The Sunday school teacher was finishing a lesson on honesty. “Do you know where little boys go if they don’t put their money in the collection plate?” the teacher asked. “Yes ma’am,” a boy blurted out. “To the movies.”
Timmy didn’t want to put his money in the offering plate Sunday morning, so his mother decided to use some hurried creative reasoning with him. “You don’t want that money, honey,” she whispered in his ear. “Quick! Drop it in the plate. It’s tainted!” Horrified, the little boy obeyed. After a few seconds he whispered, “But, mommy, why was the money tainted? Was it dirty? “Oh, no dear,” she replied. “It’s not really dirty. It just ‘taint yours, and ‘taint mine,” she replied. “It’s God’s.”
Life is full of little and big moments when gratitude comes pouring into our hearts. For these we should give thanks to God. As Psalm 118:28-29 says, “You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!”
Be more aware when a thankful heart is right, like when someone sees your hands are full and opens the door for you. Such a small gesture but making connections through kindness makes everyone feel like the earth is spinning in the right direction. The moment when your food comes at a restaurant. Drool.
When the small moments mean something to us, then the bigger moments will bring us greater joy. Like the holidays, at least for most. They don’t call it “the most wonderful time of the year” for nothing. Or your child’s face after she or he opens a present. That’s what pure joy looks like.
But a life that recognizes the power of gratitude mustn’t wait for the right moment. Gratitude is an attitude bigger than any circumstance or condition in life. It is a cause of joy and a magnifier of blessing. Gratitude is a life-changer that overcomes feelings of being overwhelmed. As 1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Being thankful isn’t easy, for sure. It can take more than what we’re often willing to do in order to find gratitude in our hearts. Some of us seem to be more naturally inclined to it than others.
One pastor had a knack for being thankful. One stormy Sunday morning, when everything was going extremely bad in the community and in
the lives of many people in the congregation, himself included, he finished his sermon and was about to begin the pastoral prayer. A member of the congregation thought to himself, “Pastor will have nothing to thank God for on a morning like this.”
The pastor began his prayer, “We thank you, O God, that it is not always like this.” That pastor knew how to take the gratitude path no matter how steep and rocky it was.
What’s strange though is that even though having a thankful heart isn’t easy, most of the time all it takes is a little attitude adjustment. Simpler yet, it can require merely changing one simple word: From “have” to “get.”
As adults, we spend a lot of time talking about all of the things that we have to do. You have to wake up early for work. You have to exercise today. You have to cut the lawn. You have to make dinner for your family. You have to go to your daughter’s game.
Now, imagine changing just one word in the sentences above. You don’t “have” to. You “get” to. You get to wake up early for work. You get to exercise today. You get to cut the lawn. You get to make dinner for your family. You get to go to your son’s game.
The difference with one word is the difference between burdens and opportunities. Remind yourself that the things you do each day are not burdens. They’re opportunities. See the work not as pain but as reward and everything changes. Because the truth is: You don’t have to. You get to.
Practically everyone is familiar with the term “Good Samaritan.” Some hospitals have taken the name Good Samaritan. Some countries have established Good Samaritan laws to protect from prosecution those who come to the aid of others in accidents or other times of peril. A Good Samaritan is a person who empathizes with and helps others unselfishly.
But have you ever heard of the Grateful Samaritan? The story of the Grateful Samaritan appears just seven chapters after the account of the Good Samaritan.
When the one Samaritan turned back to Jesus after he was healed of leprosy, while the other nine went there way, he showed the true nature of being thankful. He took the gratitude path to Christ.
We can be thankful for receiving without ever being grateful to the giver. What I mean is we can be thankful in ourselves but not grateful to another. The gratitude path requires a step further than what some are willing to take.
Jesus was struck that only one returned. “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this Samaritan?” Perhaps today it might be a secular humanist as the Samaritan, or a Muslim.
Now Luke makes a point of clearly identifying the grateful man: “and he was a Samaritan.” The implication is that the other lepers were Jews, who should have known and done better, sort of like how it is said that Christians are supposed to be better at forgiving and being compassionate and looking to help others in need, at least compared to non-Christians, atheists, and those of other religions. I’m not so sure this is really true.
You see, the nine already had what their heart most desired. They had prayed and prayed for this to happen. They had received the answer to their prayers, even if some were no longer praying.
For sure by now some of those ten had lost hope that their condition would ever improve, that they would ever live other than in a leper colony, far from their family.
Not wanting to contaminate their family or friends, on the very first sign of leprosy they would have had to make their way out of the house, go to the priest, and be told the diagnosis: They were lepers.
They would be immediately taken outside of their town or village. No more hugs with their children, spouses, friends. From that moment on, they would only have the company of other lepers.
If they hadn’t lost faith in God because of this, ever since then they had cried rivers of tears begging for a miracle, for a healing—a cure for the incurable. They knew what their fate was to be: declining health, loss of extremities, less and less human contact. They desperately sought a way, any way to be rescued from their pitiable life.
And then it happened. They were actually healed. No more leprosy, no more snow-white flaky and sore skin. It was gone. They had what they had dreamed about, prayed for, and cried over.
Yet it wasn’t enough—not at least for nine of the ten. They wanted reunion with their families. They wanted to feel their embraces again. They wanted to find the priest who would declare them healthy enough to go back to their homes. They wanted to restart their lives and get back in the flow of what they had before.
In truth, they wanted more, and they wanted it now.
Now you may be thinking, “But pastor, who can blame them? They wanted to be with their families again and to return to their loved ones.” Yes, true, I understand. But look, that was going to happen, if not that minute, then in five or ten or a half hour or in an hour or two.
In some respects, this story may be one of the most difficult to believe actually happened. Who in their right mind wouldn’t go back to Jesus, who just cured you of leprosy, a death sentence to an exile community? How would it be possible that you wouldn’t turn around and run back to the person who somehow did what he did? Wouldn’t you want to find Jesus, to see him, to look him in the eyes, to touch him to see if he’s real?
How is it possible that humans can forget so quickly what incredible goodness has happened to them? How couldn’t more of those nine go back, fall on their knees, with tears in their eyes, and thank him profusely for what he had returned to them?
Because they still wanted more. They weren’t satisfied with what they had received.
They’re not alone, though. So many live with dissatisfaction. Their ingratitude shapes their thoughts, words and actions. We don’t want to be like that. Perhaps you’re the grateful Samaritan, the one in ten. Then you’re special. I hope we all are that one.
But to be special means you have to see things in a special way. You have to be able to stop and hold onto what is really happening at moments. To be different than others you have to be able to find the divine where others see nothing, to be humble when others are proud, to be thankful when others aren’t satisfied.
To have the will to stand apart and find the Lord you have to be willing to think what others don’t, to feel what others reject, to say what others neglect, to love what many won’t.
To realize your gratitude we have to let go of daily dissatisfaction, of needing more before you can bless God, of wanting something else before you will give Christ thanks.
This is what would make us truly special.
Some business people were talking one day about others who had influenced their lives. One man mentioned a schoolteacher, a Mrs. Wendt, who had introduced him to Alfred Lord Tennyson, the English poet. He was prompted to write to her. His letter was forwarded until it reached her.
Sometime later he received a letter from her, written in a feeble hand. It said, “I can’t tell you how much your note meant to me. I am in my 80s, living alone in a small room, cooking my own meals, lonely, and like the last leaf lingering behind. You will be interested to know that I taught school for 50 years and yours is the first note of appreciation I ever received. It came on a blue, cold morning and it cheered me as nothing has for years.”
So many believe if they had more they would give more to support God’s work through the church. And to a certain extent of course that’s true. But when it comes to real giving for each of us in our actual circumstances, the truth is it’s not the amount of money we possess that determines giving but the amount of gratitude we practice that determines giving.
Praise the Lord for your blessings. Be available to receive even more from God’s hands. Find your gratitude path and stay on it. Create a blessed life by being someone who blesses.
We’re always in danger of being thankful only when good things come our way. When we do that, our threshold for gratitude gets higher and higher, and we become ungrateful people.
Don’t wait until everything’s in alignment before you’re grateful. That might take way too long. Instead, practice being thankful. Talk yourself into an attitude of gratitude about things and people and the state of this or that so worry and fear won’t take over.
And in all things, be diligent to give praise to God. Lift up your heart to the Lord. Believe good things are coming, for then your life will be full of thanks and praise.
Can the church say Amen?