It seems like such a small thing, yet it can cause great discouragement.
I know I’m not the first to experience it, but it can plummet me into loneliness.
It can be a subtle attitude or it can lead to outright hurtful behaviour.
It’s the opposite response from what is expected.
Its quiet, its ugly, it’s heartless…it’s human.
Anyone who has served others, in their job or as a volunteer, has no doubt experienced it. For me, when left unchecked, it has the power to send me straight down the road to depression.
I’ve been serving God in ministry for almost 20 years. I’m the pastor of a church of nearly 200 people in the 99% Islamic nation of Turkey. The majority of our church’s members were formerly Muslim. I live and I serve in a place of many serious religious, cultural and political challenges. And yet, sometimes, this simple attitude of ungratefulness can be the most overwhelming challenge of all.
Ungratefulness is not particular to culture, or age, or gender. Its not a modern phenomenon. In fact, we see it in the Bible.
Jesus told the story of the Prodigal Son who was dissatisfied with his wealthy life in his father’s house. There were the ten lepers who received healing but only one of them returned to thank Jesus. The grumbling Israelites in the desert. They even grew tired of their daily manna which God provided. Moses himself was overwhelmed by their ungratefulness.
Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people?” Exodus 17:4
So I know its not just me that becomes discouraged by the grumbling voices around me.
Over the years, I have served in many situations that were stretching and exhausting to me. And some that were just plain awkward.
I’ve also served in many ways that were exciting and invigorating. I’ve done things that have deeply blessed my soul. Some things I never expected to do in my lifetime. And surprisingly many of those experiences brought me great joy.
The amazing people who serve with me in my church have sacrificed so much of their time to help others. We’ve driven miles and spent hours looking for a missing family member. We’ve wrapped and carried the bodies of church members who have passed away. We’ve sat for hours with the sick and dying. We’ve worked to help find solutions to the financial problems that have overwhelmed church members. We’ve shared the gospel with interested unbelievers for hours. We’ve spent more time teaching and discipling new believers. We’ve also been able to help people in practical ways: we’ve given car rides, registered kids in school, helped people move, found donations of furniture and appliances for the needy, visited refugees, counselled and prayed with people, and mediated arguments. We’ve spent evenings away from our families. We’ve been called away at night.
And why do we do all these things? Well, for some of us its our job and we get paid to help people. But more than that we do it because we care about people and we serve them out of the love and gratitude we have in our hearts for what Jesus has done for us.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves. Philippians 2:3
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:58
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17
It is truly our desire to honor God by serving others. To place more value on others than we do ourselves. To give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord.
And although we know our reward is in heaven, we often get consumed with the immediate here and now. Often instead of seeing the fruit of our labor, we see something entirely different in the attitudes and actions of those we serve. Their ungratefulness can be overwhelming. The same people we serve, often criticize us and our offerings and complain to others about what we could have done better or how we could have given more. Sometimes people leave the church over unmet expectations. Some even slander the church’s name. Others stick around and make unreasonable demands on our time and resources.The grumbling can be consuming.
So what can we do when we are ready to cry out to the Lord as Moses did, “What am I to do with these people?”
There are a couple of things that I have learned to do that are helpful…
First of all, I try to make it a habit to practice gratefulness myself in my daily life. I make an effort to count my blessings, to focus on the positive and to thank those who help and support me. Its also helpful for me to focus on other individuals who also express gratitude in their lives. I rejoice with them over the good things God has done and I’m thankful for them and for their attitude of gratefulness.
Second, with the ungrateful, I always have to remind myself that I cannot change their hearts. Many of them have faced very difficult things in their lives and it is not my job to judge their brokenness. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t set boundaries with those individuals. It is ok to say “no” to unreasonable requests and expectations. We do have to evaluate and ask God for wisdom with these types of people.
Third, a practical thing I do when I am directly dealing with someone who is grumbling or complaining, is to remind them of the ways that God has blessed them. I don’t hesitate to remind people of the ways the church has served them in the past either. It can really be a teachable moment when I sit down with someone who is feeling quite negative and turn the conversation to one of counting blessings together.
Over the years, I’ve become more aware of how this seemingly small irritation can become a disease that eats away at my heart. The negativity, the complaining, the dissatisfaction can truly bring me down. It can even keep me from pouring myself into the work I know the Lord has given me to do.
And I’m certain I don’t fight this battle alone. The ungrateful may be overwhelming, but we can take comfort in the One who sees our efforts and never forgets our work.
God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. Hebrews 6:10
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