I have a love/hate relationship with a lot of the character traits Christians should have. I love that they exist, but I hate how elusive they seem to be. Take humility, for example. This is one of the defining characteristics of a Christian: to pursue humility earnestly, embracing it as Christ did, who “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Philippians 2:6). But it’s one that seems to be rarely seen among Christians. Or at least in me, certainly.
But aside from humility, there’s another character trait that always seems to escape me: a thankful heart. This is one that comes and goes. There have been times where I say I’ve most definitely been characterized by gratitude. I believe it was a Tuesday.
And then there’s the rest of the time.
But it doesn’t happen all at once. Ungratefulness develops slowly. But where I first notice it is in my prayer life.
While reading Tim Keller’s Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, I was hit hard by what he shares about the purpose of praise in the life of a believer—and the reality of what a lack of praise is:
Cosmic ingratitude is living in the illusion that you are spiritually self-sufficient. It is taking credit for something that was a gift. It is the belief that you know best how to live, that you have the power and ability to keep your life on the right path and protect yourself from danger. That is a delusion and a dangerous one. We did not create ourselves, and we can’t keep our lives going one second without his upholding power.… We have a problem with thanks and praise, and yet praise is the alpha prayer—the one kind of prayer that properly motivates, energizes, and shapes the others. (196-197)
It hurts, doesn’t it?
That’s really what a lack of thankfulness is. Cosmic ingratitude is the essence of sin. It’s a lack of desire to honor the One from whom all blessings flow. And this brings me back to my prayer life and how I see ungratefulness rear its head:
All I do is ask for stuff.
It’s just petition, petition, petition: the grown-up equivalent of CanIhaveapooldadCanIhaveapooldadCanIhaveapooldadCanIhaveapooldad?
It’s not that petitions are wrong, obviously. God wants us to ask Him for our daily bread—He wants us to bring our needs before Him—but if that’s the sum total of my prayer life, something’s broken.
What this boils down to is praise puts us in touch with reality. When we lack praise, we are living in a fantasy world. And I don’t want to live in a delusional fantasy world, one where God exists to meet my needs as though He were a cosmic butler.
Thankfully, we have a way out. And it’s simple: learn to praise Him because “praising him helps us enter the real world and enjoy him more fully” (203).
This is an area I’m slowly growing in. And it’s not fun because I have little people watching me grow in it (I’d much rather be good at it right now, y’know?). But it’s the kind of world I want to live in. The kind of prayer I want to offer. And the kind of habit I want to develop. What about you?