The two themes God gave to me for 2021 were ‘Authentic Worship’ and ‘Hearts of Gratitude’. I have already completed the blog series on Authentic Worship and now focus on the second theme. Although I am dealing with them separately they are tightly intertwined and cannot occur independently. In fact, the Lord just showed me today that you cannot have authentic worship without a heart of gratitude.
God will be testing the authenticity of our worship and whether we have hearts of gratitude. The test of gratitude can only be done through adversity. Gratitude is an attitude. It goes hand in hand with contentment. The opposite of gratitude is entitlement. A spirit of entitlement is akin to what I call ‘the spoilt child complex.’ The belief that I must get everything I want now and if I don’t I throw a tantrum. Unfortunately, that’s how many Christians are in their relationship with God. They see Him mainly as provider and blesser (if there’s any such word) and if they don’t get His blessing in the time they feel it should be given they are ready to complain and turn their backs on Him. We need a shift in mindset!! In academia we call this ‘a paradigm shift’. We have to start with the premise that we are here because God determined our days. He went further and through Jesus Christ has made available to every man, woman and child the gift of salvation. God so loved each one of us that He gave His only begotten Son so that we could have eternal life. This is the ultimate gift. If we get nothing else from God, we should be satisfied. Everything else is brawta. God owes you and I absolutely nothing but we owe Him everything. If we are able to come into that mindset, it will be easy to have a heart of gratitude; to be content with God’s provision, no matter how small or large it is.
Why do so many Christians struggle with gratitude?
It is human nature to want everything to go smoothly in our lives. We have been socialized into believing that you are only blessed if things are going right in your life. But God does not think like the world. As high as the heaves are above the earth so are His thoughts higher than our thoughts and His ways than our ways. God gives us clues that life will not always be pleasant and without trials and tribulations. The first clue is that we are told to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Doesn’t sound like a trouble free life to me. In James 1:2b, it says “WHEN you fall into various trials,” (emphasis mine). David spoke about walking through the valley of the shadow of death (Psa 23:4). He also tells us in Psalms 119:50, that God’s Word will comfort him in his affliction. There are others but I think we are convinced. So, why are we taken aback when trouble happens? Why do we so easily go into a tail spin when we are faced with the slightest adversity? Pain and suffering is a necessity for our maturity and to bring us into the image of Jesus Christ. I daresay this is why many Christians remain immature. They are unwilling to surrender to the crucible of God’s purifying fire on their lives, which is brought through adversity. They want to take the easy road. But we learn nothing and we appreciate nothing and we prove nothing about ourselves when we gain success on the easy road.
I said earlier that we need a major shift in our mindset. One of the contributing factors to why we think with an entitlement mindset is what we hear from the pulpit. Many of our church leaders have been guilty of watering down the word and only preaching the parts that will satisfy our ‘itching ears’. We hear from many pulpits and from international ministry leaders the constant message of prosperity and blessing.
Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Tim 4:2-4, NKJV)
We are in the time that Paul prophesied about to Timothy. Instead of our church leaders being leaders they are instead the followers of the people they should be leading. Why? Because they do not want them to leave the church. They are busy playing the numbers game rather than discipling the Body of Christ according to the full truth of God’s Word. They are selective in what they choose to share so as not to ruffle too many feathers. They make the kingdom of God appear to be a rose garden. But truth be told, they still end up losing their members because hard times will come, they cannot be avoided, and with it comes disillusionment because the God of blessing and provision does not show up as they were told He would and they have not been properly prepared to undergo the hardships and come out victorious. Many experience a crisis of faith. The prosperity message tells them that if they believe they will get all of the blessings and the promises God has stored up for them. Their leaders have conveniently left out the conditionalities that must be met for these blessings and promises to become a reality. Many are the afflictions of the righteous but the Lord delivers him out of them all (Psa 34:19). He will surely deliver but He didn’t say when.
We have been sold the story that God will never allow us to go through hard times because we are His children. Sometimes we make mistakes and we have to live with the consequences. But there are also times when we are walking uprightly but hardship comes. When this happens we immediately start the questioning. “What did I do wrong to deserve this?” Many times we haven’t done anything to bring hardship and suffering upon ourselves. Another question that goes through our minds when we come to the hard truth that all will not be roses and sunshine in our Christian walk is, “What is the benefit of being a believer in Jesus Christ then if I am still going to suffer? After all, when I gave my life to the Lord I was led to believe that everything would be smooth sailing after that. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I surrendered because of all the suffering I was going through by trying to do things on my own.” The difference is now God is with you. He has given you His Holy Spirit of comfort and of power and Jesus Christ (the Word of God), to sustain you and equip you to go through suffering and come out victorious, as pure gold. He does not prevent the suffering, He takes you through it. In Psalms 23 David said, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff they comfort me” (emphasis mine). Note that he knew he would have to walk THROUGH the valley of the shadow of death. God was not going to take him over, beneath, or around the dark times but He would be with him as he went through them. How can you live a life of victory if you have no battles to fight and have no battle scars to show?
Let us ponder a little more. Why would we need faith if everything is going to be easy and joyful? God says, “Prove Me” (Mal 3:10b). It’s only as we go through the storms of life that we will need to prove that God stands by His promises. It’s easy to praise the Lord when all is going well but it takes the sacrifice of praise to reach the heart of God. Our praise cannot be determined by what is happening in our lives. God is God no matter what. He deserves our praise just because He is God and for no other reason. That’s where the link is made between authentic worship and a heart of gratitude.
Nothing takes God by surprise. He is omniscient – the All-Knowing God. In Luke 22:31-32, Jesus had already prayed for Peter regarding the storm that he was about to go through. Jesus is our Mediator and intercedes for us, actually we are told ‘He ever makes intercession’, that means the intercession is persistent and never ending.
Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them. (Heb. 7:25, KJV)
Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. (Romans 8:34)
God has not promised to keep us from valleys and sufferings, but to make us fruitful in them (Francis Frangipane, Place of Immunity, 1996).
Over the next few blogs, I want to continue our meditation on this topic, by focusing our attention on three persons in the Scriptures who I believe epitomize ‘the heart of gratitude’ – David, Job, and Paul. I am sure there are others but these are the three the Lord dropped in my spirit. Hope you can join me.
Blessed Be Your Name https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTpTQ4kBLxA