You’re familiar with the image. William Bradford, at Plymouth Rock, proclaiming a day of Thanksgiving to celebrate the pilgrim’s second year in the “New World.” However, the first Thanksgiving took place in Virginia about 11 years earlier—and it certainly was not a feast by any definition.
It was in the winter of 1610 at Jamestown. The group of 409 settlers was down to about 60 persons, and they were hungry and afraid. They prayed that help and supplies might come from the Old Country. Shortly after their near starvation, English ships arrived with food and enough supplies to aid their survival. It wasn’t a time to feel thankful, but they had much in which to feel grateful.
We don’t always feel very thankful in difficult circumstances. The 2020 thanksgiving will be awkward. How do we social distance while enjoying turkey and dressing? Do we still hold hands around the table? The Macy’s Thanksgiving parade will be virtual this year?! How odd! By this magazine’s time, the election will be breathing down our necks, and there is no telling the turmoil that will come if either candidate wins.
Regardless of what may come, Christians should be grateful people for what God has done for them. Gratitude and love are the sources for all other virtues. If we are to survive the holiday season, we need a healthy dose of both. Start your day by counting your blessings and remembering what the Lord has done for you. It will help you get through the season.
As I start preparing for a homecoming sermon, I reflect on examples of gratitude in the Bible. It is nearly impossible to list all examples of gratitude adequately, but my heart is drawn to Luke 17:11–19—the healing of the 10 lepers: more correctly, the grateful leper. Ten cry out to Jesus to have mercy on them, and they are healed as they went to see the priests. However, one, a Samaritan leper, fell on his face before the Lord and thanked Him.
In the Greek language, Luke says the young Samaritan man (v. 15) saw that he was healed. The word used means to “know” or “perceive.” In other words, he had an awakening. He realized the magnitude of what Jesus did for him, and he was moved with deep gratitude. He was a Samaritan; he had no reason to care what the priests thought. This man wasn’t welcome to worship in the Temple anyway. So, he cherished the source of his healing—Jesus.
Do you realize how blessed you are? Do you know how much God cares for you? Do you see the ways you have been shaped, protected, and nourished by God’s mercy? None of you are hungry, thirsty, or naked. You have church families, scripture, and opportunities for prayer. Christ offers grace, mercy, and salvation. The way of Christ offers total transformation and a home not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Shake off the spiritual fog of your circumstances and realize the Kingdom of God is, indeed, at hand!
An ungrateful Christian is a defeated Christian. Ungratefulness steals your love for God and others and will rob you of the joy of life. If nothing else is going right in your life, take a moment to watch the stars in their courses and the created world in its flourishing. Be amazed at the power and creative genius of God.
This Samaritan leper realized the connection of gratitude and worship. The essence of true spiritual worship is thanksgiving. It gives us reason to sing and praise. It drives our desire to study God’s Word and learn divine wisdom. It inspires our giving and our commitment to ministry. If you feel burnt out with the church, return to a spirit of gratitude. If you have never engaged in acts of ministry or mission, consider what God has done and find a way to offer your service to others as an act of worship and gratitude.
Finally, I think of how the young man returned to Jesus. He fell on his face, not at a distance, but right at Jesus’ feet. The Greek language is more colorful in this instance. It implies he fell at Jesus’ feet and “made manifest the worth” of the Lord. I love this idea—made manifest the value of what the Lord did for him. It was not a superficial “thank you.” This man profoundly and sincerely realized the magnitude of his healing and returned it in full submission and thanksgiving.
When Jesus saw the young man’s embodiment of gratitude, nothing else was needed. He simply told him to, “Arise, go thy way, thy faith has made thee whole.” Nothing else necessary—no need to show himself to the priests because the Priest of Priests has just made him whole. He had faith, not only to be healed but to worship.
Today, all of us are blessed by God’s mercy and grace, but not all of us will follow and worship. This man’s thankful heart responded in faith, made manifest the worth of what the Lord did, and was made perfectly whole.