We often look at thanksgiving backwards. We think of thanksgiving as thanking God for something that has happened to us already. The real purpose of giving thanks, though, is opening the door to even greater blessing. Thanksgiving becomes a window through which God's love shines.
The ten lepers were blessed for their faith.
They were ten wretched, forsaken, disheartened men. They were hopeless. They had leprosy, a disease for which there was no cure. In fact, leprosy was a death sentence carried out a little bit at a timean arm now, a leg or ear later. Because the disease was thought to be highly contagious, lepers were driven out of town where they couldn't associate with anybody. These men were hopeless and helpless and alone, but they formed a fellowship among themselves.
One day they heard about Jesus, and their hopes began to rise. They reached the point of believing, so they began to dream. In spite of a hopeless disease, they began to feel there was a chance to live. Through fellowship, these ten lepers had the courage to keep going. Then they met Jesus and said to him, "Master, have mercy upon us." Everybody would have told them they were going to die, that it was useless to ask for help. If they had believed that, they would have died. But they came to our Lord, taking Jesus at his word that "All things are possible to him who believes."
Jesus saw a way to test their faith. He said to them, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." They could have looked at each other and said, "Well, nothing's happened to us. We're just the same as we were." Instead, they did what he said; they obeyed him. As they went, the blessing camethey were cleansed. What a tremendous experience!
When God tests our faith, he always gives us a challenge we can meet. And just as God provided bread for the children of Israel as they made their way through the desert, God will always guide us. I was with Billy Graham in his second crusade, which he conducted in Augusta, Georgia; he was just a young fellow. He has said to me since then, "I never dreamed God would give me the ministry he's given me today. I just said, 'God I'm going to give you all I have now, and you lead the way.' That's the way it works."
Our response to God's blessings is important.
There were ten lepers. They all asked Jesus for healing, and they were all healed. But there was a key difference in one of them. Nine of them received healing and went their way. Only one took the trouble to come back and say "thank you."
I have a feeling there were tears running down our Lord's cheeks when he asked, "Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?" Why didn't the nine come back? I imagine one reason is because of their pride. Perhaps they thought, A lot of people have leprosy, and it takes their lives. But we had the power to overcome it. I have a feeling they went around saying, "Look what I've done." To have returned to thank Jesus would have deflated their egos. That's a common problem. The reason a lot of people don't experience gratefulness is because of their egos. Instead of giving thanks, they say, "Look how great I am."
I've also heard people say, "I'm thankful, but I'm not the kind to say so." Or maybe they were grateful, but they had been away from home a long time. They had families they hadn't seen in a while. Maybe they had business they needed to attend to. Maybe they intended to thank Jesus later. Or maybe these ten people were not thankful because they concentrated on their troubles instead of their blessings.
Did you know that half of the Pilgrims died the first year they were in America? That first winter was incredibly cold, and they were under prepared. Dangers lurked everywhere, but those pilgrims didn't let their circumstances obscure the blessings of God. Together they thanked the Lord for the blessings they had received. Sometimes we need to list our assets alongside our losses. Every one of us is more blessed than hurt.
Coming to church is an act of thanksgiving.
"Were there not ten healed? Where are the nine?" Suppose the Lord looked down on all the people in the world. Would he look at us and say: Look at this person, this family, or this business. I poured out my blessings upon them, but they don't have time to thank me. They don't ever remember the things I've done.
I believe the act of coming to church is a gesture of thankfulness similar to that man's returning to see the Lord. You could have done something else this morning, but you came to church to say "thank you." The leper received a physical blessing the first time, but when he came back the second time, he received an even greater blessing. Jesus said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well." The man learned that spiritual blessings are more important than physical blessings. Sometimes we don't believe that. But look around at the people you know and ask yourself, Do physical blessings make them happy? Most of the time, the answer is no. When they receive the physical blessing they desire, they fail to give thanks and, as a result, fail to receive a spiritual blessing.
Thanksgiving is much more than looking back on the blessings you've received. Thanksgiving is looking forward to the blessings you can receive. The lepers who were healed and did not thank Jesus had the blessing of healing, but they missed the blessing of wholeness. On this Thanksgiving holiday, don't forget your blessings. Don't let obscure blessings escape your sight. Don't let your blessings cause you to forget to be thankful. Instead, give thanks and remember "your faith has made you well."