• The BaptistWay lesson for Aug. 17 focuses on Psalm 103 and Luke 17:11-19.
Why thankfulness is important
Two-year-olds have no idea why saying “thank you” is important. Yet from an early age, they figure out it is something adults want them to say in order to get what they want. When we first began teaching my daughter this, she would confuse “thank you” with “you’re welcome.”
She knew both phrases were said when you either wanted or received something, she just could not consistently remember which one to say at the appropriate time. At least, she was getting into the habit of saying these phrases. This is how 2-year-olds learn, by repetition and rules. We don’t expect them to understand why thankfulness is important; we are just thankful when they remember to say “thank you” or something like it when the situations calls for it.
I’ve noticed, however, adults are less likely to say “thank you” when you hold a door, allow their car to pass or give up your spot in the grocery store line. They might acknowledge you with a head nod or a half-smile, but to actually hear them say “thank you” is becoming less and less common. I cannot help but wonder if it has to do with a lack of maturity and continued education in God’s word. If someone is taught the habit of saying a phrase, but the phrase’s significance never is explained, there’s a good chance the habit eventually will start to lack meaning and cease to be a regular practice.
Let’s be clear: Thankfulness is not just important to fit into society or to appear culturally acceptable. It is important because it characterizes the overall disposition a believer should have before God. When we teach our children to say “thank you” when we do something for them, this ultimately is what we are training them to understand. We hope they will be able to take the thankfulness they learned when adults met their basic needs and apply it to the more abstract things for which we owe thanks to God—creation, salvation, provision, etc.
Thankfulness as a particular response (Luke 17:11-19)
Just as it is appropriate for our children to express thanks when we do something for them, the Bible teaches thankfulness to God is appropriate for what he does for us. Jesus upholds this idea when he heals 10 people with leprosy in Luke 17. I’ve often found it unbelievable that only one leper came back and offered thanks. Perhaps the key to this mystery is that Jesus was traveling “along the border between Samaria and Galilee” (v. 11).
After going and showing themselves to the priests and being made well (v. 14), most of them did not return. This does not necessarily mean they had no gratitude for what Jesus did; rather, it likely means showing gratitude either was not important or possibly posed a risk. People with leprosy were quarantined to specific areas to keep the disease from spreading. If Jesus found these lepers between Jerusalem and Samaria, it is possible it was an undesirable place where unclean people from both places were sent. The other nine lepers did not want to risk their newly acquired health to return and demonstrate gratitude to Jesus.
We don’t often think of being thankful as posing a risk; but if doing so involves a response to Jesus, it might. Glenn Crain is an elderly man who spent the majority of his life in a bottle. After finally becoming sober in his 50s with the help of a Christian Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, he believes giving himself to working with others battling addiction is not only his calling, but also an act of thankfulness to God. Unfortunately, addicts are unstable.
They are known to knock on his door all hours of the night, become violent when they are not in their right minds and repeatedly relapse after he has spent a considerable amount of time helping them. It’s a risk, but it is a risk he takes in thankfulness to God.
Thankfulness as a general habit (Psalm 103)
Other places in Scripture point to thankfulness as a general attitude or discipline one adopts toward God, regardless of specific circumstances and situations. A quick look at all the actions attributed to God in Psalm 103 reveals people should give thanks to God simply because he is God. Only God has the ability to forgive (v. 3), redeem (v. 4) and satisfy (v. 5). In addition, his character has been made known throughout Scripture and is pictured as being full of compassion (v. 8) and forgiveness (vv. 9-12). Most prominently, God governs all and is sovereign over his creation (vv. 14-19).
This kind of thankfulness is a little more difficult to teach our children. It is not tied to a specific incident but to a specific being. The only way we and others can be reminded of the general thankfulness we should have before God is for it to be modeled by and for us. As a result, adopting an attitude of humility and devoting ourselves to service will go a long way in helping us teach and practice thankfulness as a general habit.
How you practicing thankfulness in both specific and general ways?