Now that we have more… why are we less thankful than before?

June 11, 2023

woman in white elbow-sleeved shirt standing near white train in subway

I was just thinking, are young adults more thankful to God today than when they were young for all the blessings God has given?

I think not.

I can’t count how many times when talking with a young adult, how the conversation will turn to complains and anxieties when we touch on their job or their family. It will often start with “by God’s grace, ok naman…,” and then when you probe deeper, the complaints come out. Very rare will expressions of thanksgiving come forth from their mouths (unless they are sharing in a testimony segment in the church prayer meeting of course, when after narrating the problem, they will finish up with, “pero thanks God sa provision, strength, and good health”).

I think many people today complain more, are stressed more, are more anxious than they were before. Remember, these are people who a few years ago were praying fervently to be blessed by God with a job upon graduation. Now that He has given them a job, we often hear more complaints and less thanking. Why?

I posit four theses for this phenomenon:

Thesis 1: We simply do not thank God.

Thanking God is intentional. It is a command. We are commanded repeatedly to give thanks to God. Some may say, "well, I don't feel thankful!" Yet, we don't ponder why we don't feel thankful. We think it is because we haven't gotten what we are hoping for (even if you did, after two weeks you no longer feel thankful, right smartphone buyers?) We don't see the root cause. The root cause, is forgetting God and His role in your life.

The question is, why do we forget God? Many people think that it is because of their circumstances. When you ask an young adult, how is your spiritual life, the response often is, “I’m too busy, I forgot to spend time with God.” It is as if because of the circumstances of our work-life issues, we could not remember and spend time with God. Because Mr. Lim asked me to finish my programming code by tomorrow, or Teacher Advincula demanded that I change the exam questionnaires for the students final exam tomorrow, I have forgotten about God and my time with him. However, the problem I submit, is not with these claims of blaming the circumstances. The problem is, we believe those are the reasons we forget God. Yet God, in His Word, begs to differ.

“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Romans‬ ‭1‬:‭21‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This passage makes it clear - though we know God, we DID NOT honor him as God. We DID NOT give thanks to Him. The problem is not “you could not” honor and thank God, nor you “forgotten” to honor and thank God. The problem is “you do not.” What is the difference between these phrases? “You could not” speaks of ability. “You forgot” speaks of memory. “You did not” speaks of choice. It was our choice, and it is our choice when we forget God or when we don’t give thanks to Him. Why is it a choice? The word “honor” and give thanks” are words that tell us it is a choice. Honor means giving deference to someone because of their person or role. It means choosing to listen to Him first, to prioritize His opinion, or His command - simply because He is much scarier and much important compared to your team leader or grade supervisor. The problem is, we are more afraid of what our team leader will think of us more than what our Creator and Job-giver wants for us.

I am not saying we should be monks who will abandon all worldly care and isolate ourselves in the cave of Adullam or something. That will be against God’s command to work as to Him and not to men, and to obey your earthly masters. What I am saying is, before and during any tasks, have you taken the time to ask wisdom and consult with the Master of your master on how you will do the task required of you? Did you pause and drew near to the Wisdom over all earthly wisdom (namely google and ChatGPT) to ask for help in your time of need? Do you regularly come before His Word to seek His shaping of your heart, that you may do your work out of love for the Lord, and that you may be patient with the endless revisions your boss is asking you to do?

If not, then you know why you aren’t thankful to God and you complain. You do not abide with Christ - for apart from Him, we can do nothing. Yet, by not coming to him, you are attempting to do something apart from Him. That’s why you are frustrated. That’s why you complain.

Thesis 2: We think complaining is a legitimate expression.

Do you feel it's alright to complain?

Many think complaining is not only alright, but it is also a necessity. They posit that it is a necessary exercise if you don't want to be mentally exasperated. They say it's natural to complain, even to the point of saying it is your right to complain. Not complaining, will apparently lead to you being abused with more tasks at work. Not expressing your dissatisfaction may result in others taking you for granted. Not expressing how you really feel, may lead to severe depression and brokenness. Yet in that case, why didn't God praise the Israelites for standing up for their "right" to complain when they were in the wilderness? If complaining is good, why did God give prohibition against "complaining and murmuring?"

Why then is God against complaining? The answer: complaining is actually rooted in “not honoring God.” In the passage above (Romans 1:21), we hear what happens to those who “did not honor God” nor “gave thanks to Him: they became fools, and their hearts are darkened.

Darkened hearts complain.

Darkened hearts sees no wisdom in the trials they are facing. Darkened hearts sees their own made up solutions fail to bring the results they are hoping - whether it be joy in the 15th and 30th day of the month, or the resolving of family dramas not featured in GMA7 but in the dining table of their homes. Why? Because the heart is dark. It is blind. It does not see goodness in times of trial, only more darkness and more evil. It looks at every work-related instruction given with a lens of negativity, as if you are being oppressed and victimized by those around you. Frequent correction given on your work from your team manager is seen as the manager simply “pinahihirapan ka.” Add-on tasks at work are seen as “added stress,” a bane and not a blessing. When someone else at work does things without complaint, he or she is immediately judged as having ulterior motives, like being “pasispsip sa management.” A darkened heart cannot imagine one can do their work joyfully and thankfully.

Thesis 3: We see the past with nostalgia.

“I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.”

Psalm‬ ‭78‬:‭2‬-‭4‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Nostalgia means remembering our past with fondness and preference. We all do this, as we often look back at our past and see the past as if it was better than our present. When the Lord commanded the Israelites to look back at their past, to remember His deliverance and law, He was not commanding them to look in the past for fond memories and wish that we were back in our high school days. He was not instructing us to remember proudly how you and your friends were able to sneak past the school security guard and sing your favourite song by Kitchie Nadal in the karaoke spot at the mall (I’m dating myself here - they should do a rerun of “Lovers in Paris” tagalog dub!). He did not ask you to remember the good times in the past and wish you could go back to that time - while looking at the present troubles with disdain.

“He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.”

Psalm 78:5-8 ESV

He calls “fathers to teach to their children” the testimony of Israel’s past, not that they may look back in the past and hope it was their present (as some of them might be thinking, “if only I was walking with Moses, and recceiving the heavenly diet, I wouldn’t be busy running after idols to ensure my gluten-free diet.”). He calls them to remember their past so that they “should set their hope in God” in the present. They are called to remember how God delivered them powerfully from slavery in the past, that they may not “forget the works of God” which continue on in the present. They were to sing this psalm over and over again, that they may not be “like their fathers,” who was “stubborn,” “rebellious,” a generation “whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful” to their God.

We see the present with disdain, because we misunderstand the past and the present. We often feel the past is where God was present, while in the present God is absent. We often assume that God worked miracles in the past, while God works are limited in the present. We tend to think of the past is where we experienced God’s goodness, while the present we experience God’s bitterness. We think of the past is that delicious toblerone you have been craving for, and the present as a choco-mucho life.

The past is not all good. We are forgetful of the trials and pain we experienced, all because at best, we have overcome and matured through those trials, having seen the patience and character they have shaped in us. At worst, however, we forget the pain of the past, simply because we hate our present predicaments and we would like to settle in a place that is comfortable for us, a place that we are used too. That place is a country called “our past.”

Instead of looking back at our past while disdaining our present, let us remember the past, to strengthen our failing resolve to trust God in the present. Look back and remember the time you enjoyed serving God with your friends in church, that you may be assured that the God who enabled you to serve while you were busy in high school, will enable you to serve while you are busy with work. Look back and remember how God provided for your tuition fees and enabled you to graduate, that you may be encouraged to continue trusting Him everytime you feel that you are in trouble at work. Look back and see how God has kept your family together despite your many conflicts, to see that even if your parents have separated now, the God who kept you together, is far more able to restore and reconcile. Look back, and find that our God who is faithful before, remains faithful and trustworthy - for you to cast all your anxieties in work and in your family upon him.

Thesis 4: We think our strength and wisdom produced the fruits of our labour.

Why are we not thankful to God? Why is it ultimately easy to forget Him and His benefits? At the core of it, we mistakenly think that it is our strength and wisdom that produced all the blessings and accomplishments we have. We think that the reason why our co-teachers love our colourful and engaging lesson plans is because we think our robust lesson plan is the product of late-night typing, two glasses of Extra-Joss, and our justified rebuke of the noisy, irritating sister who is laughing out loud while watching her 15th episode of Goblin. We think that the HR management project that was implemented and earned big money for your startup company is due to your one-month dedication in slick, innovative coding, in-depth research analysis, one-hour a night powernap, and a commendable abstinence from Call of Duty (which you promptly returned to once the project was done). Yet, where did you get such strength and wisdom?

If we say I got it from food and top-notch education at the University of the East (or West, or Udemy), then the next question is as important as the first, where did all your source of inspiration, wisdom, and energy came from? Isn’t it because of the grace of God? Many eat and study well, then sleep, never to wake up again, while doing their project because of too much caffeine. Many keep their body healthy, only to collapse while running a fun-run. This is not mocking those who suffered because of their dedication for their work. Far from it. This is the reality: that “we live and move and have our being” because of God.

The sad thing is, we know all this. Yet we do our utmost to “suppress the truth.” Why? Because to recognize God as the source of all our blessings means fealty and loyalty to Him. A worker who knows the siomai stall he is working in belongs to the franchise owner, knows that he is at the mercy of the beckoning and command of that owner. He is not free to change the recepies or change the time in and time out of his working hours. He also knows also that anything he does will result not in his glory, but in the glory of the franchise owner who owns the siomai stall (I’m craving for siomai while I’m typing). That is what some of us are afraid of regarding God. We are afraid, if we recognize He is the source, that He gets to tell us what to do. We are afraid that when we do things while acknowledging Him as our strength, we will have no glory or praise due to us. We are afraid of not being able to post in our “IG story” the phrases “Thesis defended, TGBTG” with our faces smiling, and receiving words of “congratulations!,” “Ang galing mo naman!,” “Sana all like u,” and so on and so forth.

Second, we are afraid of the possibility of losing what we are supposed to gain if we feel we don’t have control. We are afraid of being made obscure, unrecognized, by our peers, and by our friends, if we lose the accolades of being “employee of the year” or being “most favourite teacher.” So as long as it is up to us, we feel that if we go beyond what everyone is doing, we will have a better outcome. Sure, it is commendable to “go the extra mile,” to give your best. Yet, giving our best must not be at the expense of thanking God and seeking Him and His righteousness. For the truth matters - you are able to work and experience success and commendations - because of God’s grace - who gave you strength, wisdom, power in Christ.

With that said. How then should I live in light of God being the reason for the fruits of my labour? One, sow where you are called to sow. Make effort in responsibilities in your life God has called you. when you are called to work, make effort in your work. When you are called to spend time with your parents whom you routinely ignore or send to the dungeon called the “K-drama binge-watching,” spend time with them. When you are called to serve the body of Christ, don’t mouth off an excuse like “my work is my ministry (which of course it is)” while ignoring the church’s “meeting together” to “spur each one to love and good works.” When you are called to rest on the Sabbath (Sunday for born-again Christians, Saturday or the day-off for those who have work in urgent sectors in society), trust God enough to rest. Rest in Him through worship. Rest with Him by enjoying time with your family and friends. In short, trust God to bring you the fruit of your labour not by overdoing or idolizing one responsibility over another, but by listening to Him and being guided by His Spirit and Word to do what you have to do for the day.

Conclusion: Now what?

If you reached the end, thank you Lord for giving you patience to read! You could have gone straight to the comments section and typed TL/DR, but you (hopefully) didn't. Kudos. However, now that we have seen causes to our thanklessness, what should be done? What is our hope?

If you see yourself in the mirror and see a thankless person. Repent. Bend your knee in prayer to Christ, and confess how evil you have been for not honoring Him and not thanking Him. You might say, that is too extreme! But is it? Is it not right, knowing how God responds to the thankless by "giving them up" to their sins and evils, to come before Him, crying out for His help? Haven't you cried and begged God for help when you were about to go for a job interview in your dream company, or when you were about to take your board exam? Haven't you pleaded God to save you from physical pain? Did you not see how big a problem is when you have a thankless heart? You have a darkened heart! Repent!

Yet, take hope, because Christ has given us reason to rejoice and give thanks. He saved us in love, and He keeps us saved in His sovereign love and power. This means, that He changes those He loves, and so He will surely and truly change your heart from thanklessness to thankfulness! Put your trust in Him as you cry out to Him!

Third, do what God told His people to do. (1) Choose to thank Him today. Thank Him for the coke zero you are about to drink. Thank Him for the 15th month pay you are about to use to pay your bills. Express joyful thanksgiving to Him when your boss gives you extra work. Even if you don't feel like it, do it. (2) Stop complaining! It is evil. If you are to complain, do it privately to God in your alone time with Him. He hears, and He will rebuke and change your heart, like a Father who disciplines yet comforts his crying child. Don't let complaining darken your heart. It does so by simple emotional expression. (3) Remember God's faithfulness in the past, to strengthen your resolve to trust Him in the present. You may not like your workplace. You may not like the toxic work-mates. You may be dreaming of a better past or a better future. Yet, since God has placed you where you are at present, draw near to Him, and listen to Him, until He either takes you to another place, or blooms you where you are. Finally (4) think of your accomplishments for what it really is: a reflection of God's goodness shining on you. You may be tempted that it was your hard work, innovative thinking, and (maybe) natural charisma that brought all this "success". However, you are merely a moon to the sun of His goodness, a single star among the billion bright lights of God's handiwork throughout the galaxy.

Now that you have more, let's be more thankful than before.

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