My coonhound Oliver is a good dog. When we went camping last month, he found himself a small, dirty rag to sleep on. He scratched at it from every direction, spinning round and round until the bed was just right, and then plopped down with a satisfied groan. This was not a groan of discontent, but rather an expression of gratitude. Oliver doesn’t care that his bed is a dirty old rage; he is simply being grateful for a master who feeds him and takes him camping. So if a dog can be happy with so little, why are we so unappreciative? One little thing can send us flying over the edge. Maybe it’s because we get up every morning only because we have to, grumble our way through the day, and lastly go to bed knowing that the same scenario waits for tomorrow. Adam and Eve found themselves in a similar situation in the Garden of Eden. They had so much to be grateful for, but chose to rebel instead. All their needs were covered by God, yet they chose to sample the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, opening the gates of sin, and condemning man to a life of ingratitude. Indeed, the Bible tells us that as Adam was being evicted, the first words out of his mouth were, Lord, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit, and I ate it.’
Rather than giving thanks for the Garden, Adam chose to blame God for getting kicked out. It’s not that getting up in the morning is so difficult. It’s getting up knowing that we’re not going to receive what we think we are entitled to from other people. They say that the only guarantee in life is death and taxes, yet we expect much more than that from the people we deal with. We expect them to guarantee our happiness. It seems that the bigger our sense of entitlement, the more ingratitude we exhibit. We experience life through our demands, and struggle to balance our giving with other’s taking. Then, when our perception of giving is dwarfed by their taking, we become downright ungracious and unappreciative of their efforts. We can’t control what others do, but we can control our reaction to it. If we don’t control our reactions, the feelings of entitlement often lead to more disappointment and dissatisfaction. The words from the song, Love is Blue, “Green, green my jealous heart” describe one of the chief components of ingratitude. Jealousy. It’s been around for a long time. Shakespeare described jealousy and ingratitude as a green-eyed monster in the tragic play, Othello.
The bible says in James 3:16 “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” Envious people are everywhere, going through life angry over the seemingly unearned blessings which are given to others. They want the same advantages and resent people for what they have. It’s impossible to be grateful when you covet your neighbor’s belongings. By comparing what we don’t have to what others possess, we reduce our ability to appreciate the blessings in our own lives. Many people believe that money brings happiness. This is because we have all been indoctrinated to be good consumers and all success is judged on a scale of financed wealth. However, the Bible tells us that “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” It also states in Matthew 6:19, ““Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. “ Gratitude provides perspective in life, and those who lack appreciation miss the big picture. Life is not all about me. No one wants to associate with disagreeable people and such people miss out on the connectivity that we all take for granted. It’s distressing to think of all the good times that have been forfeited because of ingratitude. No one really thinks of themselves, or likes to think of themselves, as an ingrate, but according to a study conducted by the Royal Society Open Science, Americans were found to show gratitude “less than 14.5 percent of the time”.
This means that approximately 85.5 percent of the time, Americans did not express gratitude and they showed a lack of appreciation 6 times more often than were grateful. It’s a big problem because ingratitude affects how we perceive our quality of life. My dad challenged us to compare our positive statements against our negative statements. He said that a good ratio would be 10 to 1. I took him up on his challenge and found my ratio to be exactly 10 to 1…in the wrong direction! Nowadays, my goal is to bring the ratio to parity, or roughly one nice statement for every critical statement. Oh yeah, just thinking something nice doesn’t count; you actually have to do it. With all the blessings that we enjoy as Americans, you would think it might be tough to see EVERYTHING in a negative light.
I mean, it takes work to count all the problems and dilemmas surrounding every situation and then to spew out vitriolic words on our friends and family. Actually it’s not–if you practice, and I’ve had 13 years to perfect this rather unworthy skill. On the other hand, it’s easy to see things in a positive light, even when problems arise. My friend, Julie, is just like this. Even when something goes wrong, she looks for the silver lining. And if she can’t find one, she simply states that something good will eventually come out of whatever she’s going through and it’s all part of God’s master plan. According to R.L Adams, “Gratitude can improve your life by strengthening your faith. There’s a deep appreciation for things that arise when people are grateful.” In fact, it becomes instilled into their very being. Therefore, it strengthens their faith and belief in all things. “For me, it’s my belief in God and the realization truly grateful for everything in my life, including my problems.” Gratitude can transform your faith by instilling the belief that you’re not alone; whatever it is that you’re going through will pass, and you’ll emerge victorious. You’ll accomplish your goals, overcome your obstacles, and become a better person, one who’s more compassionate to the troubles of others. As a result of all of this, you will be able to search for opportunities because you realize that what you have truly is enough, and that the focus must be caring for the spiritual and physical needs of others.
That’s when true spiritual enlightenment begins. Gratitude is important because it is giving ourselves permission to finally be happy. Today I am grateful for food, shelter, clothing, the list could continue forever. Unfortunately, for many, these luxuries don’t exist. But anyone’s list can be simpler than that. I’m also grateful that I can smile, that I can walk, or even that there is fresh air to breathe. Many times we forget about these things until they are lost. Just like how my dog Oliver is extremely grateful for that small dirty rag, I can be grateful for the small things in my life. Oliver is not focusing on how he doesn’t have a five-star hotel bed to sleep on, but basks in the blissful ignorance of knowing that his needs are covered. He knows how lucky and fortunate he is to have a place to sleep at all. In the same way, count your blessings instead of your misfortunes. You will never run out of either, but I choose happiness. Gratitude can truly change and transform your life. But it doesn’t happen overnight. Nothing ever does. Even when things are going terribly, I know that I can be grateful for a God who cares. Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
We always have things to be grateful for, if we trust in the Lord. ] There is no need to force our adversary to do anything when God can shoulder the burden for us. Current Housing and Urban Secretary Ben Carson has said, ‘Just do our best and let God do the rest.' When we truly put our troubles in God’s hand, we can afford rest. Being grateful and content is not about what you have, it’s about who you are inside. Ungratefulness doesn’t happen by accident but we are part of why it happens. The Bible states in Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.” Whether you know it, you always have things to be grateful for. Did you see the sunrise this morning? It was beautiful. Whether you fell like it or not, still rejoice in the Lord. If you don’t feel like being grateful, then that’s even better because it’s sacrifice. It can something as simple as being grateful that you didn’t honk at that person who took the last space in the mall parking lot. We can be grateful because we have a God who promises to protect us all the time. When we are grateful, our light shines through for others to see the work that Jesus does in our lives.