In what circumstances does Paul say we don’t have to give thanks? In this passage, who gives thanks? Who gets thanked? How can we learn to give thanks to God for the hard stuff?
There is power in affirming words and there are two parties involved in showing appreciation - the one who says thank you and the one who has done something worthy of it.
Good manners aren’t taught any more in school, and yet they are expected. I came to understand that and did something about it in my classroom until my class was noted by the principal as being the “most family-like class in all of Joplin Schools”. I wish you could have seen it. They could yield to each other in conversation. They could allow others to go ahead of them in line. They said excuse me, please, I’m sorry, and thank you as a habit. It really was remarkable.
I don’t know why the corporate world calls these "soft skills". They are not soft, and doing them doesn’t make one soft.
I found an encouraging video online and showed it to my classes at opportune times. It was called Street Compliments. Somewhere in the U.S., as a little test of the human spirit, the makers of the video placed a booth and a giant pair of headphones on the sidewalk and invited pairs of people to take their places - one in the booth to speak into a microphone and the other to sit beneath the headphones and listen.
My fourth graders watched as one of each pair entered the booth to tell the other of the pair how they felt about him or her. Remember, there are two parties involved in showing appreciation. One pair was a boss and an employee. Another was a mother and grown daughter. Another was a younger daughter and her dad. Another pair was a couple who had been married for a year and a half. Each entered the booth and poured out words that they would not have shared if not for this experiment on the sidewalk.
The grown daughter told her mother how much she admired her mom’s ability to break into song. She thanked her for putting music in her life. When it was her turn, her mother told her how easy she made it to be her mother. On and on, each pair shared such personal thoughts of appreciation. Some came in the form of compliments.
The next day, after seeing how this was done, students came to the classroom to find two chairs facing each other in the center of the classroom. We really worked hard to establish the skill of looking people in the eyes when talking and listening to them. A spotlight that puddled around the two chairs. When class began, I explained to the students that they would have the opportunity to do what they had seen in the video the day before: they would get the chance to say words they would otherwise never say to other people in the classroom - even to the people they wouldn’t normally associate with as close friends. They would get to say what they admire about the person.
And it was beautiful. One by one, a student would volunteer and request another to sit in the second chair, and there in front of 20-25 classmates, they would pour out their hearts in the form of compliments.
I always bragged to my fellow teachers about how I liked to make my students cry. We really got into the read aloud stories and would often go to lunch and assemblies with tears in our eyes. But on this occasion, the students would cry when they heard unlikely people telling them how they felt. Students would cry with the understanding that things just got lighter for them as they unloaded feelings they didn’t even realize they had. It was amazing to see them make observations about each other that some of the rest of us would never have picked up on.
What do you think that exercise did for the culture of our classroom family? It reinforced all of the soft skills, the people skills, and the manners that I had emphasized from Day One. You may never have seen a classroom of ten-year-olds with these types of relationships, but I’m telling you, it made it worth my getting up in the morning…most of the time.
There are two parties involved in the sharing of appreciation…and you are always one of those parties: either you are showing your appreciation to someone else, or you are accepting that gratitude from someone else.
That was certainly the case in Luke 17:11-19. Here we find Jesus as He encounters another leper - actually ten lepers at once. It comes in one of those times when Jesus is going between Samaria and Galilee. You’ll recall from many occasions that the Samaritans were not on the best of terms with the Jewish people. The racism was so bad that the Jews would take a much longer route to get to Jerusalem just to avoid meeting up with a Samaritan.
But here is Jesus traveling on the road that goes right through Samaria. Verse 12 says that when He entered a village, ten men with leprosy yell at Him from a distance. They aren’t allowed to get too close to someone who does not have the disease (social distancing). “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” they shout.
And before they are healed - while they are still sloughing off skin, with bleeding and infected sores on their bodies, in danger of fingers and toes falling off - before they are healed, Jesus tells them to “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” By law they would have to prove to a priest that they no longer had leprosy, and the priest could clear them for normal activity. But Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the priest. It takes great faith for them to head that way without any sign of the disease leaving their bodies, but they do.
As they are walking that way, they are cleansed. They will once again be allowed to associate with other people. They can return to their families. They’re no longer under quarantine: they can gather in the worship assembly with others. It must be exciting for them, emotional. Maybe they engage each other in conversation as they go on their way to be approved by the priests. I imagine they show each other spots on their bodies where the leprosy used to be. They’re smiling and skipping up dust as their pace quickens.
But the story of Luke 17:11-19 is not about Jesus’ power to heal leprosy. There are other examples of God’s power to heal lepers. Instead the focus on this account starts in verse 15: “Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him.”
Ah, it takes two parties to complete a transaction of appreciation. Jesus would not have received any gratitude if the one man had not circled back. In fact, Jesus notes that fact, asking in verse 17, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? Was no one found who returned to give glory to God?” Luke points this all out to show readers the great effect of being complimentary and appreciative to other people. Stop and think about every single thing that you could thank someone for. Stop and express your thank you every single time you can. Don’t think that you can say it too often. Don’t tell yourself that it doesn’t mean as much if you saturate the market with your thank yous. It will not devalue the words to use them more often.
Luke also points out that the healed one who turns back to honor his Healer is a foreigner. In fact, he is the worst kind of foreigner: he is a Samaritan - a lowly race full of people who are not God’s chosen people. And yet, we hear Jesus tell him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.”
What about the other nine? They were made well, too. Presumably, they all went to the priests and got their certificates of cleanliness, and presumably they had great faith in Christ’s ability to heal them, too. What makes the tenth man stand apart is one simple action - a sincere thank you. Sincere enough to compel him to loudly glorify God and fall on his face at Jesus’ feet.
Have you ever been recognized for hard work and achievement? How did it make you feel? Did you want to do even more? Reach greater heights? Go the extra mile? It’s encouraging, isn’t it?
Have you ever had a boss who didn’t recognize when you did something, a boss who was really good at barking instructions to employees, but who rarely acknowledged their good traits? And I’m not talking about that tired, old line of “Thank you for all you do.” That’s just as generic as it goes. At school, we would often get “Thanks to all of you for all that you do.” That wasn’t motivating. It’s not the same if it’s not specific. And it’s not special if everything got the same compliment. You could certainly show gratitude to an entire group of people on a special occasion, but it means so much more when there are just two parties involved, looking each other square in the eyes. The intimacy in that moment is what motivates a person.
So I would encourage you to saturate the world with your specific appreciation for what everyone does for you. Did someone open the door? Don’t walk through it without acknowledging it. Did someone let you into a crowded lane of traffic? Don’t drive on as if nothing happened. You want to make someone’s day? Pass out compliments like they are Halloween candy.
And we don’t need to dwell on it, but don’t expect others to be as trained in the art of appreciation as you are. And don’t let that stop you from holding the door anyway.
Before we finish, let’s acknowledge that Jesus has done more for me than He did for those ten lepers that day. Friends, it is not OK for you to thank the clerk and the salesman, the doctor and the caddie, the dry cleaner and the waitress, and ignore Jesus Himself.
Romans 5:6-8 says, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous person; though perhaps for the good person someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” If you don’t mention your appreciation for that, you are sadly ungrateful. And you’ll hear Him behind you as He says, Didn’t I die for everyone? Where are the rest to show their appreciation? Why aren’t the rest glorifying God? It’s such a simple thing that we forget to do. Please, don’t get so wrapped up in other things - don’t even get tied up in your own celebration of being saved - that you forget to tell Him thank you.