(This devotion is day four of a 30-Day Thanksgiving Challenge. Each day includes a daily reading that will be accompanied by a post on this blog.)
I grew up reading the classics. No, not Dickens, Austen, or Steinbeck, but Berenstain (as in The Berenstain Bears). Since I’m forcing my toddler to relive many of my experiences, including my favorite childhood books and shows, we often watch or read The Berenstain Bears.
One of my favorite stories is “Say Please and Thank You.” Brother and Sister Bear (the children) forget to say “please” and “thank you” until they see their ingratitude in others. They do nice things for their friends and feel unappreciated when those friends never say thank you. What they don’t realize is they do the same thing.
While at the dinner table, Mama Bear says, “Saying please and thank you is a small thing, but it means a lot.” She fills their bowls with dessert, another kind act that goes ignored. Sister Bear agrees with her mother: “It sure does.” Papa and Mama look at each other, not missing the irony of sister’s words.
Papa then says, “It’s also very easy to forget to say please and thank you. We all forget sometimes, so that’s why we should try very hard to remember those three little words.” With his mouth full, Brother retorts: “We never forget, Papa.” The parents again shoot one another a look.
Brother and sister then ask for a second bowl of dessert. As Brother scoops it to his mouth, it finally sets in. They do forget to say please and thank you. They’ve been forgetting all day, and they just took their mother’s kindness for granted while saying they would never do such a thing. “Uh oh. Gee. I guess we, I mean I, did forget. Thank you for the extra berries,” Brother says. Sister follows suit. “Thanks!”
Seeing Ourselves in Stories
We don’t outgrow ingratitude as adults. We assume we don’t forget to say thank you, but we take good things and kind deeds for granted every day.
When I read Luke 17:11–19, I feel angry at how the nine lepers Jesus heals walk away and never say thanks. They ask Jesus to heal them, and after he does it they overlook and ignore his gracious work for them. I scoff at their ingratitude and think, “How could they do that.” It’s frustrating, if not infuriating. Don’t they know what Jesus did for them? How can they not give thanks?
It’s easy to spot the failures of others when we read these stories. When we read about Israel in the Old Testament or the disciples in the New Testament, it’s easy to point our fingers and shake our heads about how quickly they veer off course. One minute they’re rescued by God from slavery and the next minute they’re asking to go back. Jesus tells his disciples he came to lay down his life for others, and before long, those disciples argue about who will be the greatest.
These stories give us a window into our own heart. I’m like unfaithful Israel or the disciples who miss the point. I often do what the nine ungrateful lepers do. My frustration with them should morph into conviction over my own ingratitude.
Guilty of Ingratitude
Luke 17:11–19 shows two ways to respond to God. Before their healing, the ten lepers have needs in their life. They have physical needs in their diseased bodies. Their uncleanness ostracized them from the community. They longed for the wholeness and new opportunities that healing might bring. They cry out to God from their desperation, weakness, and neediness.
You and I have all kinds of needs in our life. And yet, despite how we ask God to intervene, we often ignore God when He answers. Don’t you? We take the blessing and run. We move on once we have in hand the thing we wanted. We’re as guilty as the nine lepers who walk away.
But we also see a better way to live and respond. One man, a Samaritan, turns back, praises God with a loud voice, and falls to the ground in front of Jesus, giving him thanks. The gratitude inside of him gushes out in the way he gives thanks.
Thanksgiving (eucharisteo) in the New Testament is always directed to God. This man’s response shows us he receives more than physical healing. He sees that Jesus is God; the one he needs and longs for. Gratitude connects to worship. He gives thanks because Christ’s kind and powerful work of healing reveals who he is. The man gladly receives a gift (healing) but it leads him to the giver (Jesus).
Gratitude or Ingratitude?
This poignant story from Luke’s gospel teaches us there are two ways to respond to God: ingratitude that ignores Him or gratitude that worships Him.
Do you want to be the nine or the one?
Do you want to take things for granted or receive them with thanksgiving?
Thanksgiving to God is an invitation to know God.
What are things in your life you might take for granted that should be received with gratitude? Has God answered prayers which you quickly moved past?
Thanksgiving encompasses both the gifts we receive and what it tells us about the One who gives them. Consider what God has given you or done for you, but also see His goodness and kindness in it.
To go deeper in biblical thanksgiving and understand how it leads us to know and enjoy God, check out my book The Grumbler’s Guide to Giving Thanks: Reclaiming the Gifts of A Lost Spiritual Discipline.