How expressing thanks opens us up to God's grace.
Written by Eric Demeter
It’s almost unbelievable that Jesus heals 10 lepers in Luke 17 simultaneously. Without fanfare, He simply commands the motley crew, “Go, show yourselves to the priest.” They exit stage-left and their skin is restored.
Jesus certainly missed an opportunity there to make a big, impressive scene. The Lord was never concerned with aggrandizement. What was unbelievable to Him, however, was the lack of thankfulness from the former lepers. Only one makes a U-turn to thank Him for His tremendous miracle.
As the Bible records, “When he saw he was healed, he came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan” (v. 15-16).
Jesus was shocked and asked, “Were not 10 cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
The unfortunate result was that 90 percent of the lepers missed the second, more important gift Jesus had planned for them. To the lone, grateful Samaritan He responded, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Even more important than physical health, this person’s spiritual life had been restored.
Scripture doesn’t tell us why the other lepers failed to praise God. Yet it’s clear from Jesus’s response that thankfulness was the only proper response to the miracle.
What About When We Suffer?
Gratitude flows easily when we’ve landed our dream job or just fell head-over-heels for a potential mate. And it’s easy to lift up some heavenly appreciation when we only receive a warning (instead of a ticket) for speeding. But what about when we don’t get our way? Or what about when tragedy strikes? Can we still be thankful then?
Indeed, life is not always a buffet of delicious circumstances where we get to pick and choose which items we put on our plate. Sometimes we get served a dish of lemons.
Fortunately, Christian gratitude doesn’t require us to “turn our lemons into lemonade”—a cliché that might be found in some cheesy self-help book. Certainly, painful events can shape us and build our character, but that doesn’t mean we have to simply smile through the pain and pretend everything’s fine.
A theology of gratitude that doesn’t allow for grief is at best misguided, if not downright egregious. Can you imagine a passerby saying to Jesus on Calvary “turn that frown upside-down”?
Ingesting life’s difficulties and tragic events can be overwhelming. Having a heart of gratitude, therefore, is not about looking at the bright side of things. And it’s not even acknowledging that things could be worse. Our thankfulness is never to be based on a set of circumstances. It’s based on a Person.
The answer to our pain and suffering isn’t new circumstances but God Himself. Jesus came, not only to suffer for us, but to suffer with us. Isaiah describes Christ as being: “Despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief” (53:3).
Jesus understands our pain and empathizes with us.
Practicing gratitude rests soundly in the assuredness that God will ultimately redeem every horrible situation in this life or the next. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
This promise allows us to “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Yet it’s easy to miss God’s current blessings when pain overwhelms us, however. I’ve shaken my fist toward heaven more than once in agony. Even so, God will never take away His gifts. He’s that good. If I were in Jesus’ shoes, on the other hand, I’d probably replace the nine leper’s healings with nine nasty curses. Or, at bare minimum, I’d unheal them all. That’ll show ‘em to be thankful!
But it was love, not intimidation that drew one Samaritan to unwrap the gift of eternity. Saying “thank you” will always reveal unseen blessings. We can’t control the Giver, but we can always expect one gift: the power to hope.
Then, we’ll receive other common events like watching sunsets, eating dinner with a friend or sleeping in a comfortable bed as undeserved blessings. In practicing gratitude, every day is a treasure hunt.
This article was originally published by RELEVANT magazine on December 10, 2015.
The other night I was watching Jimmy Fallon, and part of an interview jumped out to me. Jimmy had Terry Crews on his show. For those of you that don’t know, Terry is an actor who first became famous because of some strangely funny Old Spice commercials and has since become a well known movie actor as well.
On the show, he’s talking to Jimmy about break dancing (which is comical in of itself because he’s a huge muscular guy) and then Jimmy asks him where he gets all his energy. His answer? Gratitude.
Terry Crews is no expert on life, just like none of us really are, but I think he’s right about this. Giving thanks unlocks something within us. It breaks down walls and unleashes life.
Just type “the effects of gratitude” into Google and you get article after article about how it improves your social, psychological, physical, and spiritual health. Over and over again, studies show that gratitude opens us up to a better life.
In 1 Thessalonians, Paul says something similar to Terry. He says, “give thanks in all circumstances.” For Paul, giving thanks was key to the way he lived life. Paul was not living some extraordinarily fine life either. He was often thrown into prison, beaten, and persecuted. So to say “give thanks in all circumstances” carries a lot of punch coming from him.
So what’s Paul giving thanks for? For him thanksgiving is grounded in the assurance of God’s love. We often call this salvation, and for Paul, salvation wasn’t just a postmortem reality but an in-this-very-present-day kind of reality. No matter the circumstance, Paul could look around and give thanks for the blessing of God’s love and purpose in his life.
I think gratitude reminds us that every day is a gift. It reminds us that we are always connected to others for various reasons - that where we are today was due in part to the help, generosity, and goodness of others and God. And when we put on this lens, everything changes.
Not only that, but when gratitude is unleashed, generosity is right on its heels. I’ve heard that gratitude is the gateway to generosity, and if Terry Crews and all those articles are right, then this too would make sense.
We are more generous with our time to others.
We are more generous with our compliments.
We are more generous with money and resources.
So if Paul, Terry Crews, and all those articles are onto something, then gratitude is an art to be developed. Paul and Terry seem to be pointing to another important thing about gratitude. It’s not just about what I feel thankful for, but what I can find to be thankful for.
If I’m just waiting for the feeling of gratitude instead of looking for reasons to give gratitude, then I’m missing it. Again, Paul’s words remind us that gratitude is something we can always be seeking out in every circumstance.
I wonder what a little gratitude every day would unlock for me? Maybe my patience in Houston traffic would increase. Maybe my generosity to strangers on the street would increase. Maybe my love for my wife when I got home would be more caring. Maybe something I never dreamed of in the morning would become a reality because gratitude unlocked a hidden potential in me that day.
What might gratitude unleash in you?
Written by Mark
I know what you’re thinking: Welp, it’s about that time again - time to list what I’m thankful for at the big family meal.
Well, you’re right, but we shouldn’t reserve ourselves to one season to give our thanks to God: we should acknowledge his grace and thank him every day.
When giving thanks we seem to forget that many of our blessings are in disguise. They are more than nice in-laws or a job promotion or the material items we have been blessed with. They are our hardships, our brokenness, our insecurities. As humans, we don’t like to recognize our idiosyncrasies that seem to have negative effects on our lives.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Just being thankful for our joys is only half of what God had given us. God has given us more than obvious gifts. He uses all our experiences to shape us, to mold our consciousness into what he wants. We often forget to thank him for these blessings in disguise.
I think one of my biggest is living where I do. I go to a school where nobody has been exposed to real life. Katy, Texas is really a big, safe bubble for most kids, which is why parents love to raise their children here – they won’t have to grow up faster than they should. For a long time I was a participant in that utopia.
Through my parents’ work (one a dispatcher and another a music therapist turned music teacher) I have met many amazing people who had to face the reality of the world. Through their experiences and stories I have seen the growth that a person can attain. Their experiences taught me about life. Before I was even in kindergarten I knew what the real world was like. It’s not a bad thing - it just put everything into perspective.
For the greater part of grade school I covered up my difference from others by masking myself with humor - I’d joke about everything. But after seventh grade I realized that my difference was a blessing that kept me grounded and down to earth. It kept me out of trouble numerous times because I already knew what the outcome would be. Knowing that life wasn’t a fairy tale made me the person I am today. I always thought that this was a burden for a child, but now I thank God for this knowledge that has guided my decision making throughout my life.
Even though times are tough, God still uses those times to strengthen you, to make something out of them, to bring you closer to him. Trust in him and give thanks. He will never let you down.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for the life you have given me. Even though many see hardships as obstacles, I know you use them for my benefit. I know that through them I will get closer to you. Thank you for your blessings in disguise. Amen.
Written by Benjamin
While trying to write this post, I tried to find something to inspire me. I turned to my Bible and opened it to
1 Thessalonians 5:18. Inside I saw I had put a bus pass there. But this isn’t any ordinary bus pass: it has a special place in my heart.
During the summer, I got an awesome opportunity to go to this 2-week almost-seminary-type camp, where I got to live in an intentional Christian community and learn about my faith in new ways. While I was there I got to experience really cool mission trips, which really impacted my faith-journey. The last one I went on was one of my favorites.
We started off by talking about all the people that are under the poverty line in America; even though they get benefits from the government, it still isn’t enough for them on a day-to-day basis, especially when the families have children under 5. They get a set amount of money that is supposed to help them a lot, but sometimes, life just happens.
Then we started our activity. We - 8 kids and 2 adults - were split up into groups pretending to be a family of 4 with 2 children under the age of 5. We were given the task of getting groceries for “our family.” We were expected to spend 30% of our SNAP benefits (what the government provides us), which amounted to around $130. But since life happens, we first had to spend $50 of it for an urgent care bill because one of our kids broke their arm on the playground, leaving only $80 to spend on food.
Next we were given a map and a bus ticket and were told that we had to go to an HEB. Also, as a roadblock, our adults could not help us; in fact they were pretending to be our kids under the age of 5! None of us knew where any bus stops were or even what they looked like. On top of that, we had to make sure our “kids” didn’t run off and get lost.
Eventually, after walking around for almost 20 minutes, we found the right stop and got on the bus. I didn’t even know how to put my ticket in the machine because there were so many different holes and buttons that the bus driver just had to do it for me. Once we were on the bus, we had to figure out when to get off. We also decided the bus ride would be a good time to discuss our budget and what we had to buy.
It was hard at first because no one had really budgeted before and we didn’t have a clue what anything costs. We had a variety of items on our list and hoped for the best. While we were on the bus, one of the adults pulled out a piece of paper with more roadblocks that we had to deal with in order to do the challenge correctly: we had to buy dog food; one of our kids’ birthday was that week, so we had to buy a cake of some sort; and finally our other child broke their flip flops, so we had to pay $7 to buy a new pair. We had to factor all of those things in when we went into the store.
By the time we got to the HEB, we were almost out of time. A lot of us argued about what would be the best to buy, and we were so crunched for time that we were all stressed out. We had less than 20 items, were almost at $65, and barely had everything we needed for the week. If it had been real life, we would have failed.
On our way back to the bus stop, we realized that if this was real we would have had to carry everything with us back onto the bus - maybe even carry a child - so we couldn’t have gotten everything on our list anyway because it is not like your two kids under 5 years old can help you carry much.
That experience was eye-opening and made me feel really grateful for everything I have. It made me thankful that I have a car so I don’t have to take the bus to get places. It made me thankful that my parents are able to provide for our family so we don’t have to worry about having enough groceries for that week. Also, it made me feel that I take way too much for granted and that I should be able to appreciate what I have and be thankful for what my family provides me with.
Written by Sarah
The 12:12 Project is sponsored by Katy First United Methodist Church.