What gratitude has to do with God and pop machines
By Gaylord Goertzen
The summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college I worked in the office at a feedlot in Bakersfield, Calif. I enjoyed working in air-conditioning instead of outside in the 100-degree heat. One of my jobs was to fill the pop machine. Every morning I’d load the pop machine with a variety of pop, empty the coin box and fill the change tubes with dimes and nickels. All day feedlot workers would put their money in the pop machine, and the machine would give them a pop.
During the 12 weeks I worked in the office I heard employees say a lot of unrepeatable things if the pop machine jammed and didn’t give them a bottle of pop. But I never heard any of the workers say thank you when the pop machine delivered a bottle of pop. Why didn’t they thank the vending machine? Because the machine sold bottles of pop. The pop machine didn’t give them bottles of pop—they paid for the bottles of pop. When they put their money in the pop machine, the machine owed them a bottle of pop. You don’t typically say thank you when something or someone gives you what you are owed or are entitled to receive.
Learning to be thankful
In Colossians 3:15-17 God’s Word talks about gratitude and giving thanks: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do in word or deed do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
In these verses the Bible calls us to be thankful, to worship with gratitude in our hearts and to give thanks to God in all that we do. Our lives as believers are to be characterized by giving thanks. Why the emphasis on being thankful? It’s because giving thanks has to be learned; it doesn’t come naturally.
When I was a boy, my parents taught me to say thank you when I received something. If I forgot to say thank you they would remind me by asking, “Gaylord, what do you say?” Then I’d remember to say thank you. Learning to say “thank you” took time and persistence but eventually I remembered to say it without my mother or father reminding me.
Saying thank you and being thankful has to be learned not just by children but by adult believers as well. So how do we learn to be thankful?
Gratitude begins with God
Learning gratitude—learning to say thank you—begins by looking at God and not at ourselves. When most people give thanks, they look at themselves and what they have. If they have what they think they deserve or should have, they are thankful. If they don’t have what they think they deserve or should have, they are not thankful. However, for us believers, learning to give thanks begins by looking at God and what he has done for us.
What has God done for us? Psalm 103 tells us: “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord and forget not all his benefits: who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
When we, believers, look to God, we see all the good things he has given us. God forgives us, heals us, redeems us and renews us. He pours out on us not his judgment but his love and compassion. The Lord our God gives us good things.
What do we deserve?
We receive all of these benefits not because of who we are but because of who God is. Ps. 103: 8-10 tells us about God: “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love. He will not always accuse nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.”
Because God is gracious and compassionate he doesn’t give us what we deserve. We are sinners and deserve the wages of sin, which is death (Rom. 6:23). Instead God gives us what we don’t deserve. He gives us grace. He gives us the gift of eternal life and then pours out his blessings upon us as gifts of his grace. Gratitude comes as the result of recognizing that all the benefits we have received from God are undeserved gifts of God’s grace.
Imagine someone gives you a check for $10,000 and says, “This is a gift, enjoy it.” You’d be grateful, wouldn’t you? You’d have no trouble thanking the person for their generosity. Why? Because you recognize that $10,000 is a generous gift you did not earn or deserve but were given anyway.
However, if someone owes you $10,000 and gives you a check for $10,000, would you be grateful and thank them for their generosity? Probably not. Why? It’s because the $10,000 is not a gift; it is what you deserve, what the person owes you. You wouldn’t be grateful because you feel entitled to the money.
Gifts of grace
Ingratitude, not thanking God for his gifts, comes as a result of thinking God owes us something or that we deserve what he gives us. Ungratefulness comes from thinking we’re entitled to the benefits we receive from God. We are entitled to a bottle of pop if we put our money in a pop machine, we’re entitled to $10,000 if someone owes us $10,000, but we’re not entitled to God’s gifts. They are gifts of grace we don’t deserve, gifts we’re not owed or entitled to receive.
What happens when we’re not grateful because we think we’re entitled to God’s blessings? God becomes a heavenly pop machine. We think that if we put in the right amount of prayer and push the right button of good deeds we’re entitled to receive God’s blessings. If God doesn’t give us what we think we’re entitled to we gripe, grumble and complain.
But God is not a heavenly pop machine. God is our gracious heavenly Father who has poured out his grace on us. We have received generous gifts of grace we don’t deserve. Recognizing the lavish gifts of God’s grace leads to gratitude. We will bless the Lord and say thank you when we look to the Lord our God and see all the generous gifts he has given us. We will be grateful when we remember that all we have received is a gift of God’s grace.
Gaylord Goertzen is a retired Mennonite Brethren minister living in Hillsboro, Kan., where he is a member of Ebenfeld MB Church.