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.
What are you praying hardest to God for now?
We've all had searing, heart-cry desires weigh on our souls. Tear up our insides. Hollow us out in an anguish of wanting. Drive us desperate as nothing seems to be changing, to be happening, as we ask God yet again to grant us our desire, feverish with impatience.
I've had desires, all right. I didn't want them to come between me and God, to become something which embittered me and alienated me, which dulled my awareness of His goodness. But on the other hand, they weren't wrong--right?
Hebrews 13:5-6 was maybe the last place I expected to find guidance. It didn't mention patience, or God's wisdom, or even trust. But it dealt with the heart of the matter nevertheless.
I realize, reading it for Search the Scriptures, that it was a very simple guideline.
Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.' So we may boldly say: 'The Lord is my helper; I will never leave you nor forsake you.'
Christians, of all people, should be at once the most content and the most hopeful. Their reason for being content is an ultimate and complete one, because we believe that our God is the source and essence of all goodness and power--and we know that He is with us. Hebrews 13 reminds us that Christ Himself has promised to be with us, to never leave us nor forsake us, and that with this most important need met, we have all we need to be content.
On the other hand, this reason for our contentment is also the reason for our hope. We believe that God can do great things in this fallen world, and since He is all-powerful and all-good, we have the best reason to hope for the best. What Hebrews 13 warned was the line between hope and covetousness.
Covetousness is basically understood as a 'strong desire, especially for material possessions.' It usually has the implication of greed, that you already have, but desire more. It suggests a restless discontent and a one-minded drive to fulfill a desire--not a need.
Our hope should be balanced by our contentment, so that we desire things not because of self-gratification. Our desires are based on a foundation of contentment with what we have in Christ, and what God has given us. Our desires are shaped by our desire for God's glory and our trust in God's goodness. Our desires should not arise from discontent with our current situation but desire for increase in God's glory, increase in what pleases God.
Hopeful, but contented.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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