Saturday, December 10, 2011

Entitlement vs. Gratitude

"Gratitude is a beautiful thing. There is no Christianity without it. It is at the heart of worship. It should fill the heart of every believer."  --John Piper

Last week during Ladies' Bible Study, we touched on this topic just a bit as an extension of a "Vending Machine God" discussion. We agreed that pretty much every person has a tendency to treat God like a vending machine, expecting that if we do a, b and c, He should give us exactly what we want and deserve. This is flawed logic for so many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that none of us *really* want what we deserve. But on the other hand, God does give us amazing gifts every single day that we should enjoy. And this is just as difficult for some as avoiding entitlement mentality. Many struggle with feeling guilty over enjoying common graces like a nice meal out or a new pair of boots, etc. There is constant tension in the Christian life between these two extremes, and if we were to poll 10,000 people as to how often we should eat out, buy new things, etc, we would likely get 10,000 different opinions. The truth is that there are way too many factors to set hard and fast rules as to how this should look specifically for every single family. But certainly there are diagnostic concepts we can examine to figure out where we land on the spectrum.

Those who eat out more often than they prepare meals at home and then complain about more of the meals than they compliment might have an entitlement problem.

Those who "redecorate" their homes every 2 years and find that it is never quite what they want it to be might have an entitlement problem.

Those who find themselves angry with people who don't serve them perfectly might have an entitlement problem.

Those who exceed their budget each month or even find themselves going into debt for unnecessary items (but things that they *really* want!) might have an entitlement problem.

You see the pattern, I'm sure.

But don't misunderstand. I'm not condemning eating out, redecorating, or even enjoying good customer service. My point is that we should examine the condition of our hearts in regards to these things. If we see them as gifts, we are much more likely to be grateful for them, and gratitude and entitlement can't live in the same heart at the same time.

Since it's Christmastime, let's consider the following example:

Little Sammy gets up early Christmas morning to open up his gifts. None of these things are items he particularly "needs." They are gifts from people who love him and enjoy making him smile. When he opens the gifts, he is happy and thankful. He hugs all of the givers and tells them how much he appreciates their gifts. In the following weeks and months, he takes care of the items and uses them as they were intended, and each one brings him great joy. I'm guessing no one sees a problem with this scenario.

Now let's change it up a bit. Little Sammy gets the exact same gifts as mentioned in the above scenario, but rather than hug or thank anyone, he wants to know why there isn't more. He whines about one of the items being the wrong color and cries because another item isn't fun to play with unless he has 3 other items to go with it. He mentions to each of the givers that he gave them a list of everything he wanted and wonders why they didn't just follow the list. And in the following weeks and months, he doesn't take care of the items and doesn't even use them since they weren't exactly what he asked for. The givers are the same, and all of the items are the same. But this scenario is basically a disaster. Why? The only difference is the condition of the recipient's heart.

Certainly there are examples of excess all throughout our culture, and many of us are guilty of pursuing and expecting things that we shouldn't. But sometimes there are material things and experiences in our lives that I believe God intends for us to receive and enjoy as good gifts from Him with the kind of gratitude that expels any and all thoughts of entitlement. We don't deserve anything good. At all. So let's choose to be grateful when we get it anyway. Merry Christmas!

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