I’ve been a pastor for over 20 years now. The profession definitely has its share of highs and lows in terms of ministry successes, failures, disappointments, and challenges. Many of these experiences relate to dealing with people of a variety of social, economic, and educational backgrounds who bring their own biases and beliefs into the community of faith, known as the church. With so much diversity, there are opportunities for spiritual growth. However, there are also opportunities for people to get selfish and lose sight of the greater good which is building the Kingdom of God.
I don’t have much data to back this point up, but more of a general feeling that I’ve had as it relates to life and ministry. There are real problems facing our congregations and church members. My pastor friends can testify to that. But, what I wanted to point out heading into the Thanksgiving weekend is that there is a tendency for us Christians to bring our problems to Jesus, but not our praise to Jesus.
The story of the leper in Luke 17 comes to mind. He had two strikes against him: he was a Samaritan and he was a leper. Why the other nine Jewish lepers let him hang around is an interesting point all to its own. Apparently, their shared demise and disgrace was greater than the prejudice that would have ordinarily existed toward to the single Samaritan man. Those of you familiar with the story will recall that Jesus healed the ten lepers while he was on his way to Jerusalem and the cross. However, the only one who came back to give thanks and praise to God was the Samaritan. Jesus asked, “where are the other nine? were not ten cleansed? Has no returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then Jesus told this man to rise and go because his faith had made him whole. I think this was not only physical healing but also spiritual healing.
Fred Craddock talked about the failure for the people of God to realize their blessings and to give proper appreciation for them. He said, “It is often the stranger in church who sings heartily the hymns we have long left to the choir, who expresses gratitude for the blessings we had not noticed, who listens attentively to the sermons we think we’ve already heard, who gets excited about our old Bible, and who becomes actively involved in acts of service to which we send small donations. . . must it always be so?”
Many problems are seen, but there are some that are unseen. One of the most damaging is the illness of ingratitude. Ingratitude is bad because not only because of what it creates in the person who has it, but also because it is contagious and can affect the attitudes of others. I have seen this take place first hand and it is not a pretty sight, but without a spirtual solution there is very little to be done about it.
Revisiting the story of healed leper, I’ve come to realize that that praise and gratitude are the real cure for the illness of ingratitude. The reason for this is that it takes the focus off of “self” and on to “God” who is the one who provides for us in the first place. I get the fact that there are people who are really hurting right now and question whether or not God cares about them in the first place. But, I also struggle because there are those who are blessed with plenty and yet do not recognize what they have are gifts and blessings. I regret to say that sometimes I find myself in their company.
The leper came back to be thankful and praise God for his healing, but I also believe he came back because he wanted something else. He wanted Jesus. Pure and simple. And, at the end of the day, that’s enough reason for each one of us to be grateful.
As I told our people last Sunday, I believe there is room by the leper at the feet of Jesus. I also believe there is a little bit of the leper in each one of us. At one time we were “afar off” but through forgiveness and the work of Jesus we are “close” to him and to one another.
Things are going to happen that cause us frustration and sadness. We all go through times of happiness and sorrow. What I hope this holiday season is to discover what contentment means and how much we have to be thankful for as individuals and as the people of God. A grateful people becomes a loving people. And vice versa.
If you feel like you’re coming down with a case of ingratitude, be sure to head it off before it gets out of hand. This time of year in particular folks are inclined to focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do have. Take time to praise and find yourself at the feet of Jesus.
Happy Thanksgiving and may this truly be the beginning of a meaningful Advent season.