Thankfulness is a fundamental Christian duty. But there are many internal circumstances that can hinder a heart of thankfulness. I’m going to walk through seven of these hindrances, and perhaps these will be helpful for you as you strive to obey the command to give thanks “in everything.”
Gratitude is undercut when we doubt God’s wisdom, love, immutability or power. If we doubt that God is able and willing to overrule the problems in our lives for His glory and our good, we become thankless. When this happens, it’s because we are calling into question what God says about Himself.
This hindrance is the inability to say, “Nevertheless, Your will be done.” Selfishness says, “I really don’t care what Your will is. This is what I want.” It’s really a kind of God complex. It’s saying, “I want to be God. I want to call the shots.” This naturally hinders gratitude. Even though we have no clue as to what is actually best for us, selfishness can cause us to see our own will as more important than God’s.
This hindrance happens when we get caught up in the pleasures and pursuits that define human life, instead of having God and Christ be central in our view. Worldliness happens when we forget to live like David in Psalm 16:
I have set the Lord continually before me;
Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will dwell securely. (Psalm 16:8-9)
As long as we set the Lord before us, we have constant joy and gratitude. But when we get our eyes on the world and we begin to measure our lives by its terms, our gratitude disappears.
If you are a generally negative and bitter person, that tendency will destroy a thankful heart if it’s left unchecked. It will blind your vision, and you will become useless to people and useless to God. And on top of stealing gratitude, a critical and condemning attitude will also corrode your spirituality and destroy your love.
Some people don’t give thanks because God isn’t operating according to their schedule. They had something down for Thursday, but Thursday came and went. And they say, “Come on, God, I don’t have time to be dallying.” They want everything on their timetable.
Spiritual lethargy, where your love for God grows cold, kills gratitude. This happens when there is a lack of zeal in service. Some people come to church, but they don’t serve. They don’t give their lives away. They fiddle around with trivial things, and they lack a passion for the service of Christ. This shows up in a lack of diligence in studying Scripture and a lack of passion in worship. People sometimes get so caught up in temporal things that they have little engagement with the spiritual realm.
Finally, gratitude can be hindered by outright rebellion. Sometimes, people just don’t like their lot in life. They’re angry at God for the way things have gone. This is an outright defying of God and the work of the Spirit. To rebel is to forget that nothing, no matter how bad it is, is outside the plan of God to perfect your life through trials and suffering.
These are some of the main hurdles standing in the way of a thankful heart. But by embracing the opposite virtues, we can cultivate gratitude.
Instead of doubting God, we trust Him. Instead of acting selfishly, we act as unselfish servants. Instead of being consumed by the world, we occupy ourselves with Christ. Instead of acting out of a critical spirit, we act out of a loving one. Instead of being ruled by impatience, we wait humbly for God’s timing. Instead of laziness or hostility, we put on zeal and give ourselves totally over to God’s will.
I want to end by looking at a few lines of Scripture that fuel our gratitude. Consider Psalm 97:12:
Be glad in the Lord, you righteous ones,
And give thanks to His holy name.
We give thanks to the One whose name is holy. And look at Psalm 106:1:
Praise the Lord!
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Not only is He holy; He is good and merciful. He’s so merciful, gracious and good toward us that we have every reason to believe that even in our pain and our suffering He has good intentions.
We’re also thankful for all the good gifts that the Lord gives us. Look at 1 Timothy 4:4:
For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude.
Everything, even our food, comes down from a good God as a gift to His people. He gives us everything we need, as Philippians 4:19 says:
And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
We could go on and on with all the passages in Scripture that remind us of our reasons to be thankful. And it is good for us to come back to these, because as we have already seen, gratitude is not optional for us.
When we thank God faithfully and constantly in every situation, we’re manifesting a Spirit-controlled life. God is glorified, we’re blessed, the church is built up, and lost people are reached. There is nothing more wonderful than maintaining a joyful, grateful attitude so that others can see that God has truly transformed our lives.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 2002, titled “In Everything Give Thanks.”
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