, offer complaint in view of his sins?" (Lamentations 3:39)
Sometimes our sins aren't always outwardly manifest, so we insist that we are nice creatures. "I've never killed anyone, and I don't lie, steal, or cheat," is usually our defense when confronted with sin. Maybe we've never committed murder, but we've hated and that is the stepping stone to murder (Matthew 5:22). Our internal thoughts breed the outward actions the worst criminals commit.
We may not seem that sinful when we compare ourselves with our fellow man. For example, an ugly person would probably not be aware of their physical unattractiveness if they only interacted with other ugly people. But the second they encountered a beautiful person, they would instantly realize how gnarled their complexion was. Sin is hardly visible amongst ourselves. However, next to the holiness of Jesus Christ, our hearts are blacker than soot. Nevertheless, God mercifully provides us with abundant blessings even though He sees our filthiness clearer than anyone else. What a reason to rejoice!
Furthermore, Scripture commends and commands thankfulness. John instructed some soldiers, "be content with your wages" (Luke 3:14). God's Word is replete with verses on the subjects of contentment and gratitude (Psalms 18:49, 105:1, 111:1, 138:1-2, 139:14, 2 Corinthians 9:12, Ephesians 5:20, Colossians 3:15-17, 4:2, Hebrews 13:5, 15). Scripture also condemns every form of complaining (Philippians 2:14). Grumbling is often an overlooked sin, considered minor and inconsequential. What is God's response? I don't think you want to know:
"Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the Lord; and when the Lord heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp." (Numbers 11:1)
"While the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very severe plague." (v. 33)
Years later in reply to their grumbling:
"The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died." (21:6)
I doubt God will incinerate us today, nevertheless, the above passages illustrate His indignation at ungratefulness. It doesn't matter what your complaints are about or whether they're aimed at your parent, sibling, spouse, friend, or coworker. Because, ultimately, you are nitpicking God, who gave you what you have and placed you where you are. In the words of Moses, "The Lord hears your grumblings which you grumble against Him. And what are we? Your grumblings are not against us but against the Lord" (Exodus 16:8).
Complaining is never lonely, for many sins usually accompany it, and if they haven't already, they will. Unthankfulness is often sown with greed, faithlessness, and selfishness. In Numbers 11, it was the greedy who perished (v. 34) and whenever the Israelites groused about insufficient food or water, it showed their weak trust in God.
There are innumerable reasons why we should be thankful, but the important question is: how can we be thankful? Join me next week as I undertake answering that question.
Thank you is not just a polite phrase, it's a thought, a feeling, an attitude. It should be more than an automatic response to receiving a gift. It should be a sincere, inner feeling we express—especially to the One who gave us all things. Gratitude and contentment are words that describe the Thanksgiving holiday, but are rarely expressed. They vanish as soon as Christmas ushers in its allurements of shiny bows and new toys. And when Christmas ends, the complaining of life's woes (big and small) begins. But that isn't how it should be. Thanksgiving should be practiced every day of the year.
"It is good to give thanks to the Lord and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High." (Psalm 92:1)
You are probably familiar with the account of Exodus. It is a truth-filled book that showcases God's power and man's ungratefulness. Thankfulness was foreign to the Israelites. What little gratitude they had melted faster than a snowflake in the Sahara. With the music of praise still ringing in their ears, they journeyed to a place called Marah. The water there was as bitter as the Israelites’ attitude. Instead of approaching the Lord in prayer and humbly asking for water, the people griped to Moses.
"So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, 'What shall we drink?' " (Exodus 15:24)
God had parted the water only three days earlier. If I didn't know better, I would have thought some person had snuck into their camp and conked each Israelite in the head to have caused such a sever case of amnesia. The parting of the Red Sea should have washed all the ungratefulness from their bodies! Even though God sweetened the water, their hearts remained sour.
"The whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The sons of Israel said to them, 'Would that we had died by the Lord's hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.' " (16:2-3)
If God had given them their preference of dying in the land of plenty rather than dying of starvation, they would have complained about that too. They couldn't be satisfied. Nevertheless, God provided them with nourishment. It would have been wise if they had used this food to close their mouths. It had barely settled in their stomachs before they engaged in another round of bellyaching.
"Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, 'Give us water that we may drink.' And Moses said to them, 'Why do do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?' But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, 'Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?' " (17:2-3)
It's easy to sympathize with them. Would we react any differently if we were put in a life-threatening situation? God knew they were but flesh and graciously endured their waverings, perpetually satisfying their needs. What more could they ask? But ungrateful people aren't content to be thankful anymore than a dog is content to stay clean. If they can't find a grievance, they concoct one.
"The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, 'Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.' " (Numbers 11:4-6)
The Israelites had crossed the line. Complaining about lack of food is one thing, complaining about the absence of their favorite dishes was entirely another. I must admit, if I had to eat plain oatmeal for a month, I'd probably gag on it on the tenth day. But even that plain oatmeal is a reason for a multitude of thanks. Complainers tread on shaky ground. They may receive more than they bargained for.
"Say to the people, 'Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wept in the ears of the Lord, saying, "Oh that someone would give us meat to eat! For we were well-off in Egypt." Therefore the Lord will give you meat and you shall eat. You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you; because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before Him, saying, "Why did we ever leave Egypt?" ' "(11:18-20)
Have you ever noticed that a display of God's power typically precedes their complaints? At Marah (Exodus 15:22-25), God had recently parted the Red Sea. In the wilderness of Sin, where they lamented the shortage of food (16:1-3), God had sweetened the bitter water not long ago (15:25). The chapter before the water in the rock incident (17:2-7) describes God's provision of bread and meat (16:4-16). Shortly after God's glory descended upon the tabernacle (Numbers 9:15-23), the Israelites hungered for Egyptian delicacies (11:1-6).
How could anyone be so ungrateful? But are we any different? What if the Exodus happened nowadays—our complaints would be so loud an astronaut could hear them in outer space. Not only would we complain about food, but we would bemoan the absence of our technological devices, TV, and internet. We'd be crying, "We are going to die out here of boredom, Moses!"
The Israelites are our mirror image but we can shatter that image with the mallet of thankfulness. They are our lesson; let us learn from it and not repeat their folly. The Israelites didn't realize that “A little sprig of the herb called content put into the poorest soup will make it taste as rich as the Lord Mayor's turtle.”
*C.H. Spurgeon, The Complete John Ploughman: Combined Edition of John Ploughman's Talk and John Ploughman's Pictures (Christian Focus Publications, 2007), 40.
Mariposa is a self-taught artist and aspiring children's author who captures the glories of God's creation on paper. She has a Ph.D. in creativity and a master's degree in imagination.
Aberdeen is a book-eating, ink-drinking dinosaur from the createtus period. When he isn't falling into plot holes or taking cover from the volcano of ideas, he's hanging out with Dee-Dee the doodledactyl. Read full bio