Updated: Dec 2, 2022
The Discipline of Spiritual Gratitude
It doesn’t take long to look around a Church or spiritual community and find problems. Whether it's an urban mega-Church, a small country community church, or a house-based small group, when people get together, problems occur, difficulties arise, and things can get ugly.
Now, to be fair, beautiful things happen as well. Through Jesus, Christians learn and are learning to bear one another’s burdens, meet each other’s needs, encourage one another in success and struggle, pray together, deal with sin in God honoring ways, and more.
But, there is a temptation, I think, for us to only look for the good and overlook the struggles. We try to hide, overlook, and/or dismiss the struggles because we see them as bad, or negative signs.
We tend not to highlight the struggles of our spiritual communities when we are inviting others.
“Hey, would you like to come to church with me? We have all kinds of struggles and problems!”
And yet, there is something to be said for the struggles of life in Christian community. Every Christian is growing more and more to be like Jesus. Each of us are in the process of maturing spiritually. We are all being sanctified. And, we are all in this process together; alongside one another. So, when I am struggling with, say, my anger and patience…guess who is going to see it? Those Christian brothers and sisters that I attend church or small-group with.
For a time, I might be known as the tough-to-deal-with guy; the guy with the short temper, or prickly personality. But, as time passes, under the influence of the Holy Spirit and the encouragement and patience of the Christian community, I can learn to be peaceful, patient, and kind.
We tend to overlook, dismiss, and hide the struggles of life together thinking they are wholly negative. But when we do that, we fail to see that problems are usually signs of a Church working out and applying the Gospel and seeking to live holy lives.
In his book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it this way,
Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things. We prevent God from giving us the spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for the daily gifts. We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly for the highest good. — And then, we deplore the fact that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experience that God has given to others (and we consider this lament to be pious). We pray for the big things, and forget to give thanks for the ordinary small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who does not thankfully receive from Him the little things? If we do not give thanks daily for Christian fellowship in which we have been placed— even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty— if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ. (pg. 29)
Don’t you see yourself in there? I see myself! We are so quick to criticize the hard things, not seeing that it is inside of those very things that God is often working for our good and His glory. This makes me think of the Israelites in their wilderness journey…Having been delivered out of Egypt, slavery, and struggle, the people quickly turn away from the God Who saved them, and begin complaining about….food, of all things! “We don’t like the food out here!”
Listen to what God tells them…And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.
Did you catch that? God fed them with strange food that was unsatisfactory in their eyes in order to teach them to long for a greater spiritual food. He made their bellies rumble, and let them experience physcial “hangriness” because their own sanctification needed it. The spiritual problems in Israel were not evidences of spiritual failure (although the people had failed) as much as they were evidences of God’s grace working and changing the people.
And in their silly anger, God reminds them, “I have made you struggle like this so that you will learn true spiritual goodness, and so that you learn to long for true spiritual food, and so that you remember that I am God.”
So, are you giving thanks to God for the small things, the difficult things, and the sometimes ugly things?
Perhaps He is at work in those struggles teaching you something wonderful!