Perhaps one of my least favorite stories in all the Scriptures is found in Luke 17. It’s the story of Jesus cleansing the 10 lepers. Jesus, on His way to Jerusalem, entered a village with His disciples and was met by 10 lepers. Seeing Jesus, they cried out to Him for mercy. Jesus compassionately instructed them to go show themselves to the priests. While on their way, they were cleansed of their leprosy. The story continues:
Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:15-18, ESV).
I don’t know why this story bugs me so much. Maybe it’s the fact I was raised to always be thankful and write thank you notes from a very young age (thanks, Mom!). Or maybe it’s the troubling image of spoiled, ungrateful children at Christmas, tearing open gifts and never thanking their parents. Whatever it is, I never want to identify with these nine lepers. I want to be like the one who returned to worship and thank Jesus.
I recently came across an article in The Wall Street Journal suggesting that there are psychological, emotional and physical benefits to maintaining a thankful heart. Gotta love it when secular researchers find the Bible has had it right all along. No kidding!
Researchers have found that those who feel grateful have “more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not” and “they’re less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy, or alcoholics. They earn more money, sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly and have greater resistance to viral infections.” Man, if there were a drug that did all that, just imagine what people would pay.
I don’t pass along this research as your new motivation to live a thankful life, but I do find it interesting researchers are discovering just how beneficial gratitude can be.
One of the challenges of cultivating thankfulness is that it often can get shuffled to the back shelves of our prayer lives. If you’re like me, you tend to pray about those fires you need God to put out first and then about the things you need and want. If there happens to be time left, you might turn to what you’re thankful for. This is not what the Bible prescribes. I wonder, Have you ever made a list of things you’re thankful for? Have you ever literally counted your blessings?
I was blessed to have a mentor years ago who encouraged me to develop a lifelong habit of gratitude. He taught me to keep a thankfulness journal, a record designated solely for listing things I’m thankful for. I’m not really a “journaler” per se, but for years I’ve been writing down my blessings. Now, years later, it still stirs my faith to read back through and see the faithfulness of God throughout the past decade. I read and remember lessons God has taught me, challenges He’s walked me through and the ways that He’s met my needs.
I read and recall the time a friend helped fix my car, the summer God provided a job working at camp, tests and projects I never thought I’d finish, and the time a family invited me to live with them rent-free while I finished seminary. I read and can’t believe I ever dare complain about anything. God’s provision is most obvious when we stop and look for it. And nothing helps me stop and look like my thankfulness journal.
I believe that keeping this chronicle is slowly convincing my heart that I depend on God every single moment, that every gift and opportunity has come from His hand. Remembering my blessings is growing me into the type of person who doesn’t have to conjure up gratitude, but who, alongside the grateful leper of Luke 17, is prone to praise God with a loud voice, face to the ground. It’s a habit that has become precious to me, one I now commend to you. Perhaps the Puritan preacher John Boys put it best: “As the Lord loveth a cheerful giver, so likewise a cheerful thanksgiver.”