Being dropped from the England squad provided a "kick up the backside", says midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The 23-year-old Arsenal player last played for the national side in a Euro 2016 qualifier in October 2015, scoring in a 3-0 victory over Lithuania.
But he missed the finals in France through injury and was not selected for Sam Allardyce's only game in charge.
"It was a wake-up call," said Oxlade-Chamberlain. "To be available, feeling good and fit and not be in was a jolt."
The former Southampton man, who has been capped 23 times for the Three Lions, recovered from a knee problem in the summer and has played eight times for the Gunners this season.
However, he was left out of the 2018 World Cup qualifying win over Slovakia, before Allardyce left as manager following a newspaper investigation claiming he offered advice on how to "get around" rules on player transfers.
Interim boss Gareth Southgate then recalled the Arsenal player for the matches against Malta, on Saturday (17:00 BST), and Slovenia next Tuesday (19:45 BST).
"I have been playing for England since I was 18 and while I wouldn't say I took it all for granted it just seemed to be a part of my season - to play for Arsenal and to play for England," added Oxlade-Chamberlain.
"I am not young now, I am 23, so you need to be performing and playing as much as you can to deserve a chance to go and play for England.
"Being back in the set-up now makes me realise how special it is and it is something I want to keep happening in the foreseeable future.
"There are a lot of young players now that are doing really well and it's not an easy squad to get into. You shouldn't just be able to walk into an England squad."