The Heart of Thanksgiving

Originally published Wednesday, 11 November 2015.

It’s the season of all things brown and orange, of pumpkin spiced confections, and of stuffed turkeys (or turkey with dressing, depending on where you live) . It's the time of year when we gather with friends and family to feast on the season’s harvest and celebrate all that we have been given.

Throughout the month of November, our social media feeds will be filled with friend’s lists of things for which they are thankful. And for good reason; there is much to be thankful for: our lives, our health, the food we eat, our families, jobs, and so much more. Giving thanks is a good thing and something we ought to do. 

Gratitude and thanksgiving is something that both Christians and non-Christians alike both encourage. Even popular magazines this month will talk about ways to be more thankful. The question is, what makes gratitude different between believers and non-believers? Is there any difference? And can it be more than just a passing fad for the month of November?

These are all things I wonder about, this time of year especially. And here is my conclusion: like seeds that fall on poor soil, gratitude won't take root and produce on just any ground.

Gratitude and thanksgiving grows and thrives in the soil of humility.


“And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:12-19)

In Jesus’ day, the Samaritans were despised by the Jews. It was a hatred that went all the way back to the time when Israel split into two kingdoms and Assyria conquered the northern kingdom. John 4 described this animosity when the woman at the well said to Jesus, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink? (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans)" (4:9).

Because of this history, the Jews did not talk to or associate with Samaritans. In the case of the ten lepers, it is not only striking that Jesus healed the Samaritan leper, but also that the leper returned to give Jesus thanks. The Samaritan's gratitude is all the more compelling given the fact that none of the other lepers returned in gratitude. Perhaps he knew more the other nine that he did not deserve Jesus’ healing. He knew well his standing before the Jews and knew that Jesus could have just healed the nine and left him out of it. In humility, the healed leper returned to give Jesus praise and thanksgiving. Jesus responded, “Your faith has made you well.” Not only was he healed and saved on the outside, but his soul found healing and salvation as well.


The difference between a believer's words of thanksgiving and that of a non-believer is that a believer directs their thanks to God, their Maker. When a non-believer makes a gratitude list, it's not about all the things they are thankful that God has done for them. Rather, it's more like "these are the things I am happy about in my life" kind of list. In thinking about all the good things they have in their life, they feel a boost of happiness.  

Like the Samaritan leper, a believer's gratitude comes from a humble heart that acknowledges we are but dust. God created us and breathed in us the breath of life. He sustains us each day. We are completely dependent upon him and can do nothing apart from him (John 15:5). Everything we have is a gift of his grace. As Peter said in Acts, "nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything" (17:25).

A humble heart knows its position before the God of the universe and bows in reverence, awe, wonder, and gratitude. Such a heart knows that it is unworthy and undeserving of God’s grace. In reference to this story of the ten lepers, the Gospel Transformation Bible says, “Our worshipful response—or lack thereof—reflects the depth of our understanding of God’s mercy and goodness. The first and greatest response to the gospel of grace is thankful worship.” (p.1387). When we know the holiness of God, the wisdom of God, the power of God, and the rich grace of God, we realize how amazing it is that we are able to stand in his presence and receive his gift of salvation.

It is in this fertile soil of humility where thanksgiving grows and thrives. Any other soil that denies God’s holiness, wisdom, power, and sovereignty will only speak words of thanksgiving but without deep roots, it will not thrive or last. Like the nine other lepers, it will gladly take the good gifts God bestows but won't truly honor and thank him for who he is and what he has done. 

In the soil of humility, thanksgiving grows even in the darkest of nights and in the fiercest climates where suffering and trials bear down hard. This is why Paul could say that we are to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18). This is where much of the world’s efforts at thanksgiving and gratitude breaks down. It’s easy to give thanks when the harvest is plenty. But to continue to give thanks in the midst of trial reveals the type of soil in which thanksgiving resides. The soil of humility will produce thanksgiving in all seasons--in sunshine and rain, in plenty or in want.

So this Thanksgiving, let us evaluate the soil of our heart. Is our gratitude something we will move on from and forget come December 1st? Or is it the natural overflow of a heart that knows that everything it has comes from God's grace? Like the Samaritan leper, are we wonderstruck and amazed that God would extend his kindness toward us, or do we take his good gifts without ever acknowledging the hand that provided it?

Do we know just how much we've been given?

And let us pray for God's grace to till the soil of our heart, nourish it with his Spirit, and water it with the same water he offered the Samaritan woman--the only water that can satisfy the thirst of our soul.