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Becoming a 'Thanksgiver' at Thanksgiving

How can we turn our 'grateful' into 'thankful'?


"Don't forget to say 'thank you.'" If you are like me, then you probably heard this phrase often when you were a child. If you are a parent, you probably give this advice to your children regularly. "Don't forget to say 'thank you.'" But if we are honest with ourselves, even adults—and yes, even Christians—need to be reminded of this as well. I want to talk to you about being a "thanksgiver" at Thanksgiving.

Why is it that many of us struggle with remembering to give thanks? Why is it that sometimes we remember, and sometimes we don't? Why is that sometimes giving thanks seems to slip our minds? How come we have to have a national holiday reminding us to stop and give thanks? Perhaps the reason may be because we are too busy, and we forget to hit the pause button and express our thankfulness. We are too often thinking about the next thing. At work, we ask ourselves, "What are the next steps our business is going to take to grow? How many e-mails do I need to respond to? What do we need to get more of? Less of? Rid of? Better at?"

Or, in our home life, we are constantly going from one thing to another. "What errands do I need to run? Who or what needs to be dropped off? Picked up? Sent to somewhere else?" As your kids grow and grow, you have to go and go, and in the midst of going, going, going, we fail to look back, hit the pause button, and give thanks. Most of the time, it's not because we aren't grateful; it's because, oftentimes, giving thanks simply slips our mind.

I'll be honest: I struggle with this. I've forgotten to give thanks to people who have given me gifts. I've repeatedly forgotten to give thanks to people who helped me with a favor. I'm willing to guess you have, too. But can you imagine forgetting to give thanks to—of all people—Jesus?

Well, there is an account recorded in the Bible of a time when a whole bunch of people forgot to give thanks to Jesus. What I would like to do is look briefly at this account. I want to draw out one simple truth from this story, and then I want to get super practical: because I don't want you to just know what the simple truth is, but I want to show you how to live it out in your daily life so we can become better "thanksgivers" at Thanksgiving.

Jesus' kindness

Now, Luke—the author of the Gospel of Luke—was a doctor, and he decided to investigate the claims of Jesus for himself. So he interviewed a bunch of people, and after he had interviewed one person, he heard this amazing story and thought, Oh, I have to write this down. This is the story he shares in chapter 17.

"Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee" (v. 11). Luke is recording that Jesus and his followers are on their way to Jerusalem, for the last time, to celebrate one of the Jewish traditions: Passover. However, in order to get there, they had to pass through the region between Samaria and Galilee. All along the way to Jerusalem were these small towns or villages that traveling caravans could stop in, rest, get supplies, and then continue with their journey. We don't know exactly which village Jesus entered into, but we do know who was waiting for him when he arrived.

"As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance" (v. 12). Now, leprosy is a disease that still exists today: a horrible skin disease in which the skin slowly decays and deteriorates over time. We don't know if that is exactly what these 10 people had, since the word "leprosy" was used for any skin disease at that time, but regardless of what their exact diagnosis was, they would have been social outcasts. In fact, if you were diagnosed as having a skin disease, you were as good as dead. By law, you were forced to leave your family, friends, job, and live only with others who had a similar skin disease. They were quarantined together. You were not allowed to have any contact with other people. Whenever you were walking down the street, you were supposed to yell, "Unclean, unclean!" so that people wouldn't accidently come in contact with you. So it is no wonder that these 10 stood at a distance. Notice what else they did: "[They] called out in a loud voice, 'Jesus, Master, have pity on us!'" (v. 13).

This was their chance. With these people living on the outskirts of a village that was well-traveled, word had most likely spread that this rabbi, preacher, and healer was going to be passing through. He had healed blind men and mute men; he had fed thousands. Could he have the power to heal a skin disease? They waited anxiously in anticipation at the entrance of the village for Jesus to show up. Minutes seemed like hours, hours seemed like days, and days seemed like years. And they waited and waited. Is he ever going to come? Is that him and his followers there? Nope, false alarm. Is that him there? Nope, that's not them either. What if he decided to take another route to Jerusalem? What if he's not coming?

Then, finally, they see a large crowd … and in that crowd, it's him. This was the moment they had been waiting for. They "called out in a loud voice, 'Jesus, Master, have pity on us!'" Their cry acknowledged Jesus as their master and asked that he would have mercy or pity on them. These shouts got Jesus' attention: "When he saw them, he said, 'Go, show yourselves to the priests'" (v. 14).

For us, as we read this, it doesn't make much sense. But as Luke's readers were first reading this, it would have been crystal clear. You see, even though they had doctors, it was the priests who were given the responsibility to determine whether or not someone was fit to rejoin society, even when it came to skin diseases. So people would come to the priests, and if the priests checked them out and gave them a clean bill of health, then they could go back and rejoin their family and friends.

Jesus says, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." Then something unbelievable happens: "And as they went, they were cleansed" (v. 14). You can imagine the ecstasy they were feeling as they started to look down at their hands, and then their arms, and then their legs and feet. As they went, they weren't just healed: They were cleansed. Now all they had to do was present themselves to the priests, and then they would have been able to return to their spouses, their children, their friends and loved ones—like returning home after years of being in isolation. They would have been thrilled!

But then something even more incredible happened, something that Luke had to write down when he heard this story being retold. He said to himself, "I've got to make sure people know what happened next."

The leper's thankfulness

"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" (v. 15-16). This one man knew that he needed to pause and return to Jesus and give him the thanks he deserved. He stopped, turned around, and made a beeline for Jesus. This time, instead of yelling "unclean, unclean," he goes through the crowd and—with a loud voice—praises God. Then, when he sees Jesus again, he doesn't stand at a distance, but he falls at his feet and gives him thanks.

Then Luke adds something for his readers that we don't quite understand: "and he was a Samaritan." Now, we read that and we're like, "No big deal." But Luke's readers would have read this and said, "Whoa, whoa, whoa—a Samaritan? That's a huge deal! Are you sure?"

Samaritans were a people group who were looked down upon by the Jews. Out of all the people to return and give thanks to a Jewish rabbi, it was a Samaritan. Then Jesus responds with three questions: "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?"

Why did only one person return? What was it that made this man pause, turn around, and give praise? Weren't they all grateful? Well, come on, of course they were grateful: All 10 of these people just experienced a life-altering miracle. Their lives were about to change forever. So surely they were all grateful. But one person, one individual, turned his gratefulness into thankfulness. He turned from being grateful into being thankful. Being grateful is an emotion; grateful is a feeling, but being thankful is an action. Thankful is doing something about it. Instead of continually looking forward toward the things he was going to do, he paused, turned back, and turned his gratefulness for what Jesus had done into thankfulness for what Jesus had done.

If there is one thing I think Jesus is trying to get at with these questions he asked, and if there is one thing Luke is trying to get at by recording this story, and if there is one thing I am trying to nail down with you, it's this: In your busy schedule, pause and turn your grateful into thankful. Turn your thoughts of I'm grateful for this or I'm grateful for that person into action, into an expression, into doing something. It is one thing to be grateful about something, but to be thankful about something takes action. It takes doing something about it, just like this man who was healed. This man paused and turned his grateful into thankful.

Then Jesus said something to him that was even more incredible than him getting healed. Jesus said something to him that would have made him thankful not just for the rest of the day, but for the rest of his life. And it ought to cause us to be thankful for the rest of our lives, as well. "Then he said to him, 'Rise and go; your faith has made you well'" (v. 19).

Literally, in the original language, this means "your faith has saved you." Jesus says, "I didn't just come here to cleanse you from a physical disease. I came for so much more: that you may be saved." For one man, his life changed the day he paused and turned his grateful into thankful. For some of you, your life can change the day you pause and turn your gratefulness for what Jesus has done into thankfulness for what he has done.

Being a better 'thanksgiver'

I want to get super practical for you. Many of you have already made that decision to follow Christ and give him thanks. But don't let your thankfulness stop with Jesus, because there are people in your life whom the Lord has used that you need to give thanks to. Giving thanks is crucial when it comes to the overall health of our families, our places of work, standing out in the world, and in our relationship with our heavenly Father.

I know this isn't always easy. What I would like to do is get super specific, because I don't want you to leave here wondering how to turn your grateful into thankful. I think we all can identify people and areas where we need to give thanks. Therefore, I want to share just four ways that I think make giving thanks so much better. This Thanksgiving, you can be a better "thanksgiver."

Be specific
When we are turning our grateful into thankful, we need to be specific when we give thanks. The reason for this is that people need to know that you know what they have done. I have never learned this more than in my marriage. I am so grateful for my wife, and it is one thing to tell her, "Thank you." But whenever I thank her, I try to be as specific as possible. So I'll say, "Hey, thanks so much for organizing the kitchen cupboards, especially the Tupperware. I know that it probably took up some of your morning since I just throw things in there. But it is so great to be able to simply go to that cupboard in the morning when I am in a hurry and get exactly what I need. So thank you." This is just a small example of how you can be specific in your thankfulness.

Be honest
People can tell when you are unauthentic. If you aren't thankful, then don't fake it. Don't say thanks because you feel like you are supposed to. Say thanks only if you truly are thankful. The Samaritan didn't turn and go back to Jesus and give thanks because it was what he was supposed to do. No, he did it because that's what he wanted to do. He was genuine.

Make it public
It is one thing to tell someone "thank you," but if you ever get the right opportunity, be thankful for someone in public. Now I know it has to be the right setting, but maybe before your next business meeting, or before your next small group, or before your next family dinner, just pause for a moment. Pause and tell the group how thankful you are for what so-and-so did. Share how thankful you are that so-and-so is a part of your team or organization. Perhaps, at the dinner table, share how thankful you are for what your child or spouse did.

Make it permanent
Put it in writing. When you are able to write someone an e-mail, a text, or (even better) a handwritten note that demonstrates how thankful you are, it stays with them. It shows you have been thinking about them and went above and beyond to let them know. I have a bulletin board in my office where I pin thank-you cards because it reminds me that somebody took the time to pause and turn their gratefulness into thankfulness.

So turn your grateful into thankful by being specific, being honest, making it public, and making it permanent. I hope this is not a "one and done" thing for you, but I hope this is just the beginning of a life where you can pause and turn your grateful into thankful.


Can you imagine what it would look like if, just over the next week or two, we got this one truth right? What would your dinner table look like if you and your family paused and turned being grateful into being thankful? What would it look like if you and your family paused from your hectic crazy schedule of going, going, going and paused and started expressing thankfulness? Not just "I'm thankful we are all here around the table and that the kids could make it home," not just "I'm thankful for this meal," but specific things that someone else has done that makes you want to authentically give thanks. "I am so thankful for mom. She planned ahead for what this meal would look like. She went to the store, got all the groceries, spent hours in the kitchen. Thank you."

Or maybe the next time you go on that family vacation, you just pause—and before you are about to reverse the car out of the driveway, you turn to everyone in the car and say, "Before we leave the house, I just need to say how thankful I am for your father for working above and beyond so we can afford to go on this vacation. Spend time with one another. See things we've never seen before."

I know that you are grateful, but in our busy world, we need to pause and turn out grateful into thankful.

What if you went into your workplace tomorrow morning and you weren't just grateful for the people you worked with, but you showed them, either publically or privately, how thankful you truly were for them? Can you imagine if that kind of generosity was simply common practice?
What if believers in this church, whom I know are very grateful, started to not just be grateful, but paused and turned that gratefulness into thankfulness? Can you imagine what a guest would feel if they came into this church and they observed a group of people being genuinely thankful for one another—but also not just for one another, but thankful for God?

In fact, here's the beauty of this truth. This truth is one of the reasons why we come to church. It is one of the reasons why I love the local church, and I love coming to church on Sunday morning. It is a time, in our busy weekly schedule, where we slow down and come together. And through prayer, song, giving, fellowship, and the preaching of God's Word, we can turn our grateful into thankful. It is a time where we can specifically and honestly demonstrate our thankfulness to God, both publically as a corporate body and privately in our own hearts and minds. So every week, including today, let's pause and turn our grateful into thankful.

Chris Rappazini serves as the Biblical Exposition Program Head at the Moody Bible Institute in Spokane, WA, is an associate teaching pastor at Southside Christian Church, and is on the Board of the Evangelical Homiletics Society.

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Sermon Outline:


I. Jesus' kindness

II. The leper's thankfulness

III. Being a better 'thanksgiver'