(Im)Perfect: The Ungrateful Heart

One of my favorite Christmas memories is from the Christmas when I was 10.

Our Christmas Eve tradition was to go to my grandparents’ house with all my aunts, uncles, and cousins. We’d have takeout pizza, snacks, and copious amounts of desserts. Then, someone would read the Christmas story, and, like magic, Santa would show up with presents for all the grandchildren.

This seemed like any ordinary Christmas Eve.

All the events of the evening were going according to plan–pizza was consumed, the Christmas story was read, and, sure enough, Santa had arrived in his glorious red suit with his bag of gifts for all the good little boys and girls.

Admittedly, my 14 yr old brother was getting a little old for the whole “sit on Santa’s lap” routine. But, for some reason, adults in the 80s always thought it was funny to humiliate their children in these types of situations. So, my brother and I both took our turns awkwardly sitting on Santa’s lap.

When all the grandkids were successfully humiliated, the green light was given to open our gifts.

So, here’s the thing about our Christmas Eve Santa presents–the moms of all the grandkids bought the gifts that would go into Santa’s bag, and for some reason, my mom thought this would be a good year to get my brother and me both hair dryers for Christmas Eve.

Yeah, I know. It’s been 30+ years, and I still don’t get it either.

You know all those lessons you teach your kids about how they’re supposed to react when they get a gift, no matter what the gift is? The ones where you tell your kids to smile and say thank you even if they hate the gift?

Clearly, that lesson was lost on my brother.

We still have this scene on VHS tape.

My brother was appalled at the gift of a hair dryer.

He reacted in none of the politically correct ways he was supposed to react.

In fact, his exact words were, “a hairdryer? What’s a 14 yr old boy supposed to do with a hairdryer?”

I can still the look of absolute astonishment and indignation on his face at this gift.

No one really knew what to say.

My mom was appalled.

My dad was probably laughing.

Here’s the irony of this situation–my brother really did use a hair dryer on his luscious locks every morning!

He couldn’t see past his outrage at the situation long enough to be grateful for the gift he received that actually met one of his needs.

We laugh as we look back on this situation now, but sometimes I wonder if we’re all that different, even as adults, than my 14 yr old brother?

Attitude of Ingratitude

I just finished a study of Deuteronomy.

It was tough.

Did you know Moses spends the first nine chapters of Deuteronomy preaching at the Israelites over and over and over again to not turn their backs on God when they finally enter the Promised Land after wandering around in the wilderness for 40 years?

Nine chapters.

That tells me one of two things–either they were really stubborn or Moses didn’t have anything else to say.

I’m pretty confident it isn’t that Moses was running out of things to say.

No, it was definitely because the Israelites were stubborn, and, as Dr. Phil would say, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

The Israelites had some notorious past behavior.

Let’s just take a minute and reflect on the history of the Israelites (disobedience and lack of gratitude in bold):

  • God led them out of Egypt as a pillar of fire during the night and a cloud during the day (Exodus 13:22)
  • God hardened Pharoh’s heart, and he pursued the Israelites after they were around 75 miles away (Exodus 14:9)
  • The Israelites panicked, but God parted the Red Sea for the Israelites to cross when Pharoh’s army caught up with them (Exodus 14:13)
  • The people were in awe of God for about a month after he rescued them from Egypt before they started complaining about not having enough food (Exodus 16:1)
  • God provided Manna (Exodus 16:13-14)
  • The Israelites traveled for a week and then started complaining because they were thirsty (Exodus 17:3)
  • God provided water from a rock (Exodus 17:6)
  • The Israelites spent a year at Mount Sinai where they decided to build a golden calf to worship while Moses was getting the ten commandments from God (Exodus 32)
  • They left there, but could only travel at night when God was leading them as a pillar of fire (Exodus 40:38)
  • After two years of traveling, the Israelites were on the cusp of the Promised Land (Numbers 13)
  • The spies go into Canaan and return, but only two of the twelve think it is safe to enter (Joshua 14)
  • God refused entry to the Promised Land for the other ten spies and anyone else who was over twenty at the time–except Joshua and Caleb. (Numbers 1: 29-31)
  • The Israelites spent forty years wandering in the wilderness because of their lack of faith (Numbers 14)
  • The Israelites attempted to attack the Amalekites without God’s blessing and were attacked by the Canaanites and Amalekites in return.
  • There was a rebellion against Moses after this. God sent an earthquake that swallowed them and their families, and then God killed 250 young men (Numbers 16:1-40)
  • God gave the Israelites victory over the Canaanites (Numbers 21:3)
  • The Israelites started complaining again (Numbers 21:5-6)
  • God sent serpents to bite and kill the complainers 
  • When the Israelites were within 50 miles of the Promised Land, they rebelled again (Numbers 21:21)
  • When they were less than a day’s walk from the Promised Land, they rebelled once more by sleeping with Moab women and worshipping their Gods (Numbers 25:4)
  • The Israelites were told to destroy all Midianites, but they didn’t and angered God once more (Numbers 31)

Do you see a theme here?

God consistently comes through for the Israelites.

They’re happy for a hot minute.

They start complaining again.

God provides.

They’re happy for a hot minute.

They rebel.

They endure the consequences.

God provides.

They grumble.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

The Ungrateful Heart

I have always struggled with this story. 

My gut reaction when I read it is, “Seriously? How could they be that ungrateful? How could they not see how God provided and protected them constantly?”

As I’ve aged a bit and lived a little more life, my judgment has softened.

The reality is that we’re not all that different from the Israelites, are we?

It’s so easy to find ourselves in these same types of patterns, isn’t it?

At the heart of gratitude is contentment, which means at the heart of ingratitude is a lack of contentment. We might not be wandering around in the literal wilderness, but if we aren’t careful we can easily find ourselves suffering from that same discontentment and ingratitude that plagued the Israelites.

  • We forget how God provided for us in the past.
  • We take our eyes off the battle God is fighting for us in the present.
  • We get caught up in the bigger and better mindset and fail to see all the blessings we currently have.
  • We know God’s timing isn’t our own, but we try to control the timeline anyway.
  • We build our own golden calves out of our jobs, our success, and our salaries.
  • We’re lured in by the allure of social media.
  • We spend more time on our devices than we do with our God.
  • We try to save ourselves instead of relying on the grace and sacrifice of our Lord.

As I sit back and look at the hills, valleys, mountains, and wildernesses of my life, I have no room to judge the Israelites because I am no different than they were. 

Good News for the Ungrateful Heart

There were clear and distinct consequences for those Israelites who lacked faith, disobeyed, and rebelled against God. We see that throughout Deuteronomy, Numbers, and Joshua. 

But, there was a great reward for those who were faithful.

That’s the hope we have to cling to today.

Thankfully, we don’t live in a world where God sends vipers to bite us and destroy us or earthquakes to swallow us and our families when our hearts rebel. We have the hope and promise of God’s mercy that is new every morning.

We’re all guilty of ingratitude, rebellion, and disobedience at times.

I pray that if you are struggling with these things today, God will prick your heart, and you make the choice to make some changes, but I also pray that you will show yourself some grace today–knowing you aren’t the only one and that there is always hope for tomorrow.

Reflection Questions:

  1. When in your life have you acted the most like the Israelites?
  2. What made you change?
  3. Are there any areas in your life where you are acting like the Israelites now?
  4. What can you do to make some changes away from that lifestyle?

Success! You're on the list.

6 thoughts on “(Im)Perfect: The Ungrateful Heart

Add yours

  1. I feel the same. I use to get so mad at the Israelites, but God has humbled me and I see myself so often turning His blessings into burdens. Thanks for the encouragement and reflection questions. Pondering a grateful heart today.


  2. I loved the hair dryer intro here! Isn’t this so characteristic of us throughout our entire lives! I find that if I’m not intentional about gratitude, I default to grumbling. This one really spoke to my heart today, friend! Thank you!


  3. Oh what a great story!! I can’t believe he then went on to use this hair dryer so much!! Such a great illustration today, Kristen! And I loved how you tied it into your reading of Deuteronomy. Be blessed today!


  4. Such a powerful post! We often read these stories in the OT of the Israelites constantly turning away from God, disobeying God and suffering the consequences of their actions – and it can be quite frustrating to read! But we struggle with the same thing! So important to have a grateful heart: one that yearns to be more like Christ and less like the world.


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