The Key to Genuine Thankfulness
Now that the Thanksgiving holiday is behind us, let me ask you a tough question. Were you thankful on Thanksgiving Day? More importantly, Are you still thankful today? We could divide the people of the world into three groups, based on their thankfulness. Which group are you in?
- The first group of people is unthankful. These people never stop to say thank you, or only do it as a sort of formality. They subconsciously – if not consciously – believe that others are in their debt, and owe them what they want. To such people, Thanksgiving is nothing more than ‘Turkey Day.’
- The second group of people says thank you. These people recognize that they have blessings, and from time to time, they take a few minutes to express thankfulness. For such people, Thanksgiving is a day to stop, remember blessings, and give thanks for them.
- The third group of people are genuinely thankful. Their thankfulness goes deeper than simply saying the words. They have heartfelt gratitude for the blessings they receive, and thankfulness is a part of their character, not an action to be performed. For such people, Thanksgiving is a holiday that brings their constant thankfulness into focus, highlighting a response that they already practice.
A Lesson from Ten Lepers
You can see, from the three groups listed above, that thankfulness is more than an action. It is a lifestyle, and a heart attitude, that constantly expresses gratitude. How do you develop genuine thankfulness?
Reading through the story of the ten lepers in Luke 17, I recently recognized a key to genuine thankfulness. First let me review the story, and then draw application.
Jesus is travelling through Jewish Galilee and the ‘heathen’ region of Samaria. As he enters a village, ten unclean lepers cried out to him from a distance, begging for mercy. Jesus doesn’t touch them or heal them on the spot – he simply tells them to go to the priests, as if they were already cleansed. The priests, he implies, will declare that the lepers were healed.
Travelling to the priests, the ten lepers suddenly recognize that they are healed. Nine of the lepers – we can presume – continue in their voyage, looking for a priest to declare them clean. The tenth leper, however, immediately turns around to find Jesus. Praising God with a loud voice, he fell at Jesus’ feet and gave thanks.
I was surprised to find out that this leper was a Samaritan – one of the neglected, ostracized peoples of the ancient world, considered unclean and unfit for religious duties. Why was this man the one who gave thanks? Why didn’t the other nine – who were probably respectable, religious Jews – turn back to give thanks?
Probably the reason that the Samaritan gave thanks is because he was a Samaritan. He realized that he didn’t deserve anything. Jesus did not owe him healing. While Jesus did sometimes talk to Samaritans, they were not the focus of his ministry. Jesus was a Jew, and the vast majority of his healings were for the Jewish people.
The nine other lepers quite possibly expected that they would be healed. They called out to Jesus, thinking that he would heal them, as he healed so many others. But the Samaritan was uncertain. He knew that he did not deserve anything, but he cast himself on Jesus mercy.
The Key Revealed
This story teaches us that the key to thankfulness is recognizing our unworthiness. The thankful leper realized that he was a Samaritan, and unworthy of any mercy. When he was given mercy, he rejoiced with more joy than the others. The others may have said ‘thanks’ to God at the temple, but this leper was genuinely thankful.
I am reminded of king David, a man of genuine thankfulness. When God promised him great blessings, how did he respond? Twice we hear him ask the question, “Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?”
David looks back on his origin. He recognizes that he deserves nothing. He is not expecting an answer, but stating rhetorically a great truth: that he deserves nothing, and God has freely given him far more than he could ever ask for. This attitude is the key to genuine thanksgiving.