A few years back found me teaching a class of high school seniors. I enjoyed this class more than most that I taught, and was able to get to know these students fairly well. These were all really great kids and subsequently they were easy to like. However, one day, towards the end of the year, I was shocked by their attitudes. I was making an announcement about scholarships and the importance of applying for all they were eligible for. I remember they all looked back at me with blank stares. When I pressed further, I realized they were looking at me like that because none (NONE?!?!) of them had filled out a single scholarship application form. When I recovered from my shock enough to ask them why, they all agreed it was because their parents had assured them that they would pay for their college education.
I would guess if you and I could have a conversation about this story we’d probably express equal amounts of disappointment in a generation that felt this way. We may even reminisce about our hard work that got us through college. What we probably wouldn’t talk about is our role in the story. In C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man, he would argue that we are the reason the generation below us is the way they are – that we’ve subconsciously handed down our values to the next . Could it be possible that this is, at least in part, our fault?
To think through this question, I’d first want to determine what bothered me so much about my students’ reaction. In processing this story for several years, I’ve come to the conclusion that what disturbed me was the students’ obvious attitude of entitlement. I think there were most likely two contributing factors to this attitude. The first is that the kids most likely took their college education for granted. In generations past, going to college was a privilege. Now it is something that is expected. The second factor is that I doubt the children fully understood what it would cost their parents to pay for their college education. Sure, it may cost some parents less than others, depending on their life’s circumstances, but the fact remains that it would cost every parent something.
As I type the previous paragraph, I realize that it is not only the students living in the land of entitlement, but I confess I live there as well. It might be where you find yourself too. Entitlement wasn’t pretty on those students, and it isn’t pretty on me or you. Entitlement is disgusting and much like a tornado, leaves a pathway of silent destruction in its wake.
Why do I struggle with this entitlement? Why do you? Why does our whole American culture? Entitlement is bred in a life of comfort and ease. If you’re reading this, you are most likely an American, and will probably agree that our nation has enjoyed riches unparalleled. You would probably never call yourself rich because, without fail, we all know someone who has a larger income than we do. We’d call them rich, not us. But you are. I am. We are. The National Retail Federation estimates that last year Americans spent $350 million dollars on Halloween costumes…for our pets. So we can all agree now, right? I fuss when my Diet Coke isn’t cold enough. I buy two bottles of shampoo so I can leave one in each bathroom…because walking back and forth would be too much trouble. (What?!) It’s not hard to see we live lives of comfort and ease.
This comfort and ease isn’t bad in and of itself. The problem is that this type of lifestyle can quickly leads us to feel entitled. We feel entitled to have a house, and not just any old house. (Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, please!) We feel entitled to have the latest style in clothing. We feel entitled to do what we want with our bodies, when we want. We even feel entitled to the next breath of air. Like the high school students expected their college education, we expect certain things out of life. Actually, we expect a lot of things, and without them we find it hard to be happy.
More importantly, when we go through life entitled, we find it hard to worship our God and creator, even if we claim to know Him. You see, we no longer think of him as our savior. No, WE are now are own saviors. We can save ourselves. That’s the American dream, right? Pull yourself up by your boot straps, work hard enough, and make it happen…for yourself. We have insurance for our insurance because we are self-reliant. We do not have need of God. We forget exactly WHO He is, and WHO we are.
“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.” Romans 1:21
In Revelations, John is writing the words of God to several different churches, each with its own accomplishments and struggles. In Revelation 2:9, God tells the church in Smyrna that,
“I know your afflictions and poverty – yet you are rich!”
In contrast, while speaking to the church in Laodicea, God says,
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” Revelations 3:15-18
Much like us today, the church in Laodicea enjoyed immense riches, along with prestigious medical advancement and a strong clothing industry. These church people that God is talking to, had everything they needed. Although they said they were God’s people, it was obvious from their lukewarm lives that they were not.
What will it take to move us out of this stagnant, entitled, complacency, where there is no life to be found? Will our church have to be persecuted like the Chinese church, in order to realize our immense need for God and experience new life? Will we have to endure personal hardships that make us realize just how human and frail we are, and therefore cry out to the almighty God? Or will we choose in this moment to humble ourselves and ask God to forgive us and help us change.
He can, and He will. He wants nothing more than for us to realize just how much you cost Him. How much I cost Him. I believe if those students had realized the second or third jobs their parents would have to work to pay their way through school, it would’ve changed their thoughts and actions. God wants us to realize how much it cost Him to pay the price for our sin, not to be vindicated, but to invoke change in us. Once we realize the depth of our sin, we realize the depth of His love. We cannot help but be filled with gratitude because God gave the life of his son to save ours.
Gratitude is the enemy of entitlement.
“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Revelation 3:19-20