The fuel of the Christian life

By Matt Moore

Have you ever been just kind of blah about God? You know, had times where you’ve been walking pretty faithfully (no “big” unrepentant sin in your life), but for some reason or another, you just feel dull toward Jesus?
In these moments, it’s not that you don’t believe — you do. But you just struggle to actually feel joy and pleasure in the things of God. You dread your quiet times, are bored during church, and conversation about Jesus with your brothers and sisters feels stale — maybe even forced.
I think we’ve all been there. There a number of things that can drain our vitality and numb our affections toward God, but the passion-robbing culprit I want to focus on today is the one I feel is often hardest to detect: lack of gratitude.
I’m not picking this one out because I’m writing this the week of Thanksgiving (though it does work out nicely!), but because I believe scarcity of gratitude is the most common foe of our faith — and it’s a foe that we, in our fallen state, tend to be oblivious to. We tend to look for big blatant things that could be bringing us down and miss the subtle things — like lack of thankfulness in our hearts.
I believe with all my heart that gratitude is the greatest fuel of the Christian life. Without a doubt, there are other things that energize our pursuit of Jesus. But I believe that gratitude undergirds all other motivations and affections — including our love for God. Frequently I hear people say that love for God is the propellant of our obedience to God, and I think that is good and true. But what do we do when our love for God wanes? What do we do when our affection for him is small and weak and hanging on by a thread?
I think we’ve got to dig a little deeper.
1 John says that the initiation of our relationship with God was not that we loved him, but that he first loved us and demonstrated this by giving his son up for us. In other words, we had zero affection for God until it was birthed in us by the Spirit as we responded in gratitude to his marvelous grace in Jesus. I think it’s biblical to argue that our love for God springs up from our thankfulness to God. So it logically follows that if our “love tank” feels low, it’s probably because our “gratitude tank” is running low as well.
One of the saddest things about our fallen state is our tendency to grow desensitizingly familiar with the great things God has done for us. Throughout the entire Old Testament, we see the prophets and teachers of Israel reminding God’s rebellious people of the marvelous acts of mercy that have been done for them at various points in history (the focal point being the Exodus). Why?
Because their ingratitude is the catalyst for their rebellion.
Whenever the Lord would stretch out his strong arm to save Israel from their enemies, they would respond in thankfulness and put away their sins. But time and time again, as the days and months and years rolled on, their appreciation for God’s grace toward them would wear off. Their forgetful hearts would grow dull toward their Savior, Healer, and Redeemer, and off they would go on their merry way — back into the muck and mire of their idolatry.
Thankfully, at the point of redemptive history in which we find ourselves now, things are a bit different. What the people of Israel did not have, and what Christians do have, is the Holy Spirit living inside of them. Though we aren’t totally new yet, the Spirit has made us new enough that we don’t go happily prancing into idolatrous lifestyles without remorse. However it doesn’t take a genius to realize that we’re still pretty messed up.
We, like Israel, easily grow “familiar” with the great things that God has done for us. One week we’re overwhelmed with thankfulness for the gospel, and our love for God is fiery and uncontrollable. Then the very next week, the gospel becomes fuzzy in our minds. The great redemptive work of Jesus begins to feel detached from the reality we live in. Apathy sets in. Our love dulls. We feel blah.
What we need in these moments (or days or weeks or months!) of spiritual blah is an effective counter attack against the forgetfulness of our flesh. We need to rekindle our love for God by rekindling our gratitude to God for all that he has done — and is doing — for us in Jesus.
“That sounds great, but how?” you may ask.
The following is a process that I have learned to walk through when my affection for God is running on fumes. I personally struggle to remain in a grateful state, but this process has been continually effective in resuscitating thankfulness in my heart. Maybe it will be for you, as well.
1. I need to realize my perception of reality is skewed.
When the gospel doesn’t ignite affection for God in my heart, it’s because I am not seeing. If my perception of reality were in sync with the reality that the Bible portrays, tears of joy would constantly stain my face as I thanked God unceasingly for his goodness toward me. If I were really seeing the severity of my sin and the enormity of my need for salvation, my heart would be bursting with gratitude for all that Jesus has done for me. The reason I lack thankfulness is because the TV of my mind is not tuned in to the God/Bible/true reality station. Instead, I’m tuned in to a false reality where I don’t see my sin as all that huge and don’t see God’s mercy as all that great — which leaves thankfulness lying dead in my heart.
2. I need to realign my perspective of reality with the Bible’s perspective of reality.
Once I realize that the root of my problem is my seeing, the next step is to fill my mind with Biblical reality. I need to submerge myself in the solid realities of my hopeless state apart from Jesus, the great mercy God has shown me in Jesus, the eternal hope that I have in Jesus, and so on.
Personally, I need to have a physical Bible open and in front of me as I do this. I can close my eyes and contemplate these truths or try to chew on them throughout the day as I’m doing other things, but when I do this they still feel fuzzy and intangible. However, when I physically open God’s Word and see ultimate reality described in ink on paper, the truth is more solidified in my mind.