The exercise of thankfulness
It’s that time of year again, the time when we’re supposed to give thanks. I don’t know about you but I don’t always feel very thankful. Sometimes it’s easier to focus on the things I wish I had or the things I do have that I wish were different.
I’ve been thinking about some things my dad taught me about being thankful. He took me to the story of the ten lepers. And this is what I learned…
“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” cried ten leprous men. And they were cleansed.
“Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him… Then Jesus answered and said, ‘Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they?’” (Luke 17:15-17)
When you read this story, do you feel irritated at the nine ungrateful ones? How is it only one came back to give thanks to Jesus for His mercy? It would have been such a simple thing for them to also turn around and thank Jesus for what He had done for them.
But then I think about my own life, and God’s mercy on me, and my tendency to grumble instead of praise and I realize, chances are nine out of ten I wouldn’t have returned to thank Jesus either. Because more often than not, that’s exactly what’s happening.
Christians—who have more to give praise and thanks for than anyone on earth—can often be as complaining and discontent as anyone.
But gratitude is something we should exercise.
The ten leprous men had lived their lives cut off from fellowship, excluded from community, covered in disease. As they walked away from Jesus and looked down at their skin, they discovered they were healed. They realized their suffering was over. Their separation was over. They were given a new life. Nine of them immediately forgot the past, absorbed in their new present reality and thoughts of what their future would now open up to them. And in forgetting the past, they forgot to be thankful.
If we are going to be thankful, we have to remember the past. The Bible commands us over and over to remember what God has done for us. And remembering God’s mercy produces thankfulness. But we don’t do it easily. Or if we do, it’s often the hardships, the pain, the conflict we think about. If that’s what you think about when you remember the past, how about finding God’s faithfulness in those things? How about looking back to see where God has brought you since then?
“Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” (Ephesians 2:11-12)
“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.” (Deuteronomy 15:15)
Remembering God’s mercy is the foundation for thankfulness.
But we don’t just need thankfulness for the past. We need contentment in the present. “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
And we need to look to the future in faith.
The one leper who returned to Jesus, glorified Him with a loud voice. And Jesus answered him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:19).
All ten lepers were healed, but the grateful one received the greater blessing from God. Faith and a future where he would glorify God.
Gratitude gives us faith for the future. When we build thankfulness into our lives we grow in faith.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
I easily find myself fearing what my future may hold. But remembering how God has been faithful in the past, and claiming His promises cause me to look to the future in faith. That way, I can pray about the future with thanksgiving, claiming God’s promises, knowing He will meet my needs.
When we forget what God has done for us in the past, refuse to find contentment in the present, and when we live in fear of the future, we miss out on so many blessings. Without gratitude, we’ll never know the abounding joy that one leper knew.
So this Thanksgiving, let’s not be like the nine, but like the one—grateful and growing in faith. And not just giving thanks once a year, but all year long.