I changed my computer setting to Romanian once—just to see what would happen. From my computer’s point of view, I was now in Romania. This automatically changed the time, date, and point of reference. How often do we take time to click on our internal control panels, find the Settings tab, and make sure the default of the heart is set on gratitude?
Left to itself, even a redeemed heart on the path of sanctification tends to drift towards self-pity and complaining. What can we do to redirect our hearts towards praise? When it comes to giving thanks, it is easy to rehearse the good things—health, family, provisions. Yet often we fail to express gratitude because our minds are taken up with the people and situations that trouble us. To change our internal default setting to gratitude, we need to begin with what bothers us. Trying situations are often God’s gifts to reveal some part of our hearts not totally dedicated to praise.
One summer I was particularly unhappy with God because He had prevented me from participating in the Christian camp where I longed to work. Instead, He gave me the opportunity to teach preschoolers how to swim. This meant that day after day under the scorching Phoenix sun I was trying to get screaming toddlers to enjoy blowing bubbles and putting their faces in cold water.
The depth was over their heads, so their safest move was to hold onto me, but instead they tried to push away. Yet they feared the water. So while thrashing about they also clamped onto me—even pinching me with their little toes. I really did know how to show them a good time in the water. By the end of a lesson or two, they were delighted to let me bounce them around while I made motorboat noises or pretended to be a human washing machine. Eventually they learned that swimming lessons were great fun, that the water would hold them up, that I would not let them fall.
Yet, week after week God gave me new students who screamed and cried and pinched. Finally I realized that God was trying to show me what I looked like. I had my heart set on a specific ministry that was not open to me. I could continue my adult version of the toddler tantrum, or I could relax and trust Him to teach me how to stay afloat and actually enjoy the ministry He had given me.
Suddenly, not only could I identify with the children but I could thank God for them. They were showing me what I looked like as well as giving me insight into God Himself. I, a relative stranger, wanted to keep these kids alive. I wanted to teach them the skills they needed to survive and thrive. I wanted to show them a great time while I taught them. Would God want any less?
The thing that initially bothered me was the screaming students. That was the very point where I needed to reset my default to gratitude—thanking God for the children and the lessons God was teaching me through them. Later my gratitude expanded. Because I stayed in the world of aquatics that summer, I renewed all my certifications as a Red Cross instructor for swimming, life guarding, CPR, and first aid. These credentials gained me a place of ministry for the entire next decade in the very camp I was upset at missing out on.
God’s ways are above ours. We may never understand His methods, but we can always trust His motives. We just need take time to set our hearts on the truth.