It’s the season of all things brown and orange, of pumpkin spiced confections, and of stuffed turkeys (or turkey with dressing, depending on where you live) . It's the time of year when we gather with friends and family to feast on the season’s harvest and celebrate all that we have been given.
Throughout the month of November, our social media feeds will be filled with friend’s lists of things for which they are thankful. And for good reason; there is much to be thankful for: our lives, our health, the food we eat, our families, jobs, and so much more. Giving thanks is a good thing and something we ought to do.
Gratitude and thanksgiving is something that both Christians and non-Christians alike both encourage. Even popular magazines this month will talk about ways to be more thankful. The question is, what makes gratitude different between believers and non-believers? Is there any difference? And can it be more than just a passing fad for the month of November?
These are all things I wonder about, this time of year especially. And here is my conclusion: like seeds that fall on poor soil, gratitude won't take root and produce on just any ground.
Gratitude and thanksgiving grows and thrives in the soil of humility.
The One Who Gave Thanks
“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.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 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?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:12-19)
In Jesus’ day, the Samaritans were despised by the Jews. It was a hatred that went all the way back to the time when Israel split into two kingdoms and Assyria conquered the northern kingdom. John 4 described this animosity when the woman at the well said to Jesus, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink? (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans)" (4:9).
Because of this history, the Jews did not talk to or associate with Samaritans. In the case of the ten lepers, it is not only striking that Jesus healed the Samaritan leper, but also that the leper returned to give Jesus thanks. The Samaritan's gratitude is all the more compelling given the fact that none of the other lepers returned in gratitude. Perhaps he knew more the other nine that he did not deserve Jesus’ healing. He knew well his standing before the Jews and knew that Jesus could have just healed the nine and left him out of it. In humility, the healed leper returned to give Jesus praise and thanksgiving. Jesus responded, “Your faith has made you well.” Not only was he healed and saved on the outside, but his soul found healing and salvation as well.
The Soil in Which Thanksgiving Grows
When a non-believer makes a gratitude list, it's not about all the things they are thankful that God has done for them. Rather, it's more like "these are the things I am happy about in my life" kind of list. In thinking about all the good things they have in their life, they feel a boost of happiness. That's because experts say that having a grateful attitude is good for us. Looking at all the blessings we have in our life makes us realize that things aren't as bad as we think. It changes our perspective, reduces stress, and transforms our mood. For many in our society, giving thanks is simply a feel good exercise to greater self-fulfillment and has nothing to do with God at all.
For believers in Christ, giving thanks looks very different. It's not about self-fulfillment and it's purpose isn't to make us feel better. There's a different reason for our thanksgiving altogether. Our thanksgiving is directed to someone, to the God who made us. And it is in response to who he is and what he has done.
A believer's gratitude comes from a humble heart that acknowledges we are but dust. God created us and breathed in us the breath of life. He sustains us each day. We are completely dependent upon him and can do nothing apart from him (John 15:5). Everything we have is a gift of his grace. As Peter said in Acts, "nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything" (17:25).
A humble heart knows its position before the God of the universe and bows in reverence, awe, wonder, and gratitude. Such a heart knows that it is unworthy and undeserving of God’s grace. In reference to this story of the ten lepers, the Gospel Transformation Bible says, “Our worshipful response—or lack thereof—reflects the depth of our understanding of God’s mercy and goodness. The first and greatest response to the gospel of grace is thankful worship.” (p.1387). When we know the holiness of God, the wisdom of God, the power of God, and the rich grace of God, we realize how amazing it is that we are able to stand in his presence and receive his gift of salvation.
It is in this fertile soil of humility where thanksgiving grows and thrives. Any other soil that denies God’s holiness, wisdom, power, and sovereignty will only speak words of thanksgiving but without deep roots, it will not thrive or last. Like the nine other lepers, it will gladly take the good gifts God bestows but won't truly honor and thank him for who he is and what he has done.
In the soil of humility, thanksgiving grows even in the darkest of nights and in the fiercest climates where suffering and trials bear down hard. This is why Paul could say that we are to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18). This is where much of the world’s efforts at thanksgiving and gratitude breaks down. It’s easy to give thanks when the harvest is plenty. But to continue to give thanks in the midst of trial reveals the type of soil in which thanksgiving resides. The soil of humility will produce thanksgiving in all seasons--in sunshine and rain, in plenty or in want.
The soil itself is something for which we must give thanks for it is not a soil we can produce on our own. It too is a gift of God's generous grace. So this Thanksgiving, and every day of the year, let us give thanks with a grateful heart, knowing that like the Samaritan leper, we are not worthy. And like the Samaritan leper, may we be filled with the same wonder and amazement that God would choose to extend his kindness toward us.