By Pastor Glenn Pease
Thanksgiving is unconditional for the believer. We are not to be thankful only because of blessings, but even in spite of burdens, for life at its worst does not change the most precious truth for which we are to be thankful, and that is salvation through Jesus. There have been Christian people who have nothing of great value materially, and they have known nothing of a Thanksgiving Day, since this is uniquely American, but who never the less have had a grateful heart.
We need to remember that Thanksgiving grew out of a tragic situation because of people of God who put their trust in Him in spite of tragedy. Half of the Pilgrims died the first winter in America. Their crop was so poor they had to ration out 5 grains of corn at a time. At one point there were only 7 of them who were not sick to help the rest of them. And yet these are the people who gave us Thanksgiving. Their faith did not waver with the winds of fortune. They labored 7 years to pay back loans to London bankers where they got the money to come to America.
Elder Brewster in the early days of Plymouth could set down to a meal of clams and a cup of cold water, and look up to heaven and return thanks, "For the abundance of the sea and for the treasures hid in the sand." God prospered the Pilgrims because they had grateful hearts even in the midst of great difficulties. Gratitude can even grow in the garden of grief when watered with the showers of trust in God. Robert Louis Stevenson spent most of life in bed with much pain, and he died at 44, but he saw more to be thankful for than most healthy people. He wrote, "The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings." Sometimes those who are most blest are most blind. They spend their days in complaining and lose the greatest blessings because they lack a grateful heart. We want to look at a biblical example of this as found in the account of the healing of the 10 lepers. We see here 3 aspects of gratitude.
I. THE RARENESS OF GRATITUDE. v. 17-18
Here were 10 men in awful misery who experienced the blessing of almighty mercy, and yet 9 of them never came back to say thanks. If Jesus had only 10 per cent express their gratitude for a miracle, how much less must he have received for common mercies? How little does he receive from us for every day blessings? Does he receive more than puddles of praise for the ocean waves of mercy he causes to splash against the shore of our lives? Spurgeon said, "If you search the world around among all choice spices you shall scarcely meet with the frankincense of gratitude." Why is this? Here are a number of reasons:
A. SELFISHNESS. From the minute a person is born he is self-centered. All of life revolves around a child, and what makes him happy is good, and what does not is bad. You can have fun with a child doing everything he wants for hours, but then refuse him one thing his heart desires and he becomes angry and charges you with meanness. It is tragic when adults exhibit this same ungrateful attitude. Albert Schweitzer tells of how difficult it was to teach the natives that they had to help keep up the hospital by giving a chicken, a few eggs, or some bananas. Some of the more savage people came to him after they were cured and demanded a gift of him. Paul in Rom. 1:21 tells us that one of the causes for the darkness of the pagan mind and heart was that they were not thankful.
This natural selfishness is a part of the civilized world as well. People with great abundance are constantly more concerned about what they don't have than thankful for what they do have. When Andrew Carnegie left a million dollars to a relative that relative cursed him saying, "Old Andy left 365 million to public charities and cut me off with one measly million." Such ingratitude seems incredible, but it reveals that the ungrateful heart loses even the blessings that it does have. I can just imagine that those 9 who did not return were discouraged within a couple of days. They would be complaining that their leprosy put them so far behind in their work. They would complain that its hard now to get their crop in on time, or fill that pottery order they had before they got sick. Even a dog will wag its tail at a kindness shown, but these selfish 9 did not even take the time to say thank you. Shakespeare was right when he said, "Blow, blow thou winter wind! Thou art not so unkind as man's ingratitude."
B. THOUGHTLESSNESS. It may not be that they purposely did not return. Maybe they stopped to think of the giver, but then got their minds focused on other things. This is another form of selfishness because it leads us to forget the source of our blessings. These 9 had some real faith, for they took Jesus at His Word and went to the priests. They wanted help and they believed Jesus could help. They called on Him for mercy and He heard them, and when the crisis was over they no longer thought about their need for Him.
Think and thank come from the same root word, and thoughtlessness leads to thanklessness. So many cry out to God in emergency situations, and then they forget Him when the emergency is over. But even the righteous are in danger of being thoughtless. The Psalmist says to himself, "O bless the Lord O my soul and forget not all his benefits." Jesus gave us the Lord's Supper to keep us reminded that His sacrifice for us is the center of our Christian faith. Physical amnesia is seldom heard of, but spiritual amnesia is as common as the cold, and we need to pray that we can escape being infected with this germ. The poet put it,
Forget him not whose meekness
Forgiveth all thy sin:
Who healeth all thy weakness
Renews thy life within.
II. THE RESPONSE OF GRATITUDE. v. 15-16
Let us be thankful that one did respond to the grace of Christ and return to thank Him and praise God. Jesus was doubtless disappointed in the other 9, but how it must have delighted His heart to see this one return. Jesus does not bless because He wants to be thanked. He blesses because He cares. Even if none had responded Jesus would have healed them. He healed them out of compassion for their need. God's grace is poured out on millions who never thank Him. He makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the unjust as well as the just. Jesus died for the ungodly, even though masses of them will never accept His sacrifice. God must love an express that love whether man responds or not, but it is this one responding that delights the heart of God and makes it all worth while.
At age 72 industrialist Charles Schwab was taken to court on a petty lawsuit by a young man he had tried to help. The young man was only out to get some easy money and notoriety. After Mr. Schwab finished his testimony he asked if he could speak a few words. Permission was granted, and he said, "I am an old man and I to say that 90 percent of my troubles have been due to being good to other people. If you younger folk want to avoid trouble be hard-boiled and say no to everybody. You will then walk through life unmolested-but" and a smile came across his face, "You will have to do without friends and you won't have much fun."
The Christian is to show love and mercy because it is being like Christ and not because he looks for gratitude. Luther said, "He who would be a Christian must learn to remember that with all his benevolence, faithfulness, and service he will not always reap gratitude, but must also suffer ingratitude. But this should not move us to withhold help and service to others." We can be thankful if we even get a 10 percent response, for that is all Jesus got.
If we examine the response of this one who returned we see that it was basically praise. Praise is voluntary, and it comes from the heart because the heart cannot hold it back. It reveals the true nature of the person. Jesus never asked them to come back and praise Him, but here was a man who did not live by the letter but by the spirit. The other 9 obeyed the letter of the law, but they did not have a heart of gratitude. Spurgeon felt that Christians ought to have praise meetings as well as prayer meetings. All 10 of them prayed but only one was most blest because he also praised. Spurgeon said, "I chide myself sometimes that I have wrestled with God in prayer, like Elijah upon Carmel, but I have not magnified the name of the Lord, like Mary of Nazareth." Only one came back, and every believer should be among that minority that always comes back with a grateful response. It is easy to request, but hard to return in thanks.
Charles E. Jefferson said, "If Christians would praise God more the world would doubt Him less." Let us admit it that we seldom make it known how grateful we are to be Christians by our praise of God and thanksgiving before the world. His praise should be continuous. We tend to think we need only to praise when something spectacular happens, but this reveals our thoughtlessness again, for we have an abundance of things to be grateful for every day. Heaven help the man who only has thanksgiving once a year. Dr. Malbie Babcock said that the ideal would be to set one day a year aside to do all our complaining and gripping, and leave the rest for thanksgiving. That is the way it ought to be.
Meet and right it is to sing,
In every time and place;
Glory to our heavenly King,
The God of truth and grace.
Join we then with sweet accord,
All in one thanksgiving join!
Holy, holy, holy Lord,
Eternal praise be thine.
May this be our response of gratitude for the grace of God that is ours in Christ.
III. THE REWARD OF GRATITUDE. v. 19
There is great reward just in the possessing of a grateful heart. It makes one glad if he appreciates life and its blessings. Those 9 may have come to their senses at some time in their life and have regretted that they did not go back. When they heard Jesus was crucified they certainly would remember the mercy He showed to them, but then it was too late to thank Him. The world is filled with those who, like Albert Schweitzer, stood over graves of loved ones and deeply regretted their failure to let them know how much they were appreciated. Schweitzer wrote in his Memoirs Of Childhood And Youth, "When I look back upon my early days I am stirred by the thought of the number of people whom I have to thank for what they gave me or what they were to me. At the same time I am haunted by an oppressive consciousness of the little gratitude I really showed them while I was young. How many of them have said farewell to life without my having made clear to them what it meant to me to receive from them so much kindness or so much care!"
On the other hand, a few reaped the rewards of gratitude shown. William L. Stidger was thinking of people who had helped him in life, and he remembered a teacher he had who went out of her way for him. He wrote her a letter of thanks, and here is the reply he received.
"My dear Willie,
I cannot tell you how much your note meant to me. I am in my eighties, living alone in a small room, cooking my own meals, lonely and, like the last leaf of autumn, lingering behind. You will be interested to know that I taught in school for 50 years and yours is the first note of appreciation I ever received. It came on a blue cold morning and it cheered me as nothing has in many years."
A friend of his reported that Stidger was not a sentimental man, but he wept when he read that. We could all receive so much more if we would express more gratitude. But as Spurgeon said, "We receive a continent of mercies, and return and island of praise." Great are the rewards of gratitude even on the level of person to person, but greater yet are they between God and man. Jesus said to the man who returned in verse 19, "Your faith has made you whole." There was more here for this man than healing, for all the others were healed too, but this man received not only bodily benefits, but his soul's salvation. His grateful heart brought him into the kingdom of God. But Jesus also felt the pain of those who did not receive all that He wanted to give them. The poet has written,
Were not the ten made clean? Yet only one
Returned to lay his homage at Christ's feet
In thankfulness for what the Lord has done;
The other nine were hurrying to meet
The friends of other days that they might find
A hearty welcome and a bed and food;
Their utter selfishness had made them blind
To the supernal law of gratitude.
Do not these lepers typify the race
Who crave God's many blessings day by day?
And when He lavishes His healing grace
Upon them, one by one they go away;
And once again we hear the Lord repine:
Were not the ten made whole?
Where are the nine?
Gratitude is not a secondary subject, but it is of primary importance. Not only is faith without works dead, but faith plus works without gratitude is also inadequate. A saving faith includes gratitude. We cannot really believe Christ has died for our sin and forgiven us if we are indifferent and ungrateful for it. True faith will fall at the feet of Jesus and praise Him with joy and thanksgiving. Let our prayer be that of the 17th century poet George Herbert who wrote, "O Lord, thou has given us much, give us one thing more, a grateful heart."