Do you have a hard time feeling grateful? Some people seem to be bursting with gratitude at even the smallest things. Do you ever wish you could be like that, but also don’t want to be fake about it? Join us this week as we explore how to cultivate grateful hearts.
I would say one of the most moving stories in the New Testament is about a group of desperate characters who approached Jesus for healing.
It’s in Luke 17.
These men were desperate because of what they had in common. They were all lepers.
Luke 17, starting at verse 11.
Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him.
They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19)
Let me take a minute to describe leprosy so we have context for this story.
When a person found out they had leprosy, it was like a death sentence.
Patches of sores would grow on their body and spread to their face so they would eventually become literally unrecognizable.
The sores would eventually open and a foul stench would take over the person’s body.
Eventually, their vocal chords would ulcerate, the voice would become hoarse, breathing would become very difficult.
Then there would be a loss of sensation. They wouldn’t be able to feel pain, which is one of the most dangerous parts of leprosy.
Eventually, Leprosy would lead to a loss of mental heath. And the person would end up in a coma and finally die.
If you were a leper, you couldn’t go near people who weren’t lepers. One source from the first century wrote that lepers had to stay 50 yards away from people who didn’t have leprosy.
If a leper went into a house, it was declared unclean.
If you were touched by someone with leprosy, you were considered to be defiled.
Imagine never being touched again
never feeling the hug of a little child
never having a friend reach out for your hand
never having a parent put their arm around your shoulder
never knowing the embrace of a spouse
Leprosy was not just about physical loss. There was a moral stigma attached to leprosy in Jesus’ day.
When other diseases were cured, they were said to be healed. Leprosy had to be cleansed. Lepers weren’t just considered sick. They were considered unclean and defiled.
Imagine you’re one of these 10 men with leprosy and imagine you’re in the final stages of the disease.
Let’s live with this for a moment.
You’ve been to the best hospitals and consulted the finest specialists.
You know the diagnosis and already are in great pain.
Your body is emaciated and disfigured.
There is no hope, and you are going to die.
Then something happens! One day, the pain is gone. Your body is whole. You go to a doctor not daring to hope, but the doctor tells you that the disease is gone. The nightmare is over, and you’re going to live.
That’s what happens in this story.
These 10 lepers saw Jesus. Of course, they couldn’t get near him, so they cried out to him.
The text says:
When Jesus saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”
If a leper was cleansed, he had to be declared clean by a priest before resuming a normal life.
This is an interesting part of the story. Jesus didn’t heal them first.
Before they were healed, he said, “Go to the priest as if you’ve already been healed.”
This was a test of faith. Would they obey even though they still had leprosy at that moment? Would they trust him?
They did… and they obeyed.
And as they were walking, something happened. Where their faces had been blotched and disfigured, now their skin was smooth. Where they just had mutilated stumps, now they had hands and feet with fingers and toes.
The nightmare was suddenly over, and hope had returned. They were going to live.
Now they could run, shout, hug their kids, live in their homes, think about tomorrow and do all the things that people usually take for granted.
This was their moment to know every one of those things was a gift beyond calculation.
Luke wrote this story and said 1 of the 10 saw he was healed and turned back.
What must that moment have been like?
Maybe the other 9 asked him, “Where are you going?”
He said, “I have to go back. We must return to Jesus and tell him thanks. We have our lives back!”
I wonder what the other 9 said.
I would love to interview those 9 guys and ask why they didn’t return and give thanks to Jesus after they were cleansed of this horrible disease.
What do you think they would say?
I think one would say, “Well, I went and showed myself to the priest. That’s what he told me to do.”
Legalists aren’t usually very grateful people.
Another would say, “I went and showed myself to my family. I mean, my family comes first in my life, and they’ve been through a lot.”
Another might say, “Of course, I’m grateful, but I didn’t know he expected me to go back and express thanks. I mean, he does this kind of thing for a living, doesn’t he?”
Or maybe we’d hear someone say, “Well, I got better, but I really think it’s a coincidence. You know, I’ve been taking these herbs that are supposed to cure leprosy. I think it’s a coincidence my cure happened just after he said that.”
And I’m sure one would say, “Well, I’m glad I’m healed, but to be honest, I’m not sure it’s to my advantage. Before, all I had to do was sit and beg; now I’ve got to go out and get a job.”
I’m sure another would say, “I’m glad to be cured of leprosy, but I’m not really pleased with the way I look. I mean, I’ve had leprosy for 10 years and now I look 10 years older. I know he cured me, but couldn’t he have made me look younger, too?”
People with a victim’s mentality aren’t very grateful.
And another would say, “Oh, I’m glad to be cured of leprosy, but how can I be grateful? It would be difficult for me to clap and rejoice when there are so many other lepers out there that haven’t been cleansed yet. How can you be thankful and happy when there’s so much suffering in the world?”
Another would say, “Well, I intend to go back and give thanks; I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. I mean, we’ve been so busy since we’ve been cured. There have been all the news interviews. We’ve just got a lot going on.”
And I’m sure one timid soul would say, “I’m a little afraid to go back. I hear this Jesus can be very demanding. He required one person to give up everything to follow him. I’m not sure I’m ready to do that.”
Only one in 10 returned!
But isn’t that about the average you would expect? Isn’t that about the same percentage you would see today?
How many of you are school teachers?
How many of your students come back after they’ve gone through college and gotten established in life and say, “I just want to thank you for all you’ve meant to my life”?
One in 10? Probably not that many.
Or ask the sound and lighting people who volunteer in church. Or the people who work in the nursery — how often after church do people come up and say, “Man, the sound was great; the lights were wonderful”?
One in 10? Probably not.
Or how about parents? How many mornings do your kids come to breakfast or say before they go to school, “Mom, my shirts are all folded; my socks are in my drawer. I just want to thank you again for doing the laundry”?
One in 10? You’d have a heart attack if they did it that often.
William Barclay wrote: “So often, once a man gets what he wants, he never comes back.”
It’s a strange thing about human beings that we can want and pray for something so desperately, receive it and then take it for granted.
Why is that? Why is it that we have to admit we’re not very grateful people?
What contributes to ingratitude?
I mean, here we live in one of the most affluent cities in one of the most affluent nations in the history of the world.
We are so blessed… and yet we find ourselves still grumbling and complaining and not very grateful. What’s the explanation?
One explanation is we’ve had a privileged upbringing.
Many of us were spoiled rotten as children. Our parents gave us almost everything we wanted.
And we were so protected, and so pampered, that we have unrealistic expectations about life. We think all of life is supposed to be free of pain and disappointment. And anytime life is less than 100 percent ideal, we focus on the negative and we miss the positive.
You go out to eat at an expensive restaurant and all you do is complain about the service.
Or you get a good seat at a ballgame and you complain because the guy in front of you has a big head.
Why is it everything can be so glorious, but we focus on the one thing that’s not quite like what we wanted?
Jesus said in this world you will have trouble. And if you don’t have realistic expectations about life, if you wait until everything about your life is exactly as you want it to be before you’re grateful, you’re going to live a whole life and never be grateful.
Another reason, very similar, that contributes to ingratitude is affluence.
Generally speaking, the more people have, the less grateful they are. You would think it would be just the opposite, but the more we have, the higher our level of expectation the next time.
If you have Netflix and Youtube and Hulu and Prime Video and Apple TV, wouldn’t it be hard to go back to just basic cable TV?
If you have the newest technology in a phone, it would be hard to go back to a basic phone that simply makes phone calls.
If you’ve driven a BMW, it would be hard to be content driving a Kia.
If you stayed at the Ritz-Carlton, it’s hard to go back to Motel 6.
If you root for the San Francisco Giants, it’s hard to go back to rooting for the As.
In Proverbs 30 king Solomon, the wisest person to ever live, prayed:
Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
It is a rare person who when the cup is overflowing can give God thanks frequently rather than complaining about the limited size of the mug.
You know something else that contributes to ingratitude… negative companions.
Proverbs 13:20 says:
He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.
If your closest associates are grateful people, chances are you’re going to be a positive, grateful person. But if your closest associates are negative and critical people, you’re soon going to emulate them.
1 Corinthians 15:33 says:
Bad company corrupts good character.
No matter how fulfilling your job, no matter how spacious your house, no matter how personable your mate, no matter how edifying your church — if you run around with people who are always criticizing and finding fault, you’re probably going to end up like them.
I heard someone say, “You show me your friends; I’ll show you your future.”
But the one contributing factor that is far and above the most significant reason we’re not grateful is frequent comparison.
We compare ourselves to others.
Jesus tells a parable about workers in the vineyard who agree to work all day long for a denarius? They were very content until they learned that some guys who had worked just an hour got paid the same amount.
All of a sudden, they began to complain about the inequity of it all.
If you compare your circumstances with others who seem to have it better, you become a very thankless person.
No matter how good your kids, there will always be someone else’s kids who are smarter or more athletic or more well behaved.
No matter how good your church, there will always be some church that seems better.
No matter how romantic your mate, there will always be someone else who looks good to you.
The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:
When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.
You know, ingratitude makes the heart grow smaller, and harder, and colder day after day. It’s a miserable way to live.
And if you’re honest today, some of you would have to say, “I really kind of live with an ungrateful heart. I often see myself as a victim. There’s a bitterness and entitlement about me. I’m constantly comparing myself to others.”
And the thing about gratitude is that you can’t force yourself to feel grateful. Gratitude involves a way of perceiving and understanding feelings in the heart… and then expresses those feelings.
So let’s look at how can we become more grateful? How can we be like the one Samaritan who distanced himself from the ungrateful companions?
Lets think about this guy. The text says:
One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.
I was thinking this week… maybe this guy started to run and marveled that his legs and arms did what he told them to do just as they used to when he was a kid.
Maybe he saw Jesus… and maybe he stopped a long way away by habit. He then realized he didn’t have to stop, so he ran all the way to Jesus, fell on the ground and threw his arms out.
Think about that… the first contact he had with another human being was throwing himself at the feet of Jesus.
He touched Jesus, and maybe this was the first touch this guy had from a non-leprous person in years — possibly since he was a kid.
You know, there’s something about touch.
Touch is a powerful thing isn’t it?
When our kids were little at Disneyland, we would hang out in Toon Town waiting for the Disney celebrities to come out.
When Minnie Mouse came out, she got mobbed.
All the kids wanted the same thing from Minnie Mouse.
They didn’t want stuff from her. They didn’t want her to say anything. Do you know what they all wanted her to do?
All the kids were jumping up and down. They kept saying, “Touch me. Touch me.” They just wanted to be touched.
We saw Goofy later. All the kids were jumping up and down and saying, “Touch me. Touch me.” They just wanted to be touched.
We saw Cinderella and all the little girls were jumping up and down, “Touch me.”
Later we saw Justin Timberlake. My wife was jumping up and down.
Okay, no she wasn’t.
Because we didn’t se Justin Timberlake.
Touch is one of the most powerful forms of expressing gratitude and praise — to embrace someone or to place a hand on someone’s shoulder.
This guy was a man who hadn’t been touched in years, but he was touched by Jesus.
Luke said this guy was a Samaritan. This was an amazing thing. Samaritans were considered to be heretics and enemies of God by the Jewish people.
The other nine lepers apparently were Jewish.
This guy was a Samaritan and still he came back to Jesus who was Jewish. Maybe that’s part of why he was so grateful. Maybe he figured he was the last guy as a leper and Samaritan who ever would get to touch Jesus.
Gratitude works that way, doesn’t it? It’s those who receive what is given to them in life as a gift who are grateful… as opposed to those who say, “I’m entitled to it.”
He ran back to Jesus, fell at his feet, touched him and thanked him.
While 10 were given this gift, only one lived with a heart of gratitude. Only one returned.
And I just have to ask you today…
How about you? Where is your heart on this business of gratitude?
Parents have a question they ask of children. Every generation of parents has asked it as long as there have been parents and children. My parents asked it of me, and I have asked it of my kids.
After your children receive a gift or favor from someone, parents always will say the same things to their kids. They will prompt their kids with the words, “What do you say?”
How is the child supposed to respond?
My parents would ask me, “What do you say to the nice man? What do you say to Aunt Val for her Velveeta, Spam and lima bean casserole?”
All kids know that this really isn’t a question. Parents aren’t looking for information here.
They would have been surprised if I had said, “Aunt Val, what in the name of heaven were you thinking? Aunt Val, you should not be allowed to prepare meals for human beings!”
My parents would have been very surprised if I had said that.
You’re supposed to say, “Thank you.”
The question might elicit words, but generally the words are pretty mechanical on the kids’ part — “Thank you.”
My parents also would have been surprised if I had said, “Aunt Val, I have a sense of awe and wonder at what I have experienced here. I am a child. Without an adult providing for me as you have, I would die. You have provided for me freely as an act of love and service for me. Aunt Val, you are a humanitarian. In the name of children everywhere, I salute you.”
Even if children don’t feel gratitude, we want them to learn to offer thanks.
I sometimes need to offer thanks, because it’s simply the right thing to do even if I don’t feel it. I owe a debt of gratitude.
And our hope is that our children won’t simply say the words. The hope is that one day they will live with grateful hearts… and become grateful people.
Cultivating a heart of gratitude is so important. The ability to express gratitude and offer heartfelt praise and thanksgiving is one of the fundamental signs that we’re living life to the fullest and we’re growing spiritually.
In the moments that we have left, I want to walk us through 5 paths to a grateful heart.
And if you’re willing to follow these, I believe you really can cultivate a heart of gratitude.
The first path to a heart of gratitude is learn to be grateful for imperfect gifts.
This is so important!
Have you ever received an imperfect gift? In this world, it’s the only kind you’ll ever receive.
If you’re married and here with a spouse this morning, you are sitting next to an imperfect gift. You can take a look at that gift right now if you want to. You are sitting next to an imperfect gift…
but so is the person sitting next to you. Don’t get cocky about it.
If I wait to praise my kids until they clean their room perfectly, I never will praise them at all.
Your body is a gift.
Let’s see a show of hands on this one. How many here have an imperfect body? Raise your hand.
There will be a little meeting after this for all of you who didn’t raise your hands, so you can meet each other and have perfect kids.
We go through life thinking, “If my body were different and perfect, or if I had someone else’s body, then I would be grateful.”
This is a truth that we normally don’t see. Your body may not be perfect, but it is a very good thing to have… and a lot better than not having one.
Flawed as it may be, I must learn to be grateful for my body, and my home, and my friends, and my work, and my mind and my life.
If I wait for perfect gifts, I will never be grateful at all.
I must learn to be grateful for imperfect gifts, because those are the only ones I’m going to receive in this world.
This is the first way to cultivate a grateful heart. I must learn to be thankful for imperfect gifts.
Here’s the second way, and this one is a bit counterintuitive.
Learn to be grateful in times of worry and frustration.
There’s a link between worry and gratitude.
If I were to ask you on a scale of 1 to 10 how grateful are you and you were to answer anything but a 9 or a 10, you would probably go on to explain that there are some circumstances in your life right now that are not exactly ideal.
You have family problems
You’re worried about work
You have bills coming that you can’t afford
And you say, “I would be more grateful, but these circumstances have taken away some of my joy.”
We think gratitude is directly related to circumstances, and certainly circumstances do play a part, but 90 percent of whether we’re contented people or not has to do with our attitude much more than circumstances.
I want you to imagine something were to happen to you in the next 24 hours and how it would make you grateful in your present circumstances. It would be a brutal 24 hours though.
Say your lawyer called you and told you you’re being sued and are in danger of losing every dime you have.
Then your doctor called you and said he looked at your latest x-ray and you have a terminal disease.
And then a trusted friend called you and told you the two people you love most in this life have just been killed.
And after a 24-hour period of misery, you get a call from me saying, “It’s all a hoax. You still have your wealth, you still have your health, and you still have your friends.”
And after you take a deep breath… and punched me, you probably would be extremely grateful in exactly the same circumstances that you are in right now… because gratitude has so much to do with your attitude.
Maybe that’s why G.K. Chesterton said, “Gratitude is the mother of all virtues.”
You’re filled with gratitude… but you wouldn’t be if you hadn’t experienced the worry from the loss first. Nothing really has changed from how it was a few weeks ago, except that worry has taught you that WHAT you once took for granted is a wonderful gift.
You’re flooded with gratitude that you have this gift.
You know, too often we try to escape worry, or deny it.
Part of what keeps us from experiencing lasting gratitude is that we settle for a little happiness fix and a little escape. We turn on the TV so we don’t have to think about what we’re worried about… or we take a drink, or we overwork, or we buy something, or we pull off another deal.
We do this instead of facing life straight on, including the suffering and painful aspects of life.
Authentic gratitude comes in the midst of pain and suffering, or it does not come at all.
You will learn gratitude in times of worry and frustration if you’re open and honest during those times.
Alright, the third way of cultivating a grateful heart is express a grateful heart openly, often and in all circumstances.
The apostle Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:18
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Give thanks in all circumstances.
I read somewhere that if you own just one Bible, you’re abundantly blessed because one-third of the world does not have access to even one.
If you can read your Bible, you’re more blessed than close to a billion people in the world who can’t read.
If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you’re more blessed than one million people who will not survive this week.
And if you have food in your refrigerator, clothing on your back, a roof over your head, a car to drive and $100 in your bank account, you’re richer than 90 percent of the people in this world.
We need to be grateful for the little things that are easy to take for granted.
And we cultivate hearts of gratitude when we express thanksgiving.
We open ourselves to gratitude when we express it, even if we don’t feel it yet.
This is just something about the way God made us. When we begin to express gratitude, we very often start to feel it.
Sincere words of gratitude have enormous power.
Do you know how powerful your words of thanks are to the people in your world?
Maybe you need to speak those words to someone in your life.
Maybe a friend needs to hear them.
Maybe your parents need to hear them. Your parents probably got a lot wrong, and maybe your relationship has enough pain attached to it that some of it needs to be resolved before there can be authentic gratitude expressed.
Some of you have a mom and dad who got some stuff right, and they just need to hear you say thanks.
Something will happen inside your heart when you say it.
Maybe it’s a coach or neighbor who believed in you, breathed life into you, cheered you on and comforted you when you needed it.
What do you say?
Write a note to them or make a phone call.
Maybe it’s someone in this room. Go to that person… and give them a hug after this service is over.
Maybe it’s time to do something extravagant and get a gift for someone to express your gratitude.
What do you say?
I open myself to gratitude when I express it openly and often even if I don’t feel it yet.
Another way we can increase gratitude is to learn to be grateful by avoiding grumbling and complaining
The writers of Scripture make it very clear that God is displeased with grumbling and complaining.
For example: the children of Israel coming out of Egypt.
God gave them freedom, wealth, a good leader, he parted the Red Sea, he gave them food and fresh water to drink—but from that point on, they did little but grumble and complain about the poor leadership. And they were tired of the food. They wanted the food they had back in Egypt.
The writer of Scripture says the Lord became exceedingly angry because of their grumbling.
The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:10-11
Do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us.
Paul said in Philippians 2:14
Do everything without grumbling or arguing.
How often do we violate that command?
Some of us are specialists at complaining. Some of us complain so much we think it’s our spiritual gift… but that gift is not in the Bible.
I don’t know how else to say it. Your constant complaining is an offense to God, it’s a poor testimony to the people around you, and it’s a detriment to your personality.
You never hear someone say, “Let’s go over to Bill’s house tonight. I just love to hear him gripe, don’t you?”
I heard about a woman who did little but just gripe and complain all the time. Especially she criticized her husband; she was on his case all the time.
But one day she became a Christian and was baptized.
Afterwards though, she still griped and complained and criticized her husband.
And later her husband said to a friend, “I don’t mind her getting born again… but why did she have to come back as herself?”
The apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:17:
Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new creation. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
That includes our attitude!
I challenge you today to allow Jesus Christ to genuinely transform your spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…
Say to a friend close to you, “I think I complain too much. Would you help me out? Every time you hear me complain, would you nudge me… or clear your throat… or call me ‘whiner, whiner, 49er’? Do something to remind me of what I’m doing.”
Alright, the fifth path to a grateful heart is… express a grateful heart by worshipping God.
This theme runs throughout the Bible.
The psalmist put it like this in Psalm 100:
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.
We gather together as a church on Sunday, and we get a little taste of that in this service.
We gather together to learn but we also gather together to have a time of worship when we say thanks to God.
Part of the reason we gather in this place is to do what the one leper did, which is recognize that everything we have is a gift.
Like that leper, we run to God, fall at his feet and praise God in a loud voice. We say, “God, thank you.”
If you’re a committed follower of Christ, I want to ask you, is that your heart? Have you made a commitment in your heart that you’re going to worship God with thanksgiving?
Will you say this? — “I’m going to worship you every week that I’m able. I’m going to do that individually… and also be here on a regular basis when the church gathers together to worship. I am going to run to Jesus, fall at his feet and say thank you.”
If you’re new here, I want to encourage you to make a commitment that you’re going to do this.
If you do, you’ll be able to say what I believe the leper said, “Because I’ve done this, I’ve come to know Jesus in a way that I never would have otherwise.”
Some of you, if you were honest about it, you would have to say, “I’m with the other nine lepers.”
What I’ve essentially been saying is, “God, really, my life is OK. I have pretty much what I need, so I’m going to go on ahead with my agenda. I’m not going to turn around. If I get needy, I’ll be in touch with you. I have other things to do with my time instead of falling at your feet in worship and gratitude.”
If you’re a follower of Christ and know God, I want to ask you to assess your heart on this.
Ask yourself, “Am I the one who runs to God and says thank you because he has given me gift after gift after gift? Do I do this because I need to do it, and he deserves it?”
Or, would you have to say, “I’m one of the nine who keeps walking down the road and takes it all for granted?”
If you are, then I want to ask you, is there a commitment that you need to make about worshiping and thanking God?
If there is, do it today!
Alright, let’s pray as Christian and the team come to lead us in a closing song.
Blue Oaks Church