Lately I have felt a need to slightly adapt the “Jesus Prayer” for our day. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a[n entitled] sinner.” (And I am preaching first to myself here).
Such an addition to this familiar cry sheds light upon a very specific sin that I fear is often overlooked: ingratitude.
As young children, we learned to say, “Thank you,” whenever we received something. Thus in our adult years, we probably say it a lot.
Your water glass is refilled at a restaurant—”Thank you.”
A coworker brings you something from the Xerox machine—”Thank you.”
A bagger at the grocery store hands you your purchases—”Thank you.”
However, I have to wonder how much of this supposed gratitude is merely elicited by cultural norms. We respond frequently with verbal thanks, but how thankful are we really?
Are we habitually grateful (that is truly, deeply grateful)? Or are we habitually entitled and ungrateful?
As followers of Christ, we are called to be thankful. The New Testament is full of imperatives to this effect:
“Walk in him, …abounding in thanksgiving” (Col 2:6–7).
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…. And be thankful” (Col. 3:15).
“Do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God” (Col. 3:17).
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:16–18).
By not heeding these imperatives, as 1 Thessalonians 5:18 makes clear, we fail to live in the way that God desires.
The psalms of David serve as an example of habitual gratitude in Scripture. Time and time again these psalms extol the LORD with praise and utterances of thankfulness.
David does not only praise and thank the LORD in times of blessing. Rather, it is common to find declarations of trust, praise, and gratitude within psalms of lament—that is, in the midst of life’s storms and fiery trials.
In Psalm 13, David repeatedly cries out, “How long…?” as he faces estrangement, sorrow, and taunts from his enemies. Note the monumental shift in verses 5–6: “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”
It may not be easy to recognize the Lord’s goodness to us in the midst of trial and storm, but it can be done. Moreover it must be: as Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica, we are to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18).
Replacing Old Habits
As creatures of habit, how do we get out of the rut of entitlement in which we are so ingrained? Take heart. There is hope.
However deeply rooted your lack of thanks may seem—whether it be a proneness to complaining or chronic entitlement—there is hope. Habits are not easily broken, but they can replaced.
In her book One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp quotes Erasmus: “A nail is driven out by another nail; habit is overcome by habit.” Although a bad habit is nearly impossible to pry out, it can be driven out by another habit.
Yet, as anyone who has driven nails can attest, the work is not easy. Reading a phrase may seem like a walk in the park, but truly living out a life of gratitude—in all circumstances—is hard work.
Choosing gratitude when your spouse gets laid off is painful. Choosing to thank the Lord for your child in the midst of a rough developmental stage is arduous. Uttering heartfelt, genuine words of thanksgiving when memories of what that person did to you flood your thoughts at night…this is difficult.
But it is necessary. So necessary. “This is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:18).
Lastly, and of utmost importance, remember that you are not alone in this venture. The Spirit of God is within you, empowering you to choose gratitude and bearing the fruit that comes from a thankful heart (John 14:16–17, 26–27; Gal. 5:22–25).