For nine years—when our two boys were in Middle and High School—we ran a lawn mowing business named Hoerr’s Lawn Care. In peak season, we mowed 25 yards per week, mostly for neighborhood widows and widowers who had fenced-in yards with small gates that wouldn’t accommodate the big mowers from commercial services. Most of our customers were very delightful, but we had one elderly widow named Edna whom we absolutely could not please. We either mowed too fast, or there were too many clumps of clippings, or we didn’t pick up the sticks adequately before mowing. Edna was simply a bitter, unhappy, unthankful person.
Edna stood in stark contrast with Dean—the lonely, chain-smoking widower who had a hard life. He’d lost his wife years before and even though his children and grandchildren were in the neighborhood they seldom visited. Nevertheless, Dean was always so thankful when we showed up. Despite his challenging circumstances, Dean inspired and encouraged us and lifted our spirits when we mowed every week.
I want to grow older and become a more thankful person (like Dean), and less grumpy and ungrateful (like Edna). I think Jesus would want that, too. In fact, the Gospel of Luke (17:11-19) records a story that illustrates the life-changing power of thanksgiving. We won’t include the entire story in this article, but here are the basics: Jesus and his disciples were on their final journey to Jerusalem when they encountered a group of ten lepers at a distance, who were shouting, “Jesus, have mercy on us.” (Leprosy was a horrible skin disease for which the Mosaic Law—the Bible of the day—had prescribed quarantine from the rest of society.) Jesus instructed them to go and show themselves to the priests for ritual cleansing, and as they went, they were supernaturally healed of their leprosy! One of them—a Samaritan (non-Jew)—saw that he had been healed and returned to give thanks to Jesus. And Jesus asked him: “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Why is this foreigner the only one who came back to give thanks to God?”
We might instinctively think that all ten lepers would have come back to say thanks to Jesus. But they didn’t. While there might be any number of reasons—they were waiting to see if the cure was real or would last, they thought they would get better anyway, or they didn’t think the healing was all that significant—we don’t know for certain why they didn’t return to give thanks. We just know that only one returned, and he was a Samaritan, normally enemies of the Jews.
Jesus’s response indicates he values thanksgiving and misses it when it’s not expressed! This is not because he is in “need” of our thanks, but because he knows how powerful it is in us. Interestingly, the story concludes: “And Jesus said to the man, ‘Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.’” The Samaritan experienced the life-changing power of God’s kingdom and was made whole and complete as he expressed his thankfulness to God.
Friends, I do not intend to be uncharitable towards the thankless. Rather, my hope is that this Thanksgiving-season story might motivate us to live every day full of gratitude. I understand, however, that few of us are born naturally thankful people. We have to build into our lives the rhythms and structures that create opportunities for thanksgiving—that enable us to become more like Dean and less like Edna.
So in closing, I want to offer some helpful tips on being people who more regularly display the virtue of thankfulness.
Read a Psalm every day—spending a few minutes every day with this ancient songbook will carry us through the full range of the human experience and allow us to connect with God through them all.
Give thanks upon rising and retiring—as your feet hit the floor at the start of every day, pause ten seconds to say: “Good Morning, Lord. This is the day that you have made so I will rejoice and be glad in it, for it is a gift from you. Thank you, God, for life, breath, soundness of mind, health of body, and every blessing that comes from your hand today.” And as your head hits the pillow, pray: “Good Evening, Lord. Thanks for your mercy, for another day to live for you and your kingdom. Give me now a good night’s rest.”
Give thanks at every meal: These 3 occasions of breakfast, lunch, and dinner punctuate every day with thanks.
Give thanks at random times: Think of these spontaneous outbursts like salt—seasoning sprinkled throughout our day!
May the Holy Spirit cause us to grow and change and become contented, thankful people! Blessings upon your Thanksgiving season.
To hear more from Ben check out the podcast at http://www.thevineyardchurchpeoria.org/category/podcast/