The Maker of heaven and earth has, out of merciful love, embarked on a rescue operation toward us, His enemies. We have rebelled against God in ways that leave us in bondage to selfishness, idols, and death. God, however, has not responded in kind. Instead, He has sent Jesus, His Son, to befriend us, His enemies. In the life and death of Jesus, God offers forgiveness and reconciliation to all people, and proves His love for all people. How are we to respond to this Good News of amazing mercy toward us? How are we to enter in to the friendship offered?
We must be grateful to God if we are to enter in to loving friendship with Him. In particular, we must be grateful, above all else, to God for His merciful love in Jesus. Such a response of gratitude is the gateway to trust, hope, and spiritual healing in God, our Rescuer. We should think of gratitude as a central ingredient in Jesus's love commands. In particular, we should understand those commands as prescribing gratitude as follows:
The most important commandment requires this: Be thankful for the Lord your God and His Son Jesus with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second commandment requires this: Be as thankful for your neighbor as you are for yourself. There is no commandment greater than these. (cf. Mk. 12:28-31)
When our gratitude conforms to these two commandments, we are attuned to the living God. Our gratitude will then bear lasting fruit, even the fruit of God's Spirit (see Gal. 5:22-23), in how we are and live. We will then have lasting joy, come what may. Such gratitude cannot be self-made by humans. It comes as a gift from the living God, who alone can empower us, through His Spirit, to put love and thanks toward Him first in our lives.
Ingratitude, as the refusal to be grateful to God, is spiritual sickness and rebellion against God. Such ingratitude rests on the arrogant presumption that a human is in a position to judge the perfectly loving God to be unworthy of gratitude. It exalts human standards for what is worthy of gratitude above God's standards. Something is very wrong with this picture: the selfish creature is presuming to find fault with the perfectly loving Creator. Ingratitude toward God is perhaps the most fatal human sickness. It motivates idolatry (see Romans 1:21-23), and leaves a person joyless, frustrated, and angry. In the end, the ungrateful life is not worth living.
Jesus pointed to the importance of gratitude as a response to God's merciful love.
Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed. 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. Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well." (Luke 17:11-15, NIV)
"Rise and go; your faith has made you well." Why does Jesus say this only to the grateful man? Had not Jesus already healed him of his physical affliction? Had not he already healed the others too? All ten of them had been physically healed. Jesus, however, declares only the one man to be "made well."
Jesus is signaling a level of healing deeper than physical healing. We may be physically well yet spiritually sick. The grateful man's faith, his trust in Jesus as God's representative, has made him well, and this faith is expressed in gratitude toward Jesus. This man has no doubt regarding what has just happened: Jesus has healed him of his debilitating physical condition. The man does not question the source of the healing power. He knows that it was Jesus who healed him. He does not walk away with the gift of physical healing only to calculate how he will selfishly use his new freedom. Instead, he turns back to give robust thanks to Jesus. He does not resent his sufferings or scorn others for their mistreatment of him. He praises God and falls at Jesus's feet in thanksgiving. In effect, he responds with thanksgiving for the gift of the Giver, even for Jesus himself. The Giver himself becomes the gift. The man's response of faith and thanks toward the Giver himself made him truly well by enabling him to receive God's merciful offer of friendship.
Jesus himself shows us the importance of thanksgiving toward God, even in the face of impending death (see Mark 14:22-25). At the last supper, Jesus thanked God even for his impending redemptive death for our sake. Proper thanksgiving toward God is something we too can initiate in response to God's powerful love in our lives. God's merciful love empowers human thanksgiving toward God. We are able to direct our thanksgiving in certain directions rather than in others. In doing so, we manifest what we value and disvalue, what we like and dislike. We thereby manifest what motivates our lives and what functions as our lord.
Proper thanksgiving toward God is an effective antidote to idolatry. It gives God His proper status as the Lord of our lives. It sets aside as relatively unimportant those things that would otherwise interfere with our loving and trusting God. That is, it undermines idols. As a response to God's love, proper thanksgiving toward God gets its power from God Himself. It is the avenue to receiving God's transforming love. God's love toward us precedes and empowers our love and thanksgiving toward God (see 1 John 4:10,19). Even so, the response is ours to make: either we allow ourselves to be empowered by God's love with thanksgiving to God or we disallow this. If we respond with sincere thanksgiving to God above all else, we find our lives being transformed by God Himself. We find ourselves empowered to obey God faithfully, just as Jesus did in Gethsemane. We find ourselves free to love as God loves. We find our former idols pointless and even repulsive. We come alive.
I owe everything.
For the Lord,
I have nothing.
Nothing but a heart of thanks.
He gave me that too.
Take it, Lord.
Let me live.
All He wants is all we have:
all we have been given.
So much have we been given.
Our grateful, faithful, joyful hearts,
they make him smile.
In his grace it is enough.
In thanks, it all goes back
to raise him up in praise.
we cling to him.