Does it ever seem surprising to you that God made the Israelites wander in the wilderness for 40 years because they grumbled? My kids may have spent 30 minutes in their rooms for griping, but 40 years? What a severe discipline! Ouch, it seems harsh.
God clearly is not pleased with grumbling. It doesn't make Him happy to hear His children complain constantly. Sound like any children you know?
Being grateful is a choice—not a feeling dependent on our circumstances—as we clearly see in the Pilgrims' lives. They believed that God was in control—"Providence," they called it. They responded to the circumstances of their lives with a perspective that said, "God has allowed this for our good."
John Piper has written in his book, A Godward Life:
Remembering our dependence on past mercies kindles gratitude. Gratitude is past-oriented dependence; faith is future-oriented dependence. Both forms of dependence are humble, self-forgetting and God-exalting. If we do not believe that we are deeply dependent on God for all we have or hope to have, then the very spring of gratitude and faith runs dry.
Gratitude is what we express when we take time every Thanksgiving Day to remember God's past mercies and provisions and then pause to thank Him for them.
The stories of those who have gone before us inspire our faith. When we consider those great saints listed in the "Hall of Faith" in Hebrew 11 or our Pilgrim forefathers or those men and women we know in recent times who have modeled great dependence on God, our faith is stretched and increased. Their example of placing all hope in Jesus Christ encourages us to do the same.
Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Those who sailed on the Mayflower knew their Bibles well. They were convinced that God existed and could only be pleased through faith (Hebrews 11:6).
Someone has said, "Faith is a firm conviction, a personal surrender, and a conduct inspired by your surrender." The Pilgrims were totally surrendered to God, and they believed that He was leading them to the New World. So they went, confident that He would guide and provide.
The Bible is full of verses on giving thanks. Our problem in America is not that we don't know we are to be thankful, but often we choose to complain instead. The Psalms contain a number of verses that call thanksgiving a sacrifice:
Offer to God a sacrifice
He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving
Let them also offer sacrifices of thanksgiving.
To You I shall offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and call upon the name of the LORD.
Why is it a sacrifice to give thanks to the Lord? Because being thankful forces us to take our eyes off ourselves and put them on the Lord. Giving up our self-focus is the kind of denial that pleases God.
As a nation, we have inherited a remarkable gift in our freedom to worship, but we have strayed far from our roots and heritage. We must return to the faith of our fathers. Developing a heart of gratitude is the beginning step in growing a stronger faith. Remember what God has done and believe that He will take care of us in the future.
Adapted from Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember by Barbara Rainey, copyright © 2002. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois 60187, www.crosswaybooks.org.