Those at our church have often heard me speak highly of my father. My dad was my hero. He is the best man I have ever known. When I was married I asked him to be my best man. When my brother was married he asked Dad to be his best man. Both of us had such a high regard for him. (My sister feels the same way, too).
I have shared dozens of stories about him with our church family in my messages through these twenty-seven years as their pastor. I’m sure sometimes people wonder if he was that great of a person or was I exaggerating? Surely there was a chink in the armor somewhere.
Of course, there was. He was a great man, but he was not a perfect man. I’m not trying to communicate a Pollyanna type of scenario that was without conflict, times of discipline, and frustration. That’s just part of living in a community of sinners. And no community is more ripe for those things than the family.
I believe one major reason I love him so much is not just that I think of him, but I choose what I think about him. My father’s integrity, sacrifice for his family, and his heart for us deserve my focus rather than some incident that was unpleasant. My Dad knew that I loved him and I knew he loved me. I believe with all of my heart that he chose what to think about me, too.
The depth of your love is in proportion to the focus and depth of your thinking. No one is born with a desire to give, but to be selfish. Early on our thinking is oriented to scheming to get our way, “keeping score” to make sure we get our fair share, and protecting our interests.
Charles de Gaulle said, “France has no friends, only interests”. That is the way most people live. They approach everything with the mind set of “what will I get out of this?”
The Bible says that the way we think influences our love – “charity…thinketh no evil” (I Corinthians 13:5). This doesn’t mean love has no discernment, for it does (Philippians 1:9). It simply means that love doesn’t keep track of injustices and hurts. Those that love have a different way of thinking than those that are selfish.
The mind set of one that loves genuinely and deeply focuses on his indebtedness to others rather than what people owe him. Gratitude and love are related. I have never met someone that loved people that wasn’t a thankful person.
A person that thinks about their personal indebtedness is the exception to the rule. Over time we become accustomed to the kindness and sacrifice of others and lose our sense of gratitude. Rather than being thankful we have an attitude of expectation and entitlement.
Jesus confirmed this tendency when He said, “…A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house”. (Mark 6:4) He was speaking of the attitude toward Him from the people in His hometown. If people can become accustomed to the Lord Jesus Christ then they certainly can (and will) become accustomed to you.
But that’s not the problem I’m writing of here. It’s dealing with my own expectations and failure to remember what a debtor I am. It is easy and subtle to become accustomed to the kindnesses of God and people He has brought across my path to bless me. My thinking doesn’t stop at a neutral place where I fail simply to express gratitude, but I become ungrateful. All of this happens in our minds as we ponder people.
This closer you are to a person the greater the likelihood that you will become accustomed to what they do for you and develop a heart of expectation. That’s sad. Those to whom we owe the most we take for granted the most.
Someone wrote, “Most people don’t understand loving, they understand trading”. We tend to “keep score” and make sure the balance between giving and receiving never gets disparate. I’m glad Jesus didn’t do that when He came to die for my sins.
When a person sees everything through the lens of a transaction they will focus on fairness rather then giving and loving. Love isn’t fair. It doesn’t know how to be fair because it doesn’t keep score; fairness keeps score. And people that are into fairness never love deeply because love is giving.
Selfishness says, “What have you done for me lately?”. Love asks another question, “What have I done for you lately?” The greater your expectations, the less grateful you will be. Someone said, “The basis of gratitude is the expectation of nothing”. The converse is true, “The beginning of ingratitude is the expectation of a blessing”.
This happens to parents at some point. They struggle with a lack of reciprocation of love from their children. The same is true of those that lead other people and give more than they receive.
Paul wrote one of his churches about this sense of imbalance in their relationship and compared it to parenting – “…the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.” (II Corinthians 12:14-15)
Here is one of the greatest men in history giving his philosophy of dealing with receiving the short end of the stick sometimes. He counted it a joy to serve and focused on giving rather than receiving. If his focus had been on what he was receiving from the people he would have become disillusioned and bitter.
I think this is one of the key sources of bitterness in the family today. Husbands and wives lose their appreciation for one another and start taking each other for granted. They have lost the wonder and joy of their early relationship as their thinking has transitioned to what is owed them rather than indebtedness.
I read where the word “thankful” is from the word “thinkful”. Simply, a thankful person is one that thinks about those that have blessed him and never gets over the fact that he is a debtor to them. (We even use a synonym for “thankful” as one being “thoughtful”).
A man began to tire of his home and decided to sell it and get something different. He contacted a realtor and just before putting in on the market the agent called the seller and reviewed the ad he was going to place for the home.
He read to him about the beautiful garden in the back yard, the stand of fruit trees, the special rooms the man had built on to the home, the fence, the master bedroom, the spectacular view and other descriptions of the house.
Suddenly, the seller interrupted the real estate agent, “I can’t sell this house. This is the place I’ve wanted all of my life”.
It was in his possession all the while, but he had to think about it to really appreciate it. If we would think about the good qualities of our family we would not only be more grateful for them, but we would love them deeper.