Consider these good parents who have a truly fine daughter. These parents love their daughter deeply. And she is a daughter who would bring honor to any set of parents. She is considerate and respectful. She takes her education seriously. She is outgoing and makes friends easily, but is wise in selecting friendships. She is involved both at school and at church. And she naturally exhibits a good spirit and good attitudes.

But, like everyone, she is not perfect. She has a few habits that frustrate her Mom and Dad. In Mom and Dad's thinking, if she would just change these few habits, she would be the ideal person. They want her to be that ideal person for her own sake.

At first, her parents encourage her to change these few habits. In time, it is obvious that encouragement will not bring the changes they want, so they begin to insist. When insistence does not work, they demand. When demands do not work, they threaten. When threats do not work, they become angry and alienate their daughter. When she finishes high school, she leaves home determined to have as little contact with Mom and Dad as possible.

At any time in this stalemate, the parents easily could have listed all the wonderful qualities they appreciated in their daughter. At any time in this running confrontation, the number of qualities they admired vastly exceed the irritating habits.

But because the parents exclusively focused their attention and concern on her irritating habits, they rarely thought about the qualities they admired. They spent their time being frustrated about the few habits that irritated them. In time, their frustration became an obsession that blinded them to their daughter's admirable qualities. All they ever thought about were her irritating habits.

Because they were ungrateful for her many good qualities, because they focused only on the habits that frustrated them, they lost their daughter.

  1. Ingratitude is a powerful, destructive force that ruins people and relationships.
    1. We witness that truth in people's lives all around us; in fact, our extended families likely have experienced that truth.
      1. Too many wives lose husbands because small things that irritate the wife make her ungrateful for the many good qualities she admires in him.
      2. Too many husbands lose wives because the husband focuses so exclusively on the small things that disappoint him that he is ungrateful for the wonderful things that bless him.
      3. The same thing happens in congregations.
        1. The things that irritate us about each other are small and few when compared to the things we value and appreciate about each other.
        2. But when those small things capture our full attention, we are ungrateful for all the things we value in each other.
      4. In all relationships, gratitude is dependent on awareness--destroy awareness, and gratitude dies.
    2. We can easily fall victim to this same tendency in our relationship with God.
      1. In everyone's life, the dark moments, the fearful times, the times of distress and grief, and moments of intense loneliness are inevitable.
      2. Those are the times when we allow the distress of the moment to swallow us with discontent. Those moments are so powerful and can be so overwhelming that they move us to:
        1. Feel angry with God.
        2. Feel abandoned by God.
        3. Feel betrayed by God.
      3. When we are consumed with resentment directed at God, it is impossible to recall one thing that calls for gratitude.
        1. "What do I have to be grateful for?"
        2. "It is God's fault that I am having this problem; why should I thank him for anything?"
    3. If we are respectful, God understands and accepts our times of frustration and distress.
      1. Moses blessed me by helping me understand that.
        1. In Numbers 11:10-15, Moses was stressed out, and in his distress he was certain that God expected far too much.
        2. It was a horribly depressing moment in Moses' leadership.
          1. He had gone through the ordeal of getting Israel out of Egypt.
          2. He had endured the distress of getting them across the Red Sea.
          3. He had led them with all their moaning, groaning, and complaining to the Mount Sinai.
          4. He had successfully pleaded with God to spare their lives when they made and worshipped the golden calf.
          5. He had received the law, built the tabernacle, and instituted the religious orders and worship.
        3. After all of this--after seeing God work in the plagues of Egypt, after walking across the Red Sea on dry land, after being watered and nourished by God in the desert, after hearing God speak in a voice and seeing the presence of God on Mount Sinai, the people were deeply depressed because they were tired of having no meat to eat.
      2. After everything God did directly and visibly for these people, there was no gratitude in Israel.
        1. Every family was in their tent crying, and every man was standing at the entrance of his tent crying because they were sick of eating the same food day after day.
          1. What a disheartening sound--several hundred thousand depressed people crying!
          2. As they wept, they were asking themselves, "Why did we ever leave Egypt?" (11:20)
          3. God's anger was hot.
          4. Moses was beside himself with the situation--he was supposed to lead this mass of depressed people.
        2. It was more than Moses could take--he had had enough of this job and these people.
          1. He did not turn on God.
          2. But he clearly stated how he felt and what he wanted.
            1. "God, why have you been so hard on me?"
            2. "Why did you dislike me so much that you gave me the responsibility for all these people? Why did you put this burden on me?"
            3. "These people were not born because of me."
            4. "I did not promise that I would take care of them like a nurse cares for her child. I did not promise them that I would give them a land in order to keep a promise I made to their ancestors."
            5. "Where am I going to get enough meat to feed all these people?"
            6. "I cannot be responsible for them anymore--the burden is just to big for me."
            7. "If this is what you expect, then if you love me, please kill me right now."
          3. I find God's reaction amazing and insightful--he was not angry with Moses.
            1. He told him to select seventy men that he knew were capable of working under him and use them to help meet the burdens of leadership.
            2. Then he told Moses that he was going to feed Israel meat until they were sick of meat.
          4. Israel was so focused on their appetites they completely forgot everything God had done for them, and their discontent destroyed their gratitude.
          5. Moses was totally disheartened and distressed by an ungrateful people.
          6. God was angry at ungrateful Israel, but God was not upset with Moses.
      3. I learned one of my most valuable lessons about gratitude from David, the author of many of the Psalms.
        1. This is the lesson I learned: you can be both distressed and grateful at the same time.
          1. You cannot live this life without experiencing distress.
          2. It is neither healthy or wise to experience distress and not be honest about your feelings and emotions.
          3. But you can be honest about your distress and be sincerely grateful at the same time.
        2. David provides us many examples of this in his psalms, but let's note just a couple.
          1. In Psalms 13 David is stressed out because of the pain his enemies are inflicting.
            1. In verses one and two you can hear the distress as he questions God.
              1. "God, when are you going to notice my situation?
              2. "Are you going to forget me forever?
              3. "How long are you going to refuse to look at me?
              4. "How long am I going to have to endure this sorrow?
              5. "How long are my enemies going to be allowed to afflict me?"
            2. David is demanding in verses three and four.
              1. "Answer me, O Lord, My God.
              2. "Help me understand, or I am going to die.
              3. "If something does not happen soon, my enemies will be celebrating their victory over me."
            3. Obviously David feels defeated and very alone--and he is very honest about how he feels.
            4. But David also affirms his faith and gratitude in verses five and six:
              But I have trusted in your lovingkindness; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountiful with me.
            5. David's situation at that moment is extremely difficult, but David clearly trusts God and appreciates everything God has done for him.
          2. In Psalms 22:1, 2 David voices his distress to God, and about a thousand years later Jesus uses that exact statement as he died on the cross.
            1. When David made the statement, he was crying out in distress.
            2. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? I cry all day and can't rest at night, but you won't answer me."
            3. In verses 11-18 he graphically states how his enemies and evil people are troubling him--he is trapped in the center of a circle of strong bulls; he is poured out like water; his bones are out of joint; his heart is melting; and his strength is drying up.
            4. In verses 19-21 he cries out, "God, you are my help, don't stand so far off--come quickly and deliver me."
            5. His distress is painful and real--but so is his gratitude in verses 24-31: "I will tell all my brothers your name; I will praise you in the middle of the assembly; I will tell everyone to glorify you and stand in awe of you. I know that you are the God who takes care of the afflicted."
        3. David:
          1. Saw and fully felt the immediate.
          2. He was honest in his times of distress as he talked to God, honest about what he felt and honest about what he thought.
          3. If he was angry, or afraid, or felt abandoned by God, he was honest about it.
          4. But no matter what he saw or felt in the immediate distress, David never failed to see the "big picture," and he always held to the knowledge of all that God had done for him in his life.
          5. No matter how distressed he was, he always was grateful to God for being his Lord; he always glorified God; and his confidence in God was always greater than the distress of the moment.

You and I do not control what happens to our lives. What happens to our lives is not within the power of our choice. You and I do control our awareness. We choose to be consumed by the distress of the immediate, or we choose to remain aware of the ways God has touched and blessed our lives.

That is an important choice each of us makes. If we choose to be consumed with our distress and live in discontentment, even life's best situations are filled with gloom and depression. If we choose to always remember the many ways in which we are blessed by God, we are able live in gratitude even when we are experiencing distress. Then, in even life's worst situations, we will find light instead of darkness, find hope instead of despair.

Gratitude always blesses the grateful.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 1 December 1996

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