Retraining a Thankless Heart: A Sermon Recap
Repetition can be a comfort or an annoyance. We enjoy the comfort of familiar patterns. They often bring security. Other tasks that must be repeated like the daily commute through interstate traffic can be annoying. Spiritually, repetition is generally helpful in that it serves as a constant reminder. For the Israelites, much of their worship was in the vein of repetition. The psalms were often memorized and repeated during times at the Temple or synagogues to help them build up their thankfulness toward God. We all know that the patterns of life can dull us toward God’s work. It is why we often need to retrain our thankless hearts.
1. Repetition helps a forgetful people.
Psalm 136 repeatedly uses the phrase “His love is eternal” (HCSB). The repetition of such a phrase builds up a spiritual muscle memory. Professional athletes will train on a certain spin move, catch, or shot during practice. They will do it thousands of times so that they can complete the play once in a game. You and I likely will not do that but we have muscle memory as well. For example, you can walk in a room and turn on the light switch without thinking about it. You body is trained to reach to just the right spot because of muscle memory.
We need to develop a spiritual muscle memory through the worshipful repetition of passages like Psalm 136. Moving from mere mimicking what it states to a heartfelt gratitude for what it means. The psalm gives a quick summary of the redemptive history for the Israelites. God had for them and is now for us delivering us because of His love. The Hebrew term used for love is hesed and it carries the idea of a covenant love. It is why the psalmist would say that “His love is eternal.” God holds a loyal love for us that we should repeatedly thank Him for and know that it will never end. Nevertheless, we often let something get in the way and cause a thankless heart.
2. Our natural state, because of sin, is to be unthankful.
Paul stated in Romans 1:21, “For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened.” Speaking about the Gentiles of Rome, they sound a lot like the Israelites of the Old Testament. Forgetful about God’s grace. Futile in their thinking. Foolish in their hearts. When we turn from God’s work, we plunge our hearts and minds into the darkness of self-deification. We make ourselves into our own gods and refuse God’s rightful place in our lives. It is birthed from our sin nature. Sin poisons gratitude because it interrupts worship. It sets us on an idolatrous throne of selfishness. John Calvin said, ” The human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols” (Institutes Book I.XI.8-9). In other words, our heart is a factory for idols.
We must be careful because of how we interpret our circumstances. If things are going bad, we accuse God of ignoring us or not caring. Then, when things go well, we think He is looking out for us. In truth, God is using all the circumstances of our lives to help us see how He is at work to mature us. We need to learn to honor God for who He is so we can thank Him for what He does.What matters most is not whether we like what is happening to us but what we believe about God. When we believe God is in control of all things, all-wise, infinitely good and loving then we can believe that He is working; even in our pain. It is here that our thankfulness is properly rooted.
3. Grace-giving leads to thanksgiving.
To the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “15 Indeed, everything is for your benefit, so that grace, extended through more and more people, may cause thanksgiving to increase to God’s glory. 16 Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. 18 So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” He reminded the early believers that our thankfulness toward God is rooted in His grace toward us. Now, we should extend grace to others so that they can also show thankfulness toward the Lord.
But all of this still happens in the real-time events of life; which can be harsh. The repetition of thankfulness points us towards the truths that our pains are light and momentary. Though they feel heavy and permanent, God is lifting our eyes to what is eternal. Namely, He lifts our gaze toward Himself. We pass along this great gospel because grace should never be hoarded. The mission of God included you but it did not end with you. Through our witness, we can give people the ultimate reason to be thankful. In this holiday season, be celebratory about your own salvation and evangelistic for the salvation of others. As you root your gratitude in the grace of God, it will retrain a thankless heart through the repeated worship of our gracious Savior.
As Paul proclaimed, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15).