When I was being raised in my home of origin, and when I raised my children, whining or grumbling was an ‘intolerable’ behavior. As my children can attest, if they complained, I’d often say to them, “You could be on a cattle car on the way to Auschwitz.” That may seem rather harsh to you, but I wanted to bring home to them the realty that the minor ‘suffering’ they were going through when I denied them something they desired— but that they could easily live without— was nothing compared to what so many others endure today around the globe or have endured throughout history.
We made sure that our family focused on the myriad of things for which we had to be thankful. I recall the many bedtimes when we’d play the ‘thankful game’ where each of us would come up with something different for which to be thankful, particularly thanking God for the things we all too often take for granted… like running water…hot showers…a soft mattress to sleep on…air conditioning and heat…the ability to see colors and smell luscious fragrances…I even remember thanking God for the pattern on our wallpaper!
The person with a grateful heart sees all that they have for which to be thankful, and the Christian knows that since God is the Source of everything they have, it is to Him that thanks should be given (James 1:17) The grateful Christian realizes God has been faithful to provide in the past, which builds their faith to believe He also will be faithful to provide all that ‘they need according to His riches in Christ Jesus’ in the future. (Philippians 4:19) Faith in God’s character and His perfect ways is what is necessary for us to conquer our fears, and giving thanks to God gets our focus off of ourselves and our circumstances and onto Him, our faithful, loving ‘God of the impossible’!
Like looking through a magnifying glass, whatever you focus upon expands in your view. So when your focus is upon God, you will see that He is ‘high and lifted above’ your circumstances and you’ll be better able to overcome your every fear as you realize He is so much bigger than whatever it is that makes you fearful or anxious. You will see that He is with you in the midst of your circumstances, and rather than complaining about them, your desire will be to use whatever you’re going through for His glory.
One of my favorite stories is of Corrie ten Boom’s sister Betsy who was thankful for the fleas that were in the beds of their barracks at the German concentration camp where they were sent for hiding Jews during World War II. How in the world could she be thankful for fleas? Because they kept the guards away from them and enabled Betsy and Corrie to share the gospel with the other prisoners. They definitely had a God focus, and were grateful ‘for all things’ as we’ve been encouraged to be (1st Thessalonians 5:18; Ephesians 5:20). Not only did the sisters have joy amid the most trying of circumstances, but they also gave great pleasure to God; gave life-giving truth to their fellow prisoners; and their story has brought conviction, inspiration, and encouragement to countless people who’ve read that account in Corrie ten Boom’s book ‘The Hiding Place’. Our thankfulness positively impacts others’ lives and points to and gives glory to God!
A heart of gratitude is a joyful heart, and a ‘merry heart does the soul good’ (Proverbs 17:22). A friend of mine who has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer is writing a series of blogs in which she highlights all of the things for which she has to be thankful for even in the midst of her ‘battle’, and her words testify that the ‘joy of the Lord’ is indeed her strength that equips her to overcome her fears with faith (Nehemiah 8:10).
David, the shepherd boy who became king, fearlessly fought Goliath and led the Israelites to victory against the Philistines. He was not only a fearless and faithful warrior, but he also wrote the majority of the Psalms, which extol His love for and gratitude to God; he knew God was his Provider and the Source of his strength. David is a wonderful example of the correlation between thankfulness and fearlessness.
In contrast, the person with the ungrateful heart overlooks the many things they have for which to be thankful, and instead focuses upon the few things they want but don’t have—most often things they can easily live without. But their real focus isn’t upon the things they want or think they need, it’s upon themselves. And because of their self-absorption and self-focus, they don’t have ‘eyes to see’ God Who is all powerful, right beside them, and able to provide for their every need and empower them to conquer their every fear. (NOTE: God doesn’t always provide for our every desire because He knows what is truly best for us, but He is a good Father who provides for our real needs) Since an ungrateful person’s eyes are on themselves and their circumstances rather than upon God, they easily succumb to their fear, worry and anxiety.
The account of the Israelites in the book of Exodus is an excellent example of how grumbling and complaining reveal a self-focus and lack of faith in God, which sets us up to be conquered by—rather than conquerors of— our fears. The Israelites experienced the miracle-saving power of God Who sent the plagues, delivered them out of bondage in Egypt, parted the Red Sea, provided water from a rock, and sent manna from heaven to feed them. Did God’s faithful provision cause them to put their trust in Him? No, because their focus was on themselves and what they didn’t have instead of on God and all that He had done for them! Instead of giving continual thanks to God, they continually rebelled against Him by grumbling and complaining not only about their perceived ‘lack’—like the onion and leeks they’d left behind in Egypt—but also about the leaders He’d chosen for them. Their grumbling revealed their self-focus and lack of faith in God, which set them up to rebel against God by succumbing to their fear of the giants in the land of Canaan rather than trusting in His faithful Word that He’d given the land over to them. Their ungrateful, unfaithful hearts led to them dying in the wilderness rather than entering into the Promised Land. There is always a cost for ingratitude and faithlessness.
It’s acceptable to go to God with our concerns and ‘pour out our heart like water to Him’, as King David did, because that honors Him; it reveals that we recognize He is Sovereign over our circumstances and the Source of all we have and need (Lamentations 2:19). However, when we complain to others about what we perceive as the lack of provision in our lives, or grumble about others He has placed in our lives for His purposes, it reveals that we are putting ourselves at the center of our lives and think we know what is best for us, rather than trusting in God’s faithfulness to provide for our needs according to His perfect will. Grumbling is rooted in the most insidious sin: pride. And the cost of that sin—like all sin—isn’t limited to ourselves. Just as a grateful person’s joyful demeanor positively impacts and encourages faithfulness in those around them, the ungrateful person’s grumbling has a negative ripple effect upon those in his or her wake. It can ‘suck the life’ out of those who are subject to their constant whining, as Moses experienced with the Israelites; it can lead to fighting and strife due to unfilled desires; and it makes us a poor witness and reveals we don’t really trust God (Exodus 17;4; 32: 31-32; James 4:1-3; Philippians 2:14-15).
God has called us to ‘be thankful in all circumstances’. He knows that the grateful person is the one who puts their trust in Him, and that person will be able to overcome their fears with faith and will glorify God by being a beacon of light that points others to the Source of their strength and joy!
Do all things without grumbling and faultfinding and complaining [against God] and questioning and doubting [among yourselves], That you may show yourselves to be blameless and guileless, innocent and uncontaminated, children of God without blemish (faultless, unrebukable) in the midst of a crooked and wicked generation [spiritually perverted and perverse], among whom you are seen as bright lights (stars or beacons shining out clearly) in the [dark] world… Philippians 2:14-15 AMPC
Food for Thought and Action Steps: Would the people who know you best describe you as a thankful or ungrateful person? A faithful or fearful person? Is that the legacy you wish to leave? Think of people you know who are grateful; would you say they are also faithful people? And are those you know who are ungrateful, generally more fearful or faithful? When you are tempted to give into fear or grumble and complain, choose to set your eyes on God and start thanking Him for all of the ways that He has proven His faithfulness to you. Consider writing a note of thanks to a person you know who encourages you to be grateful rather than a grumbler, faithful rather than fearful. Make a list every day of at least one thing you’ve taken for granted for which you can give thanks; if applicable, play the ‘thankful’ game with your own family members. Pray for those you know who are ungrateful—and for yourself if you’ve been convicted that you are such a person— to have eyes that focus upon God, a mouth that gives thanks to Him for all that He has provided, and a heart to believe He will be faithful to meet your every future need!
Written by Julie