Can I be honest with y’all real quick? I hesitated with even posting this picture to my site. This picture of the Chicago skyline is more than an image I used to fill a space that could have been used to write. It is a metaphor for God’s grace and mercy amidst a heart issue of mine that recently came to light. Let me explain.
I am an adventurer, I like to think. I find so much happiness in discovering new places, meeting new people, and just simply being in a place that is so different from what I am accustomed to. My brain loves to learn and my heart desires to wander. Traveling (though it sounds cliche) truly is a passion of mine. That’s where the rubber meets the road.
I find myself stuck. Even using those words can tell you the status of my heart, through the lens of contentment. I have tearfully questioned God many times through the transition of 2019 to the new year about the same things:
When do I get to go to some other place with more adventure and living to do? Am I ever going to be married? Will I get to do something with my life that holds more meaning than what I see in it now? Are my finances always going to limit me? I want to experience new things and I’m stuck in a season of remaining where I’m at. You require me to stay put when I am saying, “HERE I AM LORD, SEND ME!”
Over a few months, God opened my eyes to see that these desires are not bad. In fact, it’s great to have dreams and goals to work towards. However, these aspirations of mine slowly but surely rose above God. They became Lord. You want to know how it became evident that my desires were Lord over Christ? I severely lacked gratitude. Everything that I had was still not enough. The things that I had begged God for, like a job and friends and housing, lost their value in my eyes. My heart was insatiable –“Yes, God, I have this, but now I want that.” Or even worse, I didn’t acknowledge the answers to prayer at all.
Take the story of the lepers in Luke 17…
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy[a] met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
Here we see the account of ten lepers, cast out of society, loudly begging for pity from Jesus. Christ has more mercy on them than I’m sure they expected (how great is our God?!). Where they were only asking for food or money to sustain them for a temporary while, Jesus gave them a new life through healing. The world of sickness that they had come to accept was no more. They were healed, saved from a life of solitude and pain. They were free!
I’m sure they were ecstatic while they were on their way to the priests. I imagine their infected skin clearing, jumbled, joyous shouts of amazement arising as they looked at each other’s healed ailments and then to their own. And I’m sure all ten of them were grateful. How could they not be, even subconsciously? But only one comes back to Jesus to intentionally express his gratitude. More than an obligation, this man experiences an overflow of the heart and recognizes whom it comes from.
This Samaritan leper that returns goes out of his way, leaves the other nine to come find Jesus, and praises God with the same volume as when he cried out for pity in the previous verse. He is the only one that is accounted for as being thankful and the only one that receives something even more satisfying and everlasting than physical healing.
Do we do that? Do we intentionally go out of our way to make sure that our praises are louder than our original plea, or do we instead beg God with a raised voice and thank him with silence? Much like the nine lepers in the beginning, do we beg from a distance and fail to come back with intimate praise at the feet of Jesus? Do we take time out of our blessed life just to come back humbly and say thank you?
I see myself in the other nine — too enthusiastic to begin the new life that I have been granted to remember or even give effort in to going back and accrediting the miracle of redemption to the one who gave it to me in the first place. Maybe the other nine seem to get a bad rep. They had faith. They cried out to God. They seemed to be humble and open to whatever Jesus had for them, and for that, they were healed. For that, they experienced a worldly salvation, if you will. But we all crave something more than deliverance from the struggle or inconvenience in our lives — something that will eternally satisfy. Coming back to God and thanking him fulfills us with what our hearts really yearn for. It creates deeper relationship with The One who loves us. Gratitude makes what we have enough. It makes us see that God is enough.
Even more than that, thankfulness is expected and an important component in our salvation. Jesus makes this clear when he expectantly asks where the other nine are. He expects them to come back, just like the one, to express gratitude. This is also made clear countless other times after the gospels in the New Testament. These are commands, not suggestions. Gratitude is our weapon to combat the lies told to us that we will never have enough.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)
“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” (Colossians 4:2)
It is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks, so let it be thanksgiving. Let it be joyful praise for the good will of God, for his love, for the victory he has already given to us.
And so to bring it full circle, the picture at the beginning represents my desire to wander, not only my love for travel but my heart’s innate struggle in wandering from the goodness God has already shown me. Even if I had nothing in this world, God has already given me everything. How can I be discontent with that?