Developing the character of a disciple: Chapter 3 - cultivate thankfulness as a habit
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Cultivate the attitude of thankfulness until it is a habit

4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Philippians 4:4 (NASB)

18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV)

And now we thank thee, our God, and praise thy glorious name.1 Chronicles 29:13 (RSV)

It is good to give thanks to the LORD
And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; Psalm 92:1 (NASB)

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Psalm 111:1 (RSV)

16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. Ephesians 1:16 (NIV)

57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:57 (NIV)

17 I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving
and call on the name of the LORDPsalm 116:17 (RSV)

23He who brings thanksgiving as his sacrifice honors me;
to him who orders his way aright
I will show the salvation of God!"Psalm 50:23(RSV)

As children, most of us will have been told that we need to be thankful and to express it by saying so out loud. It's easy to see why. It's good manners and it makes us more pleasant to be with. However, there is far more to it than that. Having an attitude of thankfulness towards God, and also towards other people, has a major bearing on how well we do in the Christian life and how far we progress as disciples. An ungrateful, complaining Christian will not get very far. Moreover, such grumbling and moaning will displease God and we will receive God’s discipline as a result of it.

Consider the reaction of the Israelites after God had performed a whole series of miracles to get them out of Egypt. They were travelling away from Egypt and towards the Promised Land when they saw Egyptian soldiers pursuing them. It is understandable that they should feel afraid, but they went beyond that in their reaction. They began to complain about God and to say that it would have been better if He had left them in Egypt:

9The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh's horses and chariots and his horsemen and his army, and overtook them encamped at the sea, by Pi-ha-hi'roth, in front of Ba'al-ze'phon. 10When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them; and they were in great fear. And the people of Israel cried out to the LORD; 11and they said to Moses, "Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, in bringing us out of Egypt? 12Is not this what we said to you in Egypt, 'Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness."Exodus 14:9-12 (RSV)

The people grumbled on this occasion, but it wasn't the exception. It was the norm. They continued to complain about other things, and about the desert and the food in particular:

1They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 2And the whole congregation of the people of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3and said to them, "Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."Exodus 16:1-3 (RSV)

Although things were difficult, God provided for all their needs. He gave them food in the form of manna, which He provided supernaturally. Even so, that did not prevent the people complaining on a subsequent occasion when they faced another difficulty. This time it was lack of water:

1All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped at Reph'idim; but there was no water for the people to drink. 2Therefore the people found fault with Moses, and said, "Give us water to drink." And Moses said to them, "Why do you find fault with me? Why do you put the LORD to the proof?" 3But the people thirsted there for water, and the people murmured against Moses, and said, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?" 4 So Moses cried to the LORD, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me." 5And the LORD said to Moses, "Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand the rod with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, that the people may drink." And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7And he called the name of the place Massah and Mer'ibah, because of the faultfinding of the children of Israel, and because they put the LORD to the proof by saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?"Exodus 17:1-7 (RSV)

God felt hurt and angry when the people of Israel complained about these problems, and for focusing on what He had not done for them, instead of giving thanks for all the amazing things He had done for them. But it wasn't a one-off occasion. They kept on and on moaning. God felt it was so unacceptable that He eventually needed to punish them for it:

Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the LORD; and when the LORD heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.Numbers 11:1 (NASB)

But the grumbling didn't end there, and neither did God's anger. Therefore, when the people of Israel were still in the wilderness, God decided that all the people who were over the age of 20 at the time of leaving Egypt (except for Joshua and Caleb) would be allowed to die in the wilderness. He therefore made them wait in the wilderness for another 38 years while all those who had complained died off, one by one. They were never allowed to cross over and enter the Promised Land, all because they had complained repeatedly and been so ungrateful. That is how seriously God took this:

In this wilderness your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Numbers 14:29 (NIV)

God feels very strongly about ingratitude and complaining. He really doesn't like it. Therefore, if we have any sense, we will take note. What is the point of God telling us what does, and does not, please Him about our attitudes, if we then pay no attention and just carry on as we were? If we don't listen to Him voluntarily, then He will have to escalate to more drastic ways of correcting us. Why would any sensible person want that, when we could simply choose to listen willingly?

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