“Rise and go your way, for your faith has made you whole.” Luke 17:19
The story of the ten lepers in Samaria is a perfect Thanksgiving illustration. You may recall that when the lepers called to Jesus to have mercy on them, He replied that they were to go and show themselves to the priests. The implication was clear. A leper only went to a priest to show that his leprosy was gone. As they went, all ten were healed.
Only one of the lepers, however, praised God and returned to thank Jesus. Only one. 10%. I have a feeling that is fairly representative of most of us. We are all blessed beyond counting or quantifying. Yet how many of us regularly think to praise God and thank Him?
In a very real way, we lack for nothing. I don’t have some things I want, but I really do have everything, and more, that I need. I think most of us are like that. So, in a sense we are healed. We have so much evidence of God’s love and provision.
Yet our minds tend to gravitate to the evidence of things lacking.
Mine does. I have to work to cultivate a sense of God’s presence and peace in all circumstances, and I’m not always successful at that. I can recall grievances from the past or conjure up visions of doom for the future. To be fair those complaints and fears could be grounded in reality, but not often. And anytime I let my mind wrestle with those demons, I lose the one present moment where God promises to always meet me, and to always provide.
So while we may be healed, that is, having generally positive circumstances all around us, we’re not whole. We’re still fractured by our restless minds.
The solution is thankfulness. The one thankful leper was made whole. Not just healed. But whole. How do we achieve this wholeness?
First, we must recognize the constant connection between what we are, or what we have, and God. When this man was healed he immediately began praising God. He did not remark about his good fortune. He did not talk about his future now that he was well. His first reaction was to praise God and thank Jesus.
Every good thing that we are, every good thing we have is a result of God’s activity in our lives. This is a remarkable theological truth we call Providence. We take it for granted, but it is life changing.
Abraham Lincoln noted this in his inauguration of the holiday of Thanksgiving. By the way, Lincoln instituted the holiday in 1862. That’s powerfully significant. Even a Civil War should not keep us from deep an abiding gratitude.
So Lincoln said, “We have forgotten the gracious hand which has preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and have vainly imagined in the deceitfulness of our hearts that al these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”
In our laughable self-sufficiency, or in our disabling fear, or in our grinding complaints we forget “the gracious hand.” You are the beloved of God, and He is taking care of your every need. Remember the connection between what you are and God’s gracious hand. Remember. Be aware.
We find a second quality of wholeness in the immediacy of the man’s response. He interrupted what he was doing and went immediately to give thanks. There is the hallmark of a thankful life. That is the difference between a holiday and a lifestyle of thanksgiving. You stop what you are doing and say thanks.
My favorite illustration of this is a story from the author William Stidger who had the wonderful habit of writing one letter of thanks each day of the month of November. Stidger once told some friends how thankful he was for a certain high school English teacher who had awakened in him a love for the poems of Tennyson. They asked if he had ever sent her a letter, and he admitted that he had not but vowed to immediately sit down and write her a note of thanks.
Her learned later that the note had been forwarded from place to place until it reached her in a distant town. Her reply came back in a feeble scrawl: “My dear William, I cannot tell you how much your note meant to me. I am now in my eighties, living alone in a small room, cooking my own meals, lonely and like the last leaf of fall lingering behind. You will be interested to know that I taught school for fifty years and that yours is the first note of appreciation I ever received. It came on a blue, cold morning and cheered me as nothing has done in years.
There are people in your life who have helped make you what you are. Make time to say thank you, and you will be whole.
God does not want us to be thankful for His sake. He’s not offended, I think, if we don’t say thank you. All of God’s directions, commands, and precepts are designed for our good. So He wants us to be thankful because it is good for us as well as the objects of our gratitude.
Finally, we note in the story that Jesus, of course, was surprised that only one man returned to give thanks, and a Samaritan man at that. He remarked, “your faith has made you well.” All ten were healed, but only this man was made whole. It’s a different word.
When you are thankful you are made whole. You don’t take anything for granted any more. You don’t compare yourself incessantly with others. You don’t constantly regret what you do not have. You don’t spend any time searching for the pinprick of disappointment in your life or in others. You are thankful, and that thankfulness lifts the soul like nothing else!
So let’s try to be whole, not just this week, but every day. Thank you for reading this.
Dr. Terry Ellis
November 20, 2016