Dear Church, we have a gratitude problem, and it’s not what you think.
We seem to have conflated the concepts of gratitude and worship, and so much so that many of us can no longer tell the difference. When we think about what it means to worship God, all too often our focus is reflecting on all the ways God has been good to us and all the ways we’ve seen His faithfulness in the form of blessings and earthly provision. Even listening to some modern worship songs can often reveal just how much the focus has shifted from who God is to what God has done for us.
As I begin to get deeper into writing my upcoming book about suffering, I’ve had to stop and reflect on this question: why it is that the modern church seems to have lost its way in regards to suffering? Why is my generation genuinely struggling to cope with pain and affliction and still keep the faith? I think part of it has to do with this “gratitude problem.” When our focus drifts away from who God is and we fixate instead on looking for God’s faithfulness in what he does for us? We shift our perspective, and we’ll ultimately weight our understanding of God by our own circumstances and experiences.
It often starts innocently enough: we see God move in an incredible way to provide for us, or we hear a testimony of His power and faithfulness to a fellow believer, and we say to ourselves “See? God is so good.” There is of course truth in that statement, God is so good, but the problem is when we assign that goodness to Him only in light of the ways we see Him provide for us. We use our limited perspective of what we believe is good and just and fair in this life, and start to see that as a measuring stick for our understanding of God’s faithfulness. Sure, we know God is good when He gives the miracle baby to the faithful couple who have spent 10 years waiting and praying, but is that WHY we know He is good? Do we believe He is good when the couple that tries for 20 years never gets a miracle of their own? Do we believe He is good when cancer and disease take our loved ones seemingly too soon? Do we believe He is good when the deepest desires of our heart are the very things He says no to? Do we believe He is good when we don’t have such obvious “proof” to hold up to show it? When we begin to focus too much on the testimonies of the things God has given to us as the proof of God’s character, then it shouldn’t be surprising when hard times lead us to question our faith or even God’s love for us. After all, if God’s gifts to us are the evidence we look for to prove His love and ultimately His goodness, how can we be sure of Him when our prayer seemingly goes unanswered?
One of the ways I’ve tried to become more intentional about combating this issue is in prayer. We have used a very simple model in our home to teach our boys about prayer. Each night when we have bedtime prayers, the boys have followed the same pattern: first they thank God for at least three things, then they pray for at least three other people, then they can pray for themselves (which always includes an apology for sin and a request for forgiveness, as well as asking God to help them not to make bad choices and to make good choices,) then we tell Jesus we love Him and say Amen. I had always felt pretty good about this model, and my own prayer time usually followed a similar pattern as well. I wanted to make sure there was always a focus on gratitude before making requests, so that we never fell into the bad habit of seeing God as a genie granting wishes or a person we only come to when we want something. Recently I realized though that we were forgetting a very important aspect of how we should be relating to God – worship. There was nothing in that model of prayer that gave time to really reflect on who God is and to show Him the worship He deserves. So we’re altering our bedtime prayer pattern to add a new beginning. Before anything else, right after “Dear God,” we make at least three “You are” statements about who God is. “You are holy.” “You are wise.” “You are strong.” “You are everywhere.” “You are the Creator of everything.” “You are the God who made me.” “You are perfect in all Your ways.” No matter what they choose, it gives us all a chance to reflect on God’s character and to worship Him – not for what He has given to us, but simply for being God.
Dear Church, let’s work to separate our worship from our gratitude. Let us remind each other regularly that our God is not good because, our God is simply good. Full stop. Period. End of Sentence. Let’s commit to having worship services where we not only sing about what He has done for us, but more importantly of who He is. Let’s boldly share our present tense testimonies, the stories of those who haven’t yet reached the promise land, had the miracle baby, received the healing, or otherwise put the bow on the end of their story – but who still proclaim unequivocally of the goodness of their God. Let’s intentionally seek to teach our children to see God less as the provider of the things that bring us joy, but rather the fullness of our joy itself. Let us really worship God and not simply show Him our gratitude, for He is so very worthy of our praise.