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.
Gratitude Is a Pathway to God
Practiced as a spiritual discipline, gratitude realigns us to the Giver and increases His activity in our lives.
Here’s a theological sequence that is paramount to understanding this: gratitude begets humility, which begets God’s grace.
Let’s begin with gratitude. Gratitude has been called the “gateway” spiritual discipline. As Psalm 100:4 commands us, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name.” In gratitude, we thank God not just for the stuff that fills our storage spaces, but for Him.
Gratitude begets humility because it reveals our God-given neediness. Humility is a heart condition that recognizes that all of our blessings have been received, not earned. It understands how utterly deprived we stand before a Holy God. We simply can’t advance God’s Kingdom, be saved, or even love God in return without His own love for us first.
Indeed, humility is the right posture when relating to God—it permits God’s grace in our lives. As James states that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (4:6). Since God’s grace is God’s power, the more thankful and needy we are before the Lord, the more power we receive.
As we make this recursive pathway (of gratitude, humility and grace) a habitude, it allows us to experience more of God’s presence and power.
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.