Combating the Spirit of Entitlement with Gratitude
Thankfulness in a culture of entitlement (or, a tree in desert)
In Exodus 13-15 God brings a startling multi-stage miraculous deliverance of Israel from Egypt. It’s truly breathtaking, culminating in the miraculous dividing and crossing of the Red Sea, and the destruction of the powerful Egyptian army pursuing them. If ever an intervention of God would be unforgettable, this surely was it.
But before Exodus 15 is completed, Israel had already forgotten! A few days of travel and they are thirsty. This is understandable. God is not insensitive to their needs or ours. So do they fall on their knees thanking God for their deliverance, and humbly asking Him to provide them water? No, they grumble and complain and whine, and accuse Moses, and by proxy, God. (This passage proves that the spirit of entitlement did not begin in America, but we are perfecting it as an art form.)
The people find water, but it’s bitter. They complain further. Moses throws the branch in the water, and it’s purified. Grateful for the moment, they swear they’ll never doubt God or Moses again. (Showing that we need more than periodic moments of gratitude, we need an ongoing spirit of gratitude to God that becomes the lens through which we view life.)
The Israelites in the wilderness are unbearably similar to us. When their circumstances are good, they see God. But as soon as their circumstances turn bad, they forget Him and all they have to be thankful for. It’s as if present trials blot out and negate God’s past track record of faithfulness.
Luke 17:11-19 tells the story of ten lepers who were all healed of their leprosy but only one of them returned to say “Thank you.” He ran back to Jesus, praising God for His incredible goodness to him. Jesus asked him, “What happened to the other nine that were also healed?”
God preserve us from such attitudes!
Ingratitude is not just wrong thinking—it’s the source of endless wrong thinking. An ungrateful person not only offends God, but is also the source of his own misery, and a cancer to others, spreading his misery. Ungrateful people are not only ungrateful to God but to their families and friends and co-workers and neighbors. They’re ungrateful to their church leaders, and quick to judge and condemn everyone for falling short of their standards.
Others must be blamed for the injustices they have to put up with. Everyone is at fault, including those who drive too slow or too fast, who steal that parking space they had their eye on, who grab up that sweater on sale they were looking at.
We live in a culture where there is a spirit of entitlement—where we think we deserve all of these great things. If something doesn’t go our way, we feel like we’ve been robbed and deprived. And even when a person gets what they think they’re already entitled to, they’re not grateful for it. After all, “I deserved it!”
In contrast, Puritan pastor Richard Baxter wrote, “Resolve to spend most of your time in thanksgiving and praising God. If you cannot do it with the joy that you should, yet do it as you can.... Doing it as you can is the way to be able to do it better. Thanksgiving stirreth up thankfulness in the heart.”
Baxter is right—expressing gratitude makes a grateful heart. Children who learn to say thanks become more thankful. Gratitude is a wonderful perspective-shaping habit.
Psalm 107 begins, “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the LORD say this.” The psalmist details the sufferings of God’s people, wandering in desert wastelands, without homes, hungry, and thirsty. “Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress” (verse 6). For their deliverance he says, “Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things” (verses 8–9).
It is God’s will that you give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). This is something that is built into what it means to be a follower of Christ. Thankfulness should draw a clear line between us and a Christless world.
If the same spirit of entitlement and ingratitude that characterizes our culture characterizes us, what do we have to offer?