Gratitude and grumbling

Numbers 14:26-27—And the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, “How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me.

The Lord takes gratitude, and grumbling, pretty seriously. Sure, sure, we’re grateful for Jesus, and we’re grateful for our families and for our health. Maybe we’re not grateful in detail but toss out a generic “thanks for everything.” It seems that gratitude, thankfulness, is more difficult and vague when we are prosperous and comfortable. Ironically, grumbling is easier.

Look at Israel’s situation in Numbers 14. The Lord had brought them out of Egypt, defeated their enemies, fed them, fed them something better, watered them and now brought them to the borders of the land he’d promised to give them. But they were afraid to occupy the land because of the challenges ahead. Behind this fear is the outrageous idea that God would not or could not deliver on his promises, as if he had not brought them out of Egypt, defeated their enemies and so on. A lack of trust was here a lack of gratitude—a grumble. The Lord judged it harshly.

I recently heard the testimony of a prayerful mother who thanked God that her homosexual, drug dealer son was, while serving a term in prison, safe in a place where she could find him. That’s humble gratitude from a lady who had learned that God answers prayer with good things we might not have  specifically sought. He saved her son while he was in prison, by the way.

How do you think of gratitude during a holiday season (Thanksgiving) when the word is used to market nearly everything? Is there anything you desperately need from God? Has God done anything for you, big or small? Yes, you do need something from God, and yes, he has done great and “small” things for you this year. Bringing those things to the front of our minds is an exercise of gratitude and an antidote to grumbling. 

Grumbling comes naturally, though. Our lives have not turned out the way we might have wanted. There are disappointments and even tragedies that dot our own journeys out of Egypt. It’s easy to concentrate on those things, to be bitter that we didn’t get our own way. We forget that if we always get our own way, we’ll never leave Egypt—we’ll never be saved from sin. When Israel grumbled they asked to go back into cruel slavery under a pagan king. That’s what we do when we are bitter about the way things have turned out.

We had a brief family upset a few weeks back, a bad car wreck, just a week after a glorious evening wedding for our daughter. It cost them money; it was several days of stress and worry; and it was a harsh lesson to a young family. Woe is us! I wish it hadn’t happened! But, we have a list of passersby, neighbors, friends, EMTs, a state trooper, the skeleton crew of a blacked-out small-town hospital, a kindly wrecker company owner and a local church—all that came out of the woodwork to minister to our kids and to us. These servants of God helped in ways ranging from cutting a tree off our fence (all this happened during a violent storm) to distracting our grandson while Grammy took the initial call from our daughter to two college freshman prying my daughter out of their wrecked car. I am humbled to see the way God worked to save our kids from nearly every harm and to provide for every need that arose during a crazy week. We are richer for the experience because we know not only our own fragility but also the expanse of God’s provision. I can make a list to cover this page of things and people for whom I’m grateful. I wouldn’t grumble over the money or the car or the inconvenience. I wouldn’t think of it. But what now?

If I’ve learned anything from God, if I truly am richer for the experience, will I trust God for the next bigger thing without fear, faithlessness or grumbling? How do I inoculate myself from the temptation to gripe about every upward step of faith?

I think the answer is based on a discipline, a habit of counting blessings great and small. The drug dealer convict son I mentioned earlier posed for a photo with his mother and her list of things for which she thanked God as she prayed each day. It looked like an adding machine tape covered with handwriting. I find it easy, when I stop, listen and think to see any number of things that God has provided to me each hour of the day. And I confess that I don’t stop, listen and think about those things often enough.

Don’t let our cultural cluelessness about giving thanks ruin Thanksgiving. While others are flippant about “Turkey Day” or speak of giving thanks without any object of our gratitude, we know that the God who holds our future is the one who has brought us through many “dangers, toils and snares.” He is the one who makes turkeys and then makes the food available for our tables. He’s the one who allows us a place to sit and eat the food and so on. Give thanks, but not just generally, and certainly not on only one day. If you do, I expect you’ll be tempted to grumble for the other 364 days of the year.

Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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