CULTIVATING A GRATEFUL HEART
Celeste Sibley, columnist for the Atlanta Constitution, took her three children into a small restaurant for breakfast one morning so they would not be late for school and she for her work. The place was crowded. They had to take separate seats at the counter. Little eight-year-old Mary sat at the end of the line, when she was served, she paused and called her mother, “Mommy don't people ask the blessing in this place?” Silence followed. The mother was embarrassed. Before she could hush the child, the counter man replied, “Yes, we do, sister! You give thanks!” Mary bowed her head. All heads were lowered in reverence and silence while Mary prayed: “God is great and God is good, let us thank Him for our food! Amen!”
Today I would like to share with you on the subject: “Cultivating a Grateful Heart.”
If there is anything that is lacking in lives and hearts it is the attitude of gratitude. We live in a world where people are always on the receiving end from God but refuse to thank Him. Are we to thank God only when something good happens to us? The Bible enjoins us to give thanks to God always in all things, for this is God's will for us (1 Thess. 5:18). If you are a parent and have children who are ungrateful to you, how do you feel? Do you feel used? Do you feel you are not appreciated? Do you feel you are taken for granted? God feels the same sense of neglect, ungratefulness, and cheated when you refuse to thank Him. As we observe the Thanksgiving holiday next week, I want us to visit a familiar passage of Scripture and glean some insight concerning the importance of cultivating a grateful heart.
I. THE PASSING OF THE MESSIAH VV. 11-12
The text tells us that Jesus was passing through Samaria and Galilee on His way to Jerusalem, and as He entered a village, ten lepers who were standing at a distance met Him. The lepers met Jesus afar off. The reason is because, according to the Jewish Law, lepers were to keep their distance, because they were considered unclean. It was also believed that leprosy was a contagious disease. Besides, leprosy was regarded as contaminating so the lepers were not allowed to mingle with able people. And if a leper were passing, he/she had to shout “unclean, unclean” so that people would avoid him/her. Lepers were ostracized from the society. In those days leprosy did not have any cure. The disease would literally eat the body of the victims until they die. Lepers could not go back to their family and live with them. If the leper had a wife or husband, the leper was not allowed to enter his/her house. The leprosy affects the hands, fingers, and feet and also the face, the lips, and sometimes the eye sockets. The leprosy affected the nerves of its victims that they lost any sense of feeling in the affected parts of the body. You could imagine the anguish, the suffering, and the loneliness that these victims had to endure. Nobody would engage in a conversation with these lepers. Nobody, including family members would pay them visit. They were outcast in their own nation. Nobody had interest of lepers at heart, but thanks to God that Jesus cares. No matter who you are and what you are going through, I would like to submit to you that Jesus cares.
II. THE PLEA FOR MERCY V. 13
As Jesus was passing through, the lepers raised their voices and shouted, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” This presupposes that the lepers knew who Jesus was and were confident that Jesus could help them. In spite of their deadly disease and the label society has placed on them, they recognized the uniqueness of Jesus. In my sanctified imagination, I could see that some of the people were telling the lepers to shout up and keep their distance, but Jesus heard their voice. When you have a need that you know only Jesus can meet, do not pay attention to your critics. The lepers' request was simple; they asked for mercy. This is a cry for compassion, and it is a request that comes frequently to Jesus (Matt. 9:27; 15:22; 17:15; Luke 16:24). The lepers were tired of been outcasts; they were tired of being ostracized and alienated. They wanted to be healed so that they could have a normal life. Up to this time Jesus has experienced all kinds of hostility and opposition from the religious leaders. Therefore can grace be manifested in the midst of such tension?
In the cry of the lepers for mercy, they were acknowledging their sins before Jesus. They were casting themselves before the mercy of Jesus Christ. This should be the plea of anyone who comes to Jesus. But some of you would say, “I am not a leper, I am healthy why should I ask Jesus for mercy.” Ladies and gentlemen you have an inherent disease that is more debilitating and more deadly than leprosy. That disease is sin. The Word of God says emphatically, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). We are all sinners by nature, by choice, and by practice. The only one who can cure your sin sickness is Jesus Christ. That is why the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). The sin sickness is not a matter of denial but acceptance and doing something about it. The lepers did not deny the fact that they were lepers. They rather, admitted their need for mercy. What need do you have today? Some people deny their need. Some hide their need. Some try to explain away or rationalize their need. When Jesus is around, you do not have to hide your need. All that you need to do is to bring your need to Him and see what He will do for you.
III. THE PROPOSITION OF THE MESSIAH VV. 14-15
Jesus removes any doubt about His desire to show compassion. Those who come to Jesus receive relief, even those who cry to Him from a distance. When Jesus saw the lepers He commanded them to go and show themselves to the priests. Why didn't Jesus heal them instantaneously? Why didn't Jesus do to them what He had done to so many sick people? Jesus was putting the faith of the ten lepers to the test as though they had been cured of their leprosy. Furthermore, this shows that Jesus did not use one method in His healing ministry. This should come as shock to some people who have kept God in a straight jacket. Jesus is showing that He is the Great Physician and if these lepers would act on His command they would be healed. Probably some people around felt that what Jesus commanded the lepers to do did not make any sense. Everybody knows that these people are lepers and Jesus is telling them to go and show themselves to the priests. Why the priests? The priests in those days served as health inspectors. It was something that God has instituted in the Law (Lev. 13 & 14).
The miracle of the healing took place when the lepers acted on the word of Jesus. Many people are expecting a miracle from the Lord today but they are not obedient to Him. If the lepers had stood there to argue with Jesus their leprosy would have remained. However, they obeyed the command of Jesus and as they were going, they received their cleansing. If it were you who are so civilized, educated, sophisticated, and intelligent you would have rationalized. You would even have doubted whether Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ or the Anointed One. The simplicity of what Jesus asked them to do would have thrown you off. You would have concluded this does not make any sense. You would have reasoned and complained like Naaman, the Syrian army commander, who came to see Elisha. Many Christians do not see the power of God in their lives because they are people without faith. You always want to see something before you believe. But these lepers had faith in Jesus so they did exactly what Jesus commanded them to do. What is your reaction when God tells you something from the Bible? What is your response when God speaks to you through a preacher or a mature believer? Do you brush it aside, or do you act on what God is saying to you?
IV. THE POSTURE OF THE GRATEFUL MAN V. 16
Here lies the gist of the narrative. Ten lepers were healed but only one came to give thanks to Jesus Christ. And he was even a stranger, a Samaritan. There was a prolonged hostility and enmity between the Jews and the Samaritans, but the Samaritan removed the social barrier and came to thank the Lord. When he came, he fell prostrate before Jesus Christ. This was an expression of an attitude of gratitude coming from an undeserved sinner. Full of praise, the Samaritan falls at Jesus' feet and offers thanksgiving for his cleansing. The Samaritans were considered as people, who were insensitive to God, but not this one. This also shows why we are not to share the gospel to only people from our culture, country, or tribe. We are to share the gospel with anyone that the Lord will bring our way, because you do not know who will receive Christ and follow Him.
By the way, any time you and I come to thank the Lord, we must prostrate ourselves before Him. The Samaritan in his prostration was demonstrating to the Lord that he did not deserve what the Lord has done for him. It was an act of reverence and gratitude. The Samaritan also recognized that Jesus was not an ordinary man. He was worshiping Jesus. Jesus alone is worthy of your worship. Jesus did not ask the man not to fall down at His feet. This shows that Jesus acknowledges the man's worship, which implies that Jesus is God clothed in human flesh.
V. THE PARDON FROM THE MESSIAH VV. 17-19
Jesus was shocked by the ungratefulness of the nine lepers. Why did the other nine refuse to come to thank the Lord? Perhaps like many people today, they said to themselves: “we have gotten all that we wanted.” They were ungrateful people with limited vision. Their whole focus in life was limited to the physical. The Samaritan had a heart of gratitude. He was grateful to the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus asks, “Where are the other nine?” Jesus commends the example of attitude of gratitude in the Samaritan. Why did these nine lepers not return to give thanks to Jesus? This is not strange, because many of us do the same thing to the Lord today. Many people when they are sick, when they lose their job, when their marriage is breaking apart, when their finances are in shambles, and when their children are rebellious, or using illegal drugs, when they are in dire need, they come to church to be prayed for. They pretend to be faithful to the Lord and His church. They do not miss a single service, but when God solves their problem for them that would be the last time you see them in the house of the Lord. Some would even hide from you when you see them in a grocery store or somewhere. You see how many Christians are like the nine lepers!
In honoring the memory of their son who was killed in World War II, the parents gave a sizable check to their church. When the presentation was made, a mother whispered to her husband, “Let's give the same amount for our boy!” “What are you talking about?” asked the husband, “our boy didn't lose his life!” “Ah,” said the wife, “that is just the point! Let's give it as an expression of our gratitude to God for sparing His life!” If you can't be thankful for what you have, be thankful for what you have escaped.
George Herbert prayed: “Our Father, Thou hast given us so much. Do please give us one more thing—a grateful heart!”
In this episode, Jesus issued a final encouraging commendation to the Samaritan who returned to give thanks to Him. He tells the man that his “faith has made him well.” Jesus is saying though ten men received their healing only this Samaritan has faith and has returned to establish ties with Jesus that indicate the presence of salvation. The deliverance that Jesus affirms here is greater than the physical healing the man has experienced. Why is it important to cultivate and maintain a grateful heart? It is because an attitude of gratitude has a powerful impact in every area of our lives. An attitude of gratitude keeps you aware of the presence of God in your life. It helps you to submit to God's will for your life. It reminds you of your dependence upon the Lord. An attitude of gratitude focuses your attention upon God rather than your circumstances. Thanking God energizes the inner man, and something begins to show on the outside. Thanking God transforms your anxiety and ushers in peace in your heart (Phil. 4:6-7). However, if you choose release and escape you make a mistake. When you make a quick way out like the ten lepers who refused to return to thank the Lord, you become a loser and you cheat yourself and others for the blessings God is going to give them through you. An attitude of gratitude develops a stronger trust in Jesus Christ. Cultivating a grateful heart enables you to approach God with new boldness and new assurance. Plain and simple, those who do not have a thankful heart are showing to God that they are not humble; for gratitude is a mark of humility. When the Lord blesses you go ahead and thank Him. When others bless you, display an attitude of gratitude. It is also imperative to help your children cultivate a grateful heart, because human nature is selfish and self-centered. Today, I can guarantee you that the Lord has done so many things for you that you cannot even count your blessings. Therefore, learn to maintain a grateful heart.
Don't be like the painter who fell from a scaffold when he was painting a three- story building. On his way down he began to pray, Lord help me, else I am going to die and he caught the branches of a nearby tree. When he landed, he said to himself, “I guess I was lucky.” He refused to thank God for saving his life.