Ungrateful is an ugly word.
Even before I studied King Lear, I had a horror of being ungrateful. My parents taught me to say thank you to people who gave me things or were kind to me. I very naturally adapted the Chinese mindset of being deeply responsive to other people's generosity as well. (''oh thank you thank you...aiyo I feel so paiseh...don't need lah...aiya thank you..." Growing up included hearing these and other catchphrases of what I called 'polite quarrels'--over who paid the bill. )
Discontent, however, doesn't seem quite so serious. It's easy to be discontented without offending anyone, without anyone realizing, even. Now, though, years later and as a Christian, I see that discontent and ingratitude can be linked, and can have a significant effect on your spiritual life.
Search the Scriptures for Psalm 106 came down pretty heavily on the OT Israelites for their sins of ingratitude and discontent, or the 'despising of God's blessing.'
I used to have a rather low opinion of the OT Israelites as a kid, reading the Bible with the mindset of an experienced storybook reader who knew what to expect, where it was foreshadowed, and how it would happen. Would those people never learn? Didn't they at least remember their history? And AGAIN it happened for the number what time...Sheesh.
I changed my opinion when I realized that the Israelites' behaviour, silly as it might seem, was really a reminder of how I too behaved--less obviously, perhaps, but basically the same mistakes...
I too, was guilty of discontent and ingratitude. It was so easy to discount what God had done in the past, which had felt so real and convicting then, to focus on the present dissatisfaction. But that was then...things were simpler then. I didn't have this desire then...or I had that then.
The Israelites' discontent and ingratitude reflected a subtle but sinful sense of entitlement, an indication that after experiencing God's goodness they had adopted the drink-machine mentality towards Him and His blessings. They wanted Coke--but not just any Coke--Coke Zero. They speculated that the machine was surely spoilt when their canned drink seemed to be taking too long to arrive; grumbled that they'd wasted their money.
Discontent and ingratitude disregarded the past and elevated the NOW--specifically their skewed opinion of what they needed NOW. It caused them to judge God based on a feeling rather than a track record.
Discontent and ingratitude ate away at their faith, that foundation of their covenant relationship with God.
Discontent and ingratitude means we are unwilling to trust Him for the now, and ungrateful for the past.
And faith, as we know, is not based on circumstances but on our knowledge of the nature of God--as we learn from His Word, and from our experience.
Guided by Search the Scriptures, I took a look at the parables in Matthew 13 in a way that better befitted a lit student.
I had always found parables fun but rather enigmatic; my imagination was often more attracted (or rather, distracted) by the scenes and images they conjured, than to the deeper meaning they gave to the framing story. Especially Matthew 13's rapid succession of brief, tableaux-esque parables. (boom! there goes a short attention span and a hyperactive imagination)
Search the Scriptures, however, gave a guideline to interpreting these parables, as the different ways individuals may enter the kingdom of heaven. Immediately I saw a great white light--all the scattered parables came together, beads strung on one necklace, complete in unity. That redemptive aha! moment that balances the love-hate relationship I have with symbolism and literary analysis.
The field parable illustrated how some people stumble on salvation unexpectedly, like discovering hidden treasure in a field. It is all the sweeter and more precious for being unexpected. The pearl merchant parable, in contrast, illustrated how others have been seeking truth, beauty, perfection, fulfilment, meaning, and finally find it in the Gospel. Their experience makes them more and more discerning, better at seeing flaws and shams after having been taken in, so that finally they can be completely convinced and confident that this is the pearl worth all other pearls, and more.
Similarly, the parable of the fishermen depicted how the Gospel draws both the 'bad and the good'--those who are truly saved and those who are not--but it's not obvious at first; all that can be seen is a messy net full of writhing fish of all shapes and sizes, all colours and weights. Maybe the beautifully patterned one with shimmery scales turns out to be poisonous, though it catches everyone's eye. Maybe the one you thought was fat and succulent turns out to be just a pufferfish full of frightened air. Maybe the ugly pockmarked one has the most meat, or the flat, skinny looking one that looks all bones actually tastes the sweetest. Soon, once the fisherman sits down to sort out the fish, the bad ones go overboard, and there's no more confusion. But for now, it doesn't matter; for now, you can't really tell, amid all the thrashing tails and spray and wet scales, and you would be foolish to insist on sorting the fish at once, to try to toss out all the unwanted ones now. Perhaps why we keep assuming that we need to sort, to know NOW, is just one of the Devil's ways of distracting us by busying us over useless tasks. Perhaps our assumption that there should only be good fish in the net is his means of stumbling us when we inevitably bump into a bad fish.
And then Search the Scriptures threw a sudden curveball question, stopping me short after leading me this far: what do these parables illustrate as the condition of true enjoyment?
Both the field digger and the pearl merchant had the same response when they found their treasure, regardless of their different backgrounds and means; they 'sold everything they had' in order to possess it. Such a dramatic response is surely intriguing. I remember thinking back to my own experience and realizing yes, that was the feeling I had felt when seeking (in my case, like the pearl merchant); wanting, desperately, to possess for myself that elusive treasure, to know what I had to do to get it. Please, O God, hear me...please, God, give it to me, show me how to get it...I don't know how after all, but I want it more than ever...
Receiving the Gospel is a whole-hearted commitment that we can only make room for by kicking out something else. We can only accept the Gospel if we're willing to sacrifice our sin. There has to be an exchange of sorts, so to speak; we must see it, and feel it, to be so valuable that it's worth this exchange.
If we don't have to lose anything in exchange, if it doesn't cost us anything so to speak--that says something about its value. We're probably settling for some second-rate imitation, a pearlescent plastic bead.
The condition of true enjoyment entails a cost.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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