As we approach Thanksgiving, I want to expose a major battle that typically rages inside of everyone you know. But I want to do more than point out the problem. I want to help you win the war. So keep reading.
I’m speaking of the conflict we experience to keep a grateful heart. You’ve probably said this phrase yourself or heard someone say, “Thanks for nothin’” as a way of expressing a feeling of disappointment over unrealized expectations. To be honest, in life you will experience trying circumstances that come unexpectedly and stay much too long. Whether it’s the surprise of an unwanted tragedy or the grinding fatigue of a long term struggle, we all face the temptation to feel ungrateful. In that moment of temptation what will help us win back a grateful heart?
So let’s go back to a dramatic story in the life of Jesus found in Luke 17. On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (vs. 12-19)
The background to this story is important to understand the lesson on gratitude. Ten lepers were forced to live in an out-of-the-way place between Samaria and Galilee because of their incurable and infectious disease. The life of a leper in the first century was like being a walking zombie...walking death. No contact, no family, little food and no hope of getting healed of the dreaded disease. Every dream of a happier future felt crushed by the weight of the incurable disease. Leprosy was a slow, painful but certain walk to the grave.
Into this impossible circumstance walks Jesus...literally. Jesus walked into their village...an enclave of lepers...a village of virus ridden and disfigured beggars. These lepers knew that they had no right to even come close to Jesus so they yelled at Him from a distance, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” No doubt these lepers had already heard of Jesus’ miracles so they called out to Him. That simple prayer touched the heart of Jesus so He ordered them to go show themselves to the priest. Huh? Show yourself to the priest? Why didn’t Jesus heal them right on the spot? If you had been one of the ten lepers you might have hoped Jesus would take away your pain right then. But Jesus didn’t meet their expectations...instead He was doing the will of God which is always about higher purposes. You see, under the Law of Moses in Leviticus 14, God had given specific instructions about a cleansed leper re-entering society. Only problem...the law had never been used! A law of God on the books for over 1400 years but never used? That’s right! It was waiting for this moment when Jesus, the Son of God, would prove that He was the Messiah by healing the ten lepers of their incurable disease. Unknown to the lepers, God was using their painful and impossible situation to make a bigger point...an eternal point about His Son, our Savior.
So let’s get back to the story. Did the lepers go to the priest to be cleansed? Well, they believed Jesus’ word and started out toward the priest but apparently they didn’t even get to the priest before their blemished skin and corroding flesh began to heal. The Bible says, “As they went they were cleansed.” That had to be a dramatic transformation! Looking at one another they saw the withered and wrinkled faces of their comrades but something was going on as they walked. The nasty and gnarly faces of their partners in heartbreak, that once looked so frightening, were clearing up with fresh new skin. A walking miracle!
The incurable was cured and the impossible was made possible by Jesus. The question is...What did they do with the miracle they had for so long believed would never happen? Nine of the ten lepers headed back to the lives they had left behind. Back to their cherished dreams, they couldn’t wait to get home and feel the warmth and love of family. They couldn’t wait to reclaim the life they had before it was so rudely interrupted by disease. As they walked, they must have started making plans about their futures. Who could blame them? This was the day they won the lottery...their wildest dream came true and their life of pain was gone.
But here is where the story gets good. There was one leper who, when he saw that he was healed, did four things: First, he turned back. His memory kicked in and he wanted to reconnect with the One who healed him. Second, he started praising God with a loud voice. His praises were not containable. He need to express himself to God in the most emphatic way. Third, he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet. He recognized who Jesus was and why He needed to be worshiped. Fourth, he gave Jesus thanks.
It is fascinating to see how this leper shows us how to move from an incurably ungrateful life to one filled with praises. Let me trace the path. Step One: The path to a grateful heart starts by making a decision to “turn back” to God. Memory is a powerful tool when used to count your blessings, but it is equally powerful in defeating you if you use your memory to recount your curses. Gratitude is a decision not merely a feeling. Step Two: Start praising God while you are on your way. Don’t wait to be grateful. Don’t wait until everything is back to what you expected before you start praising God. Start now, no matter where you are in life. Step Three: Surrender your unknown future to Jesus. At Jesus’ feet you will find more than healing...you will find your purpose for living. It should not surprise us that many people find their purpose in life through enduring a painful struggle. Step Four: Break from the crowd and make gratitude a regular habit. There were ten lepers healed that day but only one returned to say “thanks”. That’s exactly 10%. That’s not a very high percentage for grateful people but very likely the truth about humanity.
This story ends with Jesus asking the question, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?” How convicting! Jesus wants to know this about us...Where are you? What happened? Have you forgotten what I did for you? I healed you of something far more defiling than leprosy. I healed you from your sins...forever! After what Jesus had done for us it seems so callous and crass to ignore Him and forget to say “Thanks.”
This story has a postscript. This Samaritan man was not the expected person to be grateful and even more important...this man was the only one who was really healed in body and in spirit. “And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Nine sick men got healed but only this man got healed and saved for all eternity. His faith in Jesus saved him for all eternity. Now that’s something to be grateful for!! So how’s your gratitude quotient? Is it “thanks for everything!” or “thanks for nothin’!”?
"Whether it’s the surprise of an unwanted tragedy or the grinding fatigue of a long term struggle, we all face the temptation to feel ungrateful."
"Unknown to the lepers, God was using their painful and impossible situation to make a bigger point...an eternal point about His Son, our Savior."
"Memory is a powerful tool when used to count your blessings, but it is equally powerful in defeating you if you use your memory to recount your curses. Gratitude is a decision not merely a feeling."
"Surrender your unknown future to Jesus. At Jesus’ feet you will find more than healing...you will find your purpose for living."
"Nine sick men got healed but only this man got healed and saved for all eternity. His faith in Jesus saved him for all eternity."