Which is easier to teach your children: entitlement or gratitude? Which is easier for you?
According to some scholars, we live in the Age of Entitlement. Author Randy Alcorn observed, however, that we’ve merely perfected the art of entitlement. The people of Israel first demonstrated entitlement on scale as they left Egypt into the 40 years of wandering when they grumbled and complained.
What is entitlement?
Oxford Dictionary defines entitlement as “the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.”
It’s easier to see entitlement in others than in ourselves. I’ve seen friends lose jobs because they became too comfortable and thought they would be there forever. We’ve all watched politicians who felt like they didn’t have to follow the same rules as the people they govern.
Perhaps entitlement reveals itself most obviously when we watch our children cling to their toys shouting, “Mine! Mine!” So cute and so dangerous.
How do we know if we’re entitled?
If you suddenly lost something in your life, how would you respond? Your response will show whether you felt entitled or grateful.
Remember how Job responded when he lost all his possessions, slaves, and children?
“I came naked from my mother’s womb,Job 1:21 NLT
and I will be naked when I leave.
The Lord gave me what I had,
and the Lord has taken it away.
Praise the name of the Lord!”
How would you respond if you lost your house, your cars, or your job? What about your health?
The more invested we are in something the harder it is to let go.
How to combat entitlement with gratitude
Puritan pastor Richard Baxter wrote,
“Resolve to spend most of your time in thanksgiving and praising God. If you cannot do it with the joy that you should, yet do it as you can…. Doing it as you can is the way to be able to do it better. Thanksgiving stirs up thankfulness in the heart.”Richard Baxter
If you’re like most Christians I know, your prayer time is less than 20% praise, thanksgiving, and confession. 80% or more focuses on your prayer requests. What if we inverted that?
I think that’s what Baxter suggests.
Psalm 107: A blueprint for combatting entitlement
Psalm 107 provides an excellent model of giving thanks in all kinds of circumstances.
It starts out encouraging the faith community to thank God for redemption:
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever.
Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out!
Tell others he has redeemed you from your enemies.” (Ps. 107:1-2 NLT)
The psalm recounts numerous times when God allowed his people to face difficulty so they would cry out to him. At one point they were lost, homeless, hungry, and thirsty. In the midst of their misery they cried out to God and he delivered them.
When they rebelled, grew arrogant, or entitled, God brought them to their knees through prison, exile, storms, and trouble. In these dire circumstances they cried out for mercy and God answered.
It seems easier to be thankful after miraculous deliverance. What if we could cultivate thankful hearts in the ordinary circumstances of life so we could avoid such deliverance?
Contentment undermines entitlement
If you’ve lived a life of plenty, you might feel like you’ll always have plenty of food, clothes, and money. Jesus only promised he would provide for our needs, not that we would live a life of plenty.
Paul’s expressed it like this: “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.” (Phil. 4:11-12 NLT)
Hold things loosely
When we first moved to San Diego in 2007 the Santa Ana winds stirred up some massive wildfires. In preparing for a likely evacuation, we faced the hard decisions of what would we want to keep if only allowed to take what we could stuff into our vehicle.
We laugh at the pictures of hearses pulling trailers full of valuables. We intuitively know we “can’t take it with us.” Why do we then think we deserve to keep it all now?
Have you watched your stock or retirement portfolio’s value rise and fall precipitously? It’s worse than roller coaster rides.
Even time can be something we cling to. I love having a quiet house for a couple of hours early in the morning. When someone else rises early, I find my entitlement mindset exposed.
I’m learning to hold time, possessions, and health more loosely and to give thanks for everything I have every day.
Spend a few minutes in your gratitude journal reflecting on these questions: What if I looked at each day as a gift? What if we looked at our possessions as treasures God allows us to use? What if we thank God and our boss regularly for our job? How might we thank God for our health?
Lord, your blessings truly do flow every day. Thank you for your daily mercy, my daily bread, and for my family, work, and friends. I ask you to forgive my entitled attitudes and replace them with gratitude and praise. I’m continually amazed at your grace shown toward me. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.