In the classic movie Shenandoah, Jimmy Stewart plays a hard-working family farmer from Virginia who is doing his best to stay out of the conflict that becomes the War Between the States. In one scene he offers grace before a meal, praying,
“Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvest it. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t be eating it if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you Lord just the same for the food we’re about to eat, amen.”
Well, that sounds like a real salt-of-the-earth prayer, Jimmy, but let me ask you – where did the land come from? Or the soil, the seeds, the sun, the rain? The birds and the bees to pollinate your crops? The energy and the health you were given to enable you to work “dog-bone hard”? Who made the plants grow? Who takes that food that you have harvested and eaten and nourishes you by it? In fact when you look at it that way, your work is just a small part of the bigger miracle that takes food from the ground to the table to your belly to give you life. Everything is a gift. Everything is grace.
But we, like Stewart’s farmer character, cultivate ingratitude. In Romans, the apostle Paul writes:
“Since the creation of the world, God’s invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
At the core of man’s rebellion against His Creator is his ingratitude. Paul goes on to articulate all the ways that man abuses God’s gifts, including his own body out of his thanklessness for God’s good creation, law, order and blessings. The failure of man to be thankful to His Creator is the fountain from which all moral decadence and disorder flows.
One way to look at this is to see each of the ten commandments as a call to thanksgiving. Disobedience to each of the commandments is, at root, ingratitude.
Yahweh says, “You shall have no other gods before me”, be thankful to me that I am the God who delivered you. “You shall not make carved images to bow down to them and serve them”, give thanks to Me that I am the living God, and do not direct the praise due Me to a deaf and dumb idol. “You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain”, do not despise my covenant, but give thanks for My name and do not carry it lightly. Carry My covenant name in confidence and strength. “Remember the Sabbath”, stop and rest from your works, so that you can worship and be thankful for my works, and acknowledge my provision and care over you. “Honor your father and mother”, be thankful for the authorities I have placed over you. “You shall not murder”, be thankful for the gift of life. “You shall not commit adultery”, be thankful for your husband, but thankful for your wife. “You shall not steal”, be thankful for what God has given you, don’t take what belongs to someone else. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”, be thankful for your neighbor by loving your neighbor, protecting him with the truth. “You shall not covet”, be thankful again for what you have, do not snub what God has given you and crave what belongs to your neighbor.
Every sin begins with some dimension of ingratitude. Ingratitude, then, could be called “the mother of all sins.”
Ingratitude is a cancer that eats away at the morale and joy of churches, homes and workplaces. When you cannot go anywhere or do anything without registering your complaints and criticisms on how bad everyone is messing up… when nothing is ever just right… when nothing is ever good enough… when nobody does it the way you would do it… when you feel that you don’t have to be thankful because a thing just is not good enough to be thankful for… you are preaching the gospel of ingratitude with your life.
Repentance for this horrible attitude looks like thanksgiving. Find any little excuse to give thanks for the mundane, the ordinary, the out-of-the way blessings, the things we take for granted. Demonstrate your thanksgiving by expressing it all the time every day for everyone and everything God has graciously given you.
And don’t follow the example of the farmer from Shenandoah. Don’t steal all the credit for things you had very little to do with. Humble yourself and give thanks to God. For, as James 1:17 tells us, every good and perfect gift is from above.