The Surprising Secret to Being Grateful No Matter What
We’ve all had those moments when someone else’s attitude makes us feel ashamed of our own. Minister Art McNeese telling this sermon describes one such occasion – meeting a 14 year old girl named Nancy who had just had part of her leg amputated from a dirt biking accident.
Despite undergoing an incredibly difficult trial, Nancy overflowed with gratitude and excitement that she still had most of her leg left. The minister admitted this young lady inspired him, but also challenged him. He wondered if he would have the same stellar attitude in her situation. Would you?
Nancy’s story provides the perfect lead in to the minister’s main sermon text – Exodus 16. It’s in this passage we see the polar opposite response to hardship. After just 30 days in the wilderness, the Israelites bitterly complain to Moses about their food situation.
Let’s pause and consider this for a moment. 30 days without their favorite meals compared to 400 years of brutal slavery in Egypt. Talk about first world problems! The Israelites seem to be suffering from a bad case of “the good old days” syndrome.
You know those people – they romanticize the past and gloss over all the not so pleasant realities. The Israelites forgot about those lovely whips cracking on their backs and the sweltering heat as they labored seven days a week to make bricks.
But now, oh how they missed the meat pots of Egypt! It’s easy to shake our heads at their ridiculous nostalgia. But if we’re honest, don’t we suffer from the same spiritual amnesia?
We look back fondly on our college days or even high school, not remembering the angst and insecurity that often accompanied those times. Or we miss our children being little and forget the sleepless nights and tantrums.
When going through wilderness times, it’s tempting to whine about our circumstances and falsely elevate the past. How do we combat this tendency? The minister offers three practical mistakes to avoid…
Mistake 1: Underappreciating God’s Blessings
The Israelites slandered God, accusing Him of leading them to the desert just to starve. But they failed to see His continued blessings – the guidance of the pillar of cloud and fire, the miraculous parting of the Red Sea, and His daily provision of manna.
It’s easy to dwell on what we don’t have rather than opening our eyes to see God’s gifts all around us. Every breath we take, each sunrise we awaken to experience, having clothes on our back and food on the table – these are all blessings from His hand.
During times of uncertainty or change, our vision gets blurry. We question if God will keep providing. Does His grace extend to this unknown next chapter?
Maybe you’re facing one of those scary transitions – a health diagnosis, job loss, moving to a new city. I urge you, don’t let fear cloud your vision to all the ways God continues to care for you. Recall specific times He came through in the past.
Art shared his own wilderness – needing to move his special needs adult daughter to a new care home. This transition brings all kinds of uncertainty since she is nonverbal. But remembering God’s faithfulness through 27 years gives courage that He will guide each next step.
What wilderness are you in? Make a list of God’s blessings – big and small. Fill your mind with reminders of His provision. Fight spiritual amnesia!
Mistake 2: Overreaching for More
The Israelites had a chance for a fresh start. God graciously gave them manna each morning – with specific instructions to only gather what they needed for that day. Why the restriction? He wanted His people to trust Him daily rather than hoarding up more than required.
But a few rebellious Israelites couldn’t help themselves. They stockpiled extra manna, only to find it rotting and stinking the next day. They overreached, failing to find contentment in God’s provision for the present.
Haven’t we all made this mistake? We Christians have access to the bread of life – Jesus Himself. He promised to satisfy the deepest longings of our soul. But we reach for counterfeit bread the world offers, thinking it will make us happy.
More money, a bigger house, promotions at work, the perfect spouse – we overreach trying to fill our lives with these things. And if we gain them, they inevitably rot and stink, leaving us empty again.
True contentment comes when we trust God to supply our needs for today. Maybe you’re facing a dilemma where the future feels uncertain. Follow the “manna principle” – ask God for just the wisdom you need for today. Not for tomorrow. Not next year. Just today.
Mistake 3: Going Around the True Source
The Israelites eventually grew tired of manna and demanded meat. God sent so much quail they literally got sick from gorging themselves on it. In doing so, they went around Him as the true Source of life and sustenance.
Centuries later, when the Israelites asked Jesus for manna, they still didn’t understand. They sought physical bread to satisfy temporary hunger pains. But Jesus offered Himself – the bread of life who alone can satisfy spiritual hunger eternally.
We do the same thing today. We surround ourselves with worldly comforts, entertainment and diversions thinking they will bring lasting happiness. But it never satisfies. Only a relationship with Jesus can fill the God-shaped void inside each of us.
Don’t spend your life seeking counterfeit bread. Feast daily on the Bread of Life. He alone can sustain you.
Cultivating Genuine Gratitude
We’ve explored mistakes that hinder gratitude. Now let’s discuss practical ways to foster it in our lives.
1. Recognize God as the Source of Everything
Do you view your blessings as gifts on loan or entitlements you’ve earned? Try this mental exercise – imagine a wealthy friend let you stay at his estate for a few months while he was away.
You enjoyed driving his cars, speedboat, and yacht. You ate the best food, golfed at the nicest courses. But then he returned earlier than expected. Would you be angry or complain the vacation was cut short? No – because none of it actually belonged to you in the first place.
In the same way, God has generously allowed us to enjoy blessings in this life. But we must keep perspective. Everything comes from and belongs to Him. Don’t take it for granted!
2. Remember the Benefits
Scientific studies back up what our grandmothers already knew – gratitude benefits us emotionally, physically and relationally. Adults who cultivate gratitude experience less depression, envy and discontent. They have more energy, optimism and happiness. Kids who act grateful do better in school and have fewer complaints.
How can you regularly remind yourself of these benefits? One simple habit is keeping a gratitude journal. Right down 3-5 things you’re grateful for each day. You can go back and read it when you need perspective!
3. Give Up Entitlement
Our culture promotes a “you deserve it” attitude. We start believing life owes us a trouble-free existence. When hardships hit, we feel cheated and bitter.
Entitlement is poison to gratitude. We must remind ourselves – we deserve nothing. Every breath is an undeserved gift from God. He owes us nothing, yet shows endless, patient grace.
Are you tempted to complain about your job, spouse or life circumstances? Catch yourself – you are not a victim. Thank God instead for what you DO have.
4. Thank People
Has someone blessed you but you’ve never properly thanked them? Showing gratitude strengthens relationships. Write them a heartfelt letter, not just a text. Look for ways to pay it forward.
Even better – thank the people close to you as a regular habit. Spouses, thank each other daily. Parents, commend your children for kindness. Coworkers, encourage each other. Imagine how this could revolutionize your home, office and friendships!
5. Serve Others
It’s hard to stay in a bad mood when you get involved in acts of service. Find ways to help out – take meals to a sick neighbor, send cards to shut ins, volunteer at a shelter. Not only will this lift your spirits, it will remind you of how much you have.
Gratitude Flows from the Gospel
Art concluded the sermon by coming full circle – reminding that gratitude flows from the gospel. He read Galatians 1:12, “Giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of His holy people in the kingdom of light.”
What an astounding truth! God declares us qualified to receive the inheritance of eternal life. But we know if this depended on our own goodness or righteousness, we would utterly fail.
Isaiah 64:6 says, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” We can never measure up or check enough boxes to earn salvation. Before God, we have zero qualifications.
That’s why we thank God the Father – not ourselves – for qualifying us. Only by Christ’s sacrifice can we be counted righteous before God.
2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” We give Christ our sin. He gives us His perfect righteousness.
Because of Jesus, we can stand confidently before God. Hebrews 4:16 invites us to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence.” We are qualified, not based on our own merit, but on Christ’s merit on our behalf.
Friend, if your gratitude has run dry, get back to the cross. Remember the enormous price paid to redeem you. God Himself, in human flesh, took the wrath meant for you. He was cut off so you could be grafted in. This astounding love is the fuel for genuine gratitude.
With Christ’s salvation secured, everything else pales in comparison. Yes, even cancer, bankruptcy or divorce cannot steal the joy and gratitude that flow from resting in the finished work of Jesus.
Do you want more gratitude in every situation? Keep the gospel central. Thank God daily for qualifying you through Christ. Allow this truth to produce humble awe and deep gratitude that will carry you through every wilderness.