Quick to Forget
I recently returned from a visit with a missionary organization in Honduras where I taught a little and got to see the work they were doing in supporting church plants, providing and supporting medical care, providing food etc… My return was following a large amount of snow, so my flight from Houston to Memphis that evening was cancelled. As I was waiting outside for the van that was to take me to a motel I was tired of travel, I was missing my family, and I was worried about not getting home in time to preach Sunday morning. The time for the shuttle to arrive past, and the longer I waited the more I felt my temper rising. Then, in the midst of my growing irritability it struck me. A little over twenty-four hours earlier…
- I had been shown pictures of a 6 month old infant who weighed only thre and half pounds due to malnutrition. The mother had been breast feeding on a diet of one tortilla a day.
I had prayed with a nascent congregation over land to build a food distribution center and church that had been given in a community whose main source of income was sorting through a massive trash heap for recyclables.
I had visited a hospital where patients had to provide their own sanitary water and X-rays might have to be postponed due to unreliable electricity.
And I was getting angry because the heated van that would take me to a comfortable room where I would shower in uncontaminated water and get a night of sound sleep was ten minutes late.
My anger quickly turned to gratitude for the comforts I enjoy and repentance for taking them for granted. I have felt shame for my unappreciative and entitled attitude before, as have most Americans who’ve served on short-term mission trips. What struck me this day was how quickly I had forgotten and lost perspective. It’s amazing how soon insights we have about life and what’s truly important is lost.
This seems to be a part of the Christian life. I can remember times of feeling deep intimacy with God, when prayer seemed to flow, I appeared to be growing in grace, and I had a stronger sense of God’s presence my prayer. In those moments I thought how could I give this up? Why would I not devote myself to prayer and pursuing holiness? Then at some point shortly after I noticed that it had been too long since I had really prayed and I had returned to habitual sins I just knew had been conquered.
So why is it that I can thank God for healthy children one afternoon and the next be grumpy about a late van? That I can feel such a deep communion with God that the fields and trees I drive past seem to radiate his glory but by that evening feel resentment about my life?
An element of all sin is ingratitude. Like a spoiled child opening a gift and saying “Thanks, but why didn’t you get me something else?”, rather than being thankful to God for his good gifts, we seek to find our security or joy in something other than what he gives. If someone is greedy, they are not saying about money “Thank you God for what you have given me!”, but “Is that all?”. If someone is sexually promiscuous, rather than accept with gratitude the gift of sexual intimacy as part of a complete commitment of one’s self to another, they have complained that God’s arrangement is too confining and seek to fashion a better alternative to the offered gift.
So under this ingratitude is a lack of faith, a lack of trust that God truly seeks what is best for us. If we are not thankful it is because deep in our hearts we believe that there is something better than what God, in his providence, has given us. We’re not trusting him to be our strongest security or deepest joy. Do we really believe God works all things for our good? Or do we not often believe that to follow Christ is to settle for something less.
If the root of ingratitude is a lack of trust that God lavishes his love on us, then the remedy is not to stir up a sense of guilt about what I have in comparison to others, or even of the ugly ingratitude, but to be reminded that God showers us with more than we can ask or imagine from the riches of his glory. We need to daily be reminded of our blessings in Christ, to “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits”, (Psalm 103:2). This is part of our daily repentance, our continual turning from anything we trust to provide our deepest joy other than Christ. But we also to remind each other as Christians of God’s faithfulness and blessings. One of the reasons for us to gather with the church on Lord’s Day is to hear again of God’s faithful love and unearned kindness and to come to the table where we taste and see that the Lord is good.