I didn’t preach yesterday, so instead of posting a sermon, I thought I would share some thoughts with you on the spiritual practice of giving thanks. And I’ll start with one of my favorite Scripture passages on this topic. We have this passage displayed on a plaque in our kitchen, right next to our pantry, so that we see it every morning:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
This passage is so meaningful to me because it reminds me not simply to give thanks, but to give thanks in all circumstances. No matter what is happening in my life, I am encouraged to give thanks. And the reason is also important: “For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.” God’s will for me is to give thanks, not just when I feel like it, but especially when I don’t!
And the truth is that there is always something what we can give thanks for, no matter our current circumstances. Our very existence is a miracle, after all. This amazing world in which we live. But even more than that, we can always give thanks for being God’s beloved. How incredible that we have a God who loves us! And who promises to be with us, no matter what! When we remember that, how can we help but give thanks in all circumstances?
But giving thanks is not just God’s will for us. One of the things that I have learned over the years is that when God commands us to do something, it inevitably turns out to be because it is also good for us. And giving thanks definitely turns out to be good for us. There are now even scientific studies to prove this. Here is a link from U. Cal. Berkeley, for example, that points out that after 15 years of research, it is clear that gratitude is a key to psychological well-being. (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/gratitude/definition#why-practice-gratitude) The practice of gratitude can make us happier, improve our relationships, and potentially even counteract depression and suicidal thoughts. There is even research which suggests that grateful people may have better sleep, healthier hearts, and fewer aches and pains. It turns out that the simple practice of giving thanks in all circumstances can quite literally change our brains. Science, you might say, is finally figuring out what Christians have always known – that remembering to give thanks is a key to being made truly well.
I love the story in Luke’s Gospel of the Samaritan leper who remembered to give thanks, because it demonstrates for us this very idea. Here is the story:
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”Luke 17:11-19
One of the things that I love about this story is the little detail that, while all ten lepers were “made clean,” only the one who returned to give thanks was made well. And I think there is a very big difference between the two. Medicine and science may be able to cure us, but I believe that it is only gratitude that truly makes us well.
But, as a Christian, I must add that it is not simply gratitude that makes us well. It is not simply remembering to give thanks, but giving thanks to the Source of our blessings, giving thanks to God in Christ Jesus, as Paul puts it in 1 Thessalonians.
Giving thanks to Jesus is about more than simply being polite. It is about more than simply doing what our mothers taught us. Giving thanks to Jesus is about being made truly well. It is about being in a right relationship with God. A relationship that is so strong, and so deep, that it doesn’t depend on today’s health, or any of today’s circumstances.
All ten lepers were made clean. True. But they are going to get sick again. They are going to have trouble with their finances. They are going to get into arguments with their loved one. And when they do, only one will have Jesus to turn to. Only one will have a relationship with God’s son that will comfort, strength, and hope when life’s challenges try to take that away. Only the one who returned to give thanks, and who was told by Jesus that his faith had made him well, will be able to go through all the ups and downs in his life with Jesus at his side. What a wonderful gift! All because of the spiritual practice of giving thanks!
So, as I prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, I am thinking and praying about how I can grow in my practice of gratitude, not just at Thanksgiving, but whenever and wherever life takes me. How about you?
For all that has been: Thank you. To all that will be: Yes.Dag Hammarskjold