The spiritual disciplines of remembering and gratitude (part 1)

It’s my opinion that gratitude should be added to the list of spiritual disciplines. Gratitude is not meant to be left to spontaneous moments. It has a short half-life and ages quickly. When we feel content with our lives, it is easy to forget that what we have is not of ourselves; it is all from the Father.

You may recall the story of the 10 lepers in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus healed all 10, but only one came back to thank him. Jesus responded, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine – where are they? Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17). The one who returned was a Samaritan – not the first time Jesus held up one from this group (hated by the Jews of that day) as an exemplar. The other nine took Jesus’ healing as somehow being their due – revealing an entitlement mindset that many of us can have.

We have a holiday devoted to this idea of gratitude. And yet, Thanksgiving seems to be more about gorging than gratitude. There’s a perfunctory, almost embarrassed prayer offered up around that time, because we’re not accustomed to gratitude as a habit. It’s foreign to our daily routine. But thanksgiving is what we really should be doing every day, all year long.

Moses, in Deuteronomy 8, laid out the importance of remembering in this iconic text on gratitude:

Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
Deuteronomy 8:11–14

Moses went on to remind them that God had cared for them in the desert place, providing for and protecting them:

He led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water; He brought water for you out of the rock of flint. In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know.
Deuteronomy 8:15–16

All of this God did to humble them, with their good in mind (8:16). Then comes the key phrase – the warning of what would happen if they did forget God:

Otherwise, you may say in your heart, "My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth."
Deuteronomy 8:17

If they forgot God, then rather than seeing God as the giver of everything, they would become either proud and presumptuous on the one hand (if things appeared to be going well), or they’d become bitter and resentful (if things started going badly). Either of these attitudes, presumption or bitterness, is a result of ingratitude, which ultimately stems from forgetting God. And both attitudes are sinful, preventing God from being able to work in our lives and yield the “peaceful fruit of righteousness” that He wants to produce (Hebrews 12:11).

Either of these attitudes, presumption or bitterness, is a result of ingratitude, which ultimately stems from forgetting God.

So the question is, how do we guard against ingratitude by ensuring we don’t forget God?

Gratitude in all things

God, through Moses and the prophets, warned his people again and again not to forget him in three different ways. Specifically, they should not forget God for his:

  1. Deliverance in the past
  2. Benefits in the present
  3. Promises for the future

If they forgot God in any one of these areas, ingratitude would result, leading to missed blessings and missed opportunities for growth. And the same is the case for us.

The past

Sadly, despite the warnings of Moses and the prophets, Israel did forget. Hosea tells us God’s perspective:

Yet I have been the Lord your God Since the land of Egypt; And you were not to know any god except Me, For there is no savior besides Me. I cared for you in the wilderness, In the land of drought. As they had their pasture, they became satisfied, And being satisfied, their heart became proud; Therefore they forgot Me.
Hosea 13:4-6

Hosea goes on to detail the terrible consequences the people would suffer for their forgetfulness. Their forgetting led to ingratitude. And ingratitude led to negative consequences, even destruction and calamity.

How about you? What is your reaction after God brings you through the land of drought? Do you remember his deliverance and faithfulness when you’ve arrived to the “pasture” (a point where you feel satisfied with your life)? Or do you, like the Israelites, take your eyes off of God and let that subtle sense of pride seep in, as though you were the one who achieved your own success?

Remembering God’s past faithfulness is a daily and intentional task. Forgetting him is always a possibility. It’s easy to slip into a mindset of thinking our abilities contributed to our success. This is foolish. Not one of us sat around in a primordial cafeteria selecting the attributes we’d have. Some of us may simply be tempted to believe we contributed to our success through our hard work and devotion. Yet, God alone has the power to raise us up in a day, and he has the power to bring us down in a day (see the stories of Joseph and King Nebuchadnezzar in the Bible). Anything we possess, and any skill we have, is derivative. It’s all gift and grace.

True humility is attained not by trying to become humble but by remembering who we are in this world and who God is, and recalling that everything we have is a gift from Him.

In times of difficulty, forgetting the past can lead us, as it did the Israelites, to a heart of ingratitude – causing us to grumble, complain, blame God, and fail to grasp that he always has our best interests at heart.

Whether we become ungrateful and proud or ungrateful and bitter, either posture ignores this reality: everything we have and everything we own is from the hand of the living God. He has the power to give and the power to take away. We should never suppose that our hands made our wealth (tangible or intangible). He himself gives us life and breath. As 1 Corinthians 4:7 reminds us, there’s nothing we have that we didn’t receive from him.

This is the key to humility. Humility isn’t the result of trying to be humble. (That only produces perverse forms of pride – “I’m humble and proud of it.”) True humility is attained not by trying to become humble but by remembering who we are in this world and who God is, and recalling that everything we have is a gift from him.

This article is an edited transcript from a teaching session Ken Boa delivered in November 2017. Watch here.

Read part 2 of this article.

Photo: Joshua Earle, Unsplash

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