One year ago, I was honored to have the opportunity to speak about gratitude with the students and faculty at Trinity Christian School in Sharpsburg, GA. My talk at Trinity inspired this post.
Gratitude or thankfulness is something that many of us (including myself) struggle with. It was my goal to plant seeds of gratitude during my talk at the school so that the importance of gratitude would be sowed in fresh soil. Thankfully, I accomplished my goal.
From my brief experience as a parent, I believe “Thank you” is one of the earliest responses that my wife and I taught our young children. And I know that my parents taught me to say those simple, yet very important two words at an early age. But gratitude is more than a “thank you” reflex, it comes from the heart.
There’s an unfortunate story of ingratitude that took place in 1860. In that year a steamboat called the Lady Elgin was rammed by a sailing vessel called the Augusta. Lady Elgin sank in Lake Michigan as a result. 300 people died in this unfortunate accident, but some were rescued. A brave ministerial student named Edward Spencer entered the frigid water over and over and rescued 17 passengers. His health was permanently damaged because of exposure to the cold water during his great act of bravery.
Some years later at his funeral, it was noted that not one of the people he rescued during his six hours of rescue work ever thanked him. Unbelievable. Imagine that: saving lives and not hearing one “thank you” from the people whom you saved.
There’s a similar story that I’ll get to in a moment…a story of miraculous healing, ingratitude by the majority, but gratitude and faith from an unlikely person. I like to call the man “the grateful leper”.
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The Story of the Grateful Leper
Ten gravely sick men were communing on the outskirts of a village. All they had were each other, a common diagnosis of leprosy, and very little hope for healing. This is until they noticed a man from another town traveling past their village. The sick men knew that this traveler was not a common stranger. Their opportunity for healing had come!
I don’t know if any of these sick men had been praying for a miracle, but the man of miracles was suddenly among them. In unison, the sick men asked the traveler for mercy and healing.
The great traveler responded to their request with an odd command. He told the sick men to go and present themselves to the leaders of their village. As soon as the men followed the traveler’s command, they were immediately healed of their sickness! The great traveler was also a great healer. What happened next, caused a major shift in one man’s life.
Nine of the men ran to their leaders to present themselves as healed. They were elated to be reunited with their family and friends after all this time. One man, however, did not run away with the others. Filled with gratitude, he turned around and fell at the feet of the great traveler. This one man, unlike the others, was compelled to engage the traveler and give him thanks for his miraculous healing.
The great traveler questioned why the others didn’t come back like he had. The healed man looked up at the traveler’s face and was given the answer to the traveler’s question before he could respond. It had been decided long ago that this once sick man would know and follow the great traveler. It had been decided long ago that this once sick man would not only be healed physically, but that he would be healed spiritually as well. It had been decided long ago that this healed man would have faith in the great traveler, the Lord Jesus Christ.
What’s the Big Deal about Leprosy Anyway?
Allow me to set the scene with some unpleasant facts about leprosy during the 1st Century, which is when the story above took place. I want to communicate the reality of the lepers’ grave condition so that you can mentally put yourself in their shoes.
2000+ years ago, leprosy put those affected with it in awful medical and social conditions.
Leprosy is defined as a chronic, but curable (these days at least) infectious disease that mainly causes skin lesions and nerve damage. It also must be noted that leprosy spreads by airborne contact, which is likely why Luke, the writer of the story, provided the detail of the group standing at a distance. I’ve also read that lepers were required to wear a cloth over their mouth because of the way it spreads. Wow. This reminds me of so much of what we’re going through now with the COVID-19 pandemic.
An interesting fact: Did you know that the writer Luke was a physician? And as a physician, there’s a strong chance that he understood the severity of these lepers’ grave condition. So one could guess that this story really hit home with him.
To make matters worse, lepers were outcasts socially. They could not live or worship with others, including their family and friends. They were ostracized, banished to suffer outside of their communities. They weren’t allowed to live in any walled city. It was an awful way to live and many of them had no hope.
Now that I’ve set the scene and expressed the severity of the lepers’ condition…allow me to define what I mean by true gratitude before I get into the seven steps of true gratitude.
True gratitude is a deep thankfulness for the life and work of Jesus Christ in the hearts of believers.
The 7 Steps of True Gratitude
The first five steps of true gratitude come directly from the story of the grateful leper and the final two are practical activities that are not from the story but are useful things that we can do in our life.
The first step of gratitude is to acknowledge your sin and to acknowledge your need for spiritual healing.
1. Acknowledge Your Sin
And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”
Everyone reading this falls into one of two camps. You’re either a leper now…or you’re a former leper who was miraculously cured. Now before you run to the hospital, just know that I’m simply painting a picture of our spiritual brokenness prior to salvation.
As I mentioned earlier, leprosy during the 1st Century was practically a death sentence. It took a miracle for the disease to be cured in those days. And that’s exactly what happened in the story. Physicians had no answer for it. Thankfully, this is no longer the case with leprosy (which is called Hansen’s disease today).
If you think about it…1st Century leprosy is a picture of our sin. And like those who had the disease were placed outside of their community, our spiritual condition prior to salvation placed us outside of God’s camp. In order for us to be cured, it took the miracle of the Holy Spirit transforming our heart from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh…from a heart that hates God to a heart that loves Him and His Word. Like Jesus told Nicodemus, we had to be born again. No good work…no medication can wash away our spiritual leprosy…nothing but the blood of Jesus can accomplish that. And in the case of the story of the grateful leper, only one of the ten lepers received this gift of faith.
This brings us to gratitude step #2.
2. Go to the Source of Eternal Healing
Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice
The interesting thing is that all of the lepers followed Jesus’ command to go show themselves to the leaders and priests. And with their show of obedience, they were all miraculously healed of their physical condition. You could even imagine all of them being thankful. After all, they were all about to be reunited with their family and friends. They would be allowed to worship again. But only one of the lepers turned around and expressed true gratitude. Why is that? Let me put another question out to you.
Do you know what made the grateful leper turn around and worship Jesus?
Jesus eventually told the grateful leper that his faith had made him well. And it was his faith that made him turn around and express true gratitude. Why? Because true gratitude is a result of saving faith.
All of the lepers received grace from God but only one received amazing grace. Only one heard Jesus’ command like a sheep hearing the voice of the Great Shepherd.
Now to step #3 of true gratitude…
3. Give Thanks at the Feet of Jesus
And he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.
The grateful leper fell on his face at Jesus’ feet in worship. Think about the huge response that this man had for his healing. We can learn a lot from his response for when God blesses us in many ways.
Let’s focus for a bit on a key detail in the story. Our grateful friend was a Samaritan. And from the text, you gather that the other nine lepers were Jews. I suppose we can call our friend here the grateful Samaritan as well.
Samaritans were despised by Jews because of their mixed bloodline. But in this story we see that his disease put him in the same company with the same people who detested him. This should teach us a good lesson. Whether Jew or Gentile, we’re all born with hearts that need spiritual healing. Whether Jew or Gentile, we must be born again in order to enter God’s Kingdom.
At this point in the story, the grateful leper is in a posture of worship at the feet of Jesus. Worship, praise, and thanksgiving all go hand-in-hand. And the grateful leper exhibited all of these! Yes, he was grateful for his physical healing, but we’ll soon find out that he had received so much more from God.
As you think about how the grateful leper is expressing great gratitude to and for God, meditate how you express gratitude to God in your life.
I have a couple tips for how to express true gratitude in your life:
- The first tip is to read, pray, and meditate on the Psalms. You can’t help but be thankful for God’s salvation when you read some of the Psalms.
- The second tip for expressing true gratitude is keeping a journal of answered prayers and praising God for them!
Let’s proceed to step #4.
4. God Confirms Your Faith
And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
Jesus confirmed to the grateful leper that his faith had made him well for eternity. This is how believers receive thankfulness that lasts forever.
Please understand. It wasn’t the leper’s gratitude that made him well. Being a nice guy didn’t make him whole. It was his faith! And that’s what Jesus confirmed to him.
The grateful leper’s true gratitude is an outpouring of his faith in Christ. The same goes for all believers. As children of God, we’re called to express true gratitude just like the grateful leper did.
Now to step #5 of true gratitude…
5. Walk Out Your Faith in Thankful Obedience
And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
I think it’s easy to assume that the grateful leper, who just had his faith confirmed by Jesus, obeyed Jesus’ command to rise and go. And with that…the grateful leper was rising above his former life of sin and moving forward as a thankful and obedient disciple of Jesus.
Jesus is telling us to show the proof of our true gratitude through thankful obedience to him. Jesus is telling us to follow Him and to seek him, his will, and his Word. He’s telling us to be salt and light in this dark world. Here are two Bible verses that you can meditate on as you walk out your faith with true gratitude:
1 Thess 5:18 – “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
1 Chronicles 16:34 – “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!”
This brings us to the 6th step of true gratitude.
6. Preach the Gospel to Yourself
To reiterate…this 6th step and the next one continue from where the story of the grateful leper ends.
Preaching the gospel to yourself compels you to ask some serious questions.
“Am I taking the gospel and my salvation for granted?”
“Am I living according to God’s Word?”
The late Jerry Bridges (via his friend Dr. Jack Miller) coined this term “preach the gospel to yourself”. Preaching the gospel to yourself involves reminding yourself of your sin and resting in Jesus Christ, the only source for permanent healing.
This brings us to our final step and that’s to…
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:19,20
A precious fruit of true gratitude is actually sharing the gospel. We’re to be stewards of all that God has given us and that includes the Good News! Good stewards of the gospel are not ashamed of it (Romans 1:16). And good stewards of the gospel are obedient to Jesus’ command for his disciples to globally evangelize the unsaved and disciple new followers of Jesus.
I personally can’t think of any better way to express true gratitude than to share the gospel with your family, friends and neighbors.
To recap, the seven steps of true gratitude are:
- Acknowledge Your Sin
- Go to the Source of Eternal Healing
- Give Thanks at the Feet of Jesus
- God Confirms Your Faith
- Walk Out Your Faith in Thankful Obedience
- Preach the Gospel to Yourself
- Share the Gospel
My hope and prayer is that you will worship Jesus with true gratitude in your heart.
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