For the past few weeks morning classes at Vision of Hope have been filled with reading Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy by Nancy Demoss Wolgemuth. The residents have been challenged to please the Lord by giving thanks for everything, whether that is the little things that we have never even thought to give thanks for, or the hard circumstances in our lives and how God is using them to shape us to be more like Jesus. God commands we give thanks (1 Thessalonians 5:18), and His good heart knows that it is truly what is best for us all.
Through all of this, the Lord has also been teaching me about contentment and how thankfulness and contentment go together. Before reading this book with the residents I had been reading through a devotional called Contentment: Seeing God’s Goodness by Megan Hill. “Seeing God’s Goodness.” Kind of sounds like seeing the reasons to be thankful, doesn’t it?
In this devotional, she uses Jeremiah Burroughs definition of Christian contentment which is “that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” Contentment is about humbly trusting God and where He has us in life, even if His plans turn out to be different than what we thought or wanted.
Thankfulness and contentment both require humility and believing that God knows better than we do. Both require trusting God only gives us what is best for us, relying on the truth of Psalm 84:11, “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” God is our light and our shield. He will not permit circumstances in a believer’s life if they are not what is best for each of His children. As Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” God’s thoughts are beyond what we can comprehend. As John Piper has said, “In every situation and every circumstance of your life, God is always doing a thousand different things that you cannot see and you do not know.”
But how often does the pride in my heart fight against God and His good plans for me, leading me to grumble and complain rather than rejoice and be thankful for His gracious dealings in my life? Often I have read the truth of Romans 8:32 that states, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” and said to myself, “Yeah, but right now Jesus doesn’t seem like the ultimate gift because this other thing does. God is holding back the best.” How nasty my heart and disgusting my pride! When my heart is like this, I am most definitely not grateful. I am not worshipping God, and I am not loving others. I am focused on myself and what I think I deserve, need, or think is best for me.
In Choosing Gratitude, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth teaches how ungratefulness is just as much a hideous sin as the rest. She shows how in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 ungratefulness is in the same list as lovers of self, arrogant, abusive, heartless, slanderous, and brutal, all of which are under the heading “Godlessness in the Last Days”. We need a big heart change to get out of the pit of ungratefulness and discontent.
Thankfully, there is a way out! It is through the blood of Christ. We can stand on the truth that if Jesus took our sins of ungratefulness and discontentment on Himself and defeated their curse on the cross, we can walk in victory and in thankfulness. This is not possible on our own, but through God’s mighty strength (Philippians 3:14). Believers are now dead to the sin of ingratitude and alive to Christ (Romans 6:11). Psalm 30:11-12 says, “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” It is God Who is able to change our hearts to make us grateful and contented people, receiving as a gift what He has ordained for our lives. He is worthy of this trust, and He has proven this by sending His Son to die for our sins, taking the blame for our ungratefulness. Not only that, but believers now have the perfect record of Christ’s thankfulness on their accounts. Just think of it, in Christ it looks like we have never complained about anything but have always given thanks to God about everything.
Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth confesses that gratitude is hard work and will require sacrifice (Psalm 50:23). But we know scripture states that God’s laws are perfect, “reviving the soul” and the rules of the Lord are right, “rejoicing the heart” (Psalm 19: 7-8). Working hard with the Lord’s help to be grateful is worth it, and it brings much glory to our all wise God.