Prosperity and the Age of Ingratitude
Prosperity and Ingratitude Ironically, amidst the prosperity of the modern world—when we might expect people to be thankful for all the good stuff—ingratitude has become like an infectious-disease bacteria, dividing, multiplying, and morphing into some of the ugliest cultural maladies in history. Ingratitude and its companion ailments, pride, boredom, discontentment, swaggering intolerance, suspicion, even abhorrence, of our neighbors, are on conspicuous display in entertainment, media, academia, and politics—alas, and in the church.
Ingratitude feeds voraciously on our inner being, until it has overrun our affections, and spreads like cancer throughout every sinew of our entire system. We have become the thing itself: ingratitude. What are we to do? We must begin by doing what we would do with an infectious disease, a pandemic virus; wash our hands of it; get clear of the source of it.
There is only one sure cure for ingratitude and discontentment for everyday gifts, for extraordinary blessings, and in times of grinding affliction. You and I need to take massive daily dosages of that cure. The cure begins with knowing that we have every reason to put off ingratitude, and put on gratitude. In Christ and all that he has accomplished on our behalf, for our redemption, for our eternal bliss, for our rescue from sin, self, and so-well-deserved death—we have every reason to be overflowing with gratitude. The cure to the disease is seeing and embracing afresh our glorious Savior, and then rendering to God heart-felt, verbal gratitude, actively and daily expressed. We must petition our Heavenly Father for more of that life-giving cure.
A good place to start is by praying along with Puritan poet George Herbert this prayer of holy discontent, “Thou hast given so much to me, Give one thing more--a grateful heart.” Leprosy and Ingratitude Ingratitude for ordinary, daily blessings develops an intractable habit of ingratitude, one that is seldom broken even when confronted with extraordinary blessings. In Luke 17:11-19, we are given an account that illustrates the second kind of ingratitude, ingratitude after a special mercy, after an extraordinary deliverance. In the gospel account of the healing of the ten lepers we see not one, but ten men miraculously delivered from the most dreaded disease of the ancient Near East.
Leprosy was not chicken pox. By all accounts, it was a horrific disease. How would you like having a health condition that gradually rotted away not only your skin but whole fingers, your nose, your ears? Entire limbs gradually decayed away under the ravages of this disease. What’s more, rotting flesh puts off a disgusting odor. Because of the stench and the contagion of the disease, victims of it were driven out of their village, shunned by their families, forever to live with other lepers as discarded outcasts. So potent a disease was leprosy that it took the Black Death of the 14th century to check its progress.
A leper’s condition was hopeless. There was no cure. There was absolutely nothing you could do to change yourself. Worse still, leprosy was a disease that perversely forced you to look on while your body decomposed before you died. At the last, you ended your miserable days in an excruciatingl lonely death. No one comes to the bedside of a dying leper.
Moreover, leprosy had no respect for rank or station. Young and old, rich and poor, anyone could contract the dreaded disease. No king could eradicate his leprosy by royal decree. No general could kill it with sword or spear. No rich man’s money could buy a cure. Like death itself, leprosy was the great leveler.
Gratitude That Can't be Ignored There was, however, one good thing about having leprosy. You knew that you had big problems. All ten of these men had serious problems and they knew it. It’s easier to cry for help when you know how badly you need it. These men desperately needed help.
Imagine the thrill when off in the distance they caught sight of Jesus. What hope must have sprung instantly into their benighted world. They’d heard about Jesus. Who in Judea hadn’t? He could help sick people, maybe even heal people with leprosy. No wonder they called out in a loud voice when they saw Jesus. Hoping beyond hope, what a racket ten desperate men must have made calling out, “Jesus, Master have pity on us!”
And he did. Suddenly, without fanfare, Jesus healed them. He told them to go show themselves to the priest, and as they turned to go, their wretched disease vanished. Jesus had heard their cry. They were clean, free from the disease, free from the stigma of it, from the gnawing isolation of it all.
Nine out of ten If the story ended here, it would be much like many other wonderful accounts of the power of Jesus to heal the sick. But the Holy Spirit seems to have something else for us in this historical account.
One of them, a Samaritan, when he saw that he was healed, turned back to Jesus. One out of ten. Several important things happened next that ought to help you and me understand how to be truly grateful. This Samaritan leper “came back, praising God in a loud voice.” How different from the drive-by, no-eye-contact, grunting “’hanks” we begrudgingly offer. We, like this leper, must turn, come back, and say words of gratitude that cannot be mistaken. Anything less is ingratitude.
Secondly, because this man was truly grateful, he showed it in unmistakable ways. He turned, came back, and “threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.” Like every other dimension of our Christian faith, gratitude is not merely an internal matter. By its very nature our thanksgiving must be expressed in obvious ways, ways that others will notice. One thing is certain, everyone around Jesus knew that this one man was overflowing with thanksgiving. By his voice and by his posture he made sure of this. Truly grateful people always do.
Notice that Jesus did not have to prompt this man to make some shuffling expression of his thanks. Why not? Because the man was genuinely thankful. When a child or teen leaves his mother or father no option but to prod him with, “What do you say?” Protest all you can, their silence is proof of their ingratitude. Thirdly, gratitude is rare. Ten were healed. Nine went their way. Only one returned to say thank you. Alas, like the nine, so often we all are ingrates. But why is this? Perhaps it's because gratitude requires yet another heart condition to which we have a great aversion. Humility and gratitude In our natural state, we don’t like to face the truth about ourselves, and, so, we lack the prerequisite to gratitude: humility. “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues,” wrote Cicero, “but the parent of all the others.” Thus, it comes as no surprise that the virtues of humility and gratitude are so closely connected.
But humility comes at a price. It costs us our pride. We all have our own version of pride. But I wonder if humility comes particularly hard for strong young men? They imagine that they are invincible, that nothing can stand in their way, that they are self-made.
When this one leper expressed his thanks in word and posture, he did so because he understood that he was none of those things; he understood his great need. He knew just how sick he was, how utterly unable he was to heal himself. This is where his leprosy was to his advantage. Who with this horrible disease would not be thankful if they were healed of it? But then, of course, nine other lepers were healed yet remained ungrateful. So it is with you and me. How quickly we forget who we really are, our sin, our great need, our utter inability to save ourselves from death and hell. Alas, how much we are like those nine.
Pride and ingratitude It’s not shyness, or even being tongue-tied, that keeps most of us from expressing our thanksgiving. It’s pride that keeps us from expressing our thanks. Pride keeps us from valuing the gift of God, his love pitched on us from all eternity, his choosing me to be his “precious treasure,” as John Calvin called us, his sending his Son to redeem me from sin and judgment, his sending the Holy Spirit to regenerate our hearts and renew our minds, to make us new creations in Christ Jesus.
I doubt that you’ve been delivered from leprosy, though perhaps God has delivered you from some other disease. But every one of us, however healthy, is in the grip of a serious disease, one that has the most horrific consequences. Though God has delivered Christians from sin and death, judgment and hell, all too often, we are not grateful in proportion to the greatness of our deliverance.
We cringe at the nine who scorned to say thank you when they had received so much from Jesus. It reflects so poorly on their character. Meanwhile, we often do the same thing—but on the heels of an even more splendid deliverance. Such ingratitude, likewise, reflects poorly on our character.
We note their ingratitude and think less of them for it, but more importantly by far, Jesus took note of it. “Were not all ten cleansed?” he asked. “Where are the nine?” What might he say about you and me? “Have not I lavished on you, dear sinner, my love and grace, my forgiveness and righteousness? Where, redeemed sinner is your thanksgiving?”
So, which ought you and I to be this Thanksgiving--and always? The nine or the one? The answer is obvious. Give up your pride, and be like the one outcast leper. Throw yourself at Jesus’ feet and in a loud voice, obvious to all, say how thankful you are for “his countless gifts of love” to you.
Gratitude that runs deep There is yet another level of gratitude: gratitude when there seems to be no ordinary blessings, gratitude when there is no special mercy shown, gratitude expressed in the midst of insufferable affliction and despair. You’ve heard stories of persecuted Christians who live in grinding poverty, whose lives are in constant danger, yet who smile and seem full of humble thanks to God. Let’s be honest. You and I are pretty bewildered by this.
Perhaps one of the greatest examples of this level of gratitude is seen in the life of the 17th century German pastor, Martin Rinkart. From 1618-1648, armies of the Holy Roman Empire, bent on crushing Reformation Christianity, wreaked havoc throughout Germany, descending on whole villages, at times not leaving a man, woman, or child alive in their wake. Historians tell us more than one third of the population of Germany died in this Thirty Years War.
By 1636, Pastor Rinkart’s village of Eilenburg in Saxony was little more than a plague-infested wasteland. Rinkart had conducted funerals for 4,480 of his parishioners, including his wife and all his children. One of few men left alive in the village, in peril of his life, it fell to Rinkart to seek relief for his grief-devastated flock. “Come, my children,” he urged the few who remained, “we can find no mercy with men; let us take refuge in God.”
Unlike the leper who had just been delivered from sickness and death in Luke’s account, Rinkart was far from any such deliverance. War would rage on for another twelve years. Caught in the maw of the brutalities of war, he and his flock, I am sure, found themselves more than a little perplexed by the devastation and death on every hand. Nevertheless, Rinkart’s faith was such that he looked past all the woe, and while still in the deepest trials, managed to pen one of the church’s greatest thanksgiving hymns. Think of his story as you read aloud these lines from his hymn.
Now thank we all our God, With heart and hands and voices; Who wondrous things hath done, In whom his world rejoices; Who from our mothers’ arms Hath blessed us on our way With countless gifts of love, And still is ours today. O may this bounteous God Through all our life be near us; With ever joyful hearts And blessed peace to cheer us; And keep us in his grace, And guide us when perplexed, And free us from all ills In this world and the next. Now consider, with me, how often we fail meaningfully to express gratitude for “countless gifts of love,” for daily blessings or for special graces, how often you and I have been like the nine lepers.
Notice further how Martin Rinkart calls us to a gratitude expressed with “heart, and hands, and voices.” I wonder if he didn’t even have the grateful leper in mind when he penned those words, whose heart so overflowed with thanksgiving that he “cried out in a loud voice,” and “threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.”
Ingrates will always think that such expressions of gratitude are too extravagant. But true gratitude springs from the heart, overflows in sincere speech, and floods the world with tangible deeds. Because you and I know we ought to be grateful for “countless gifts of love,” lavished upon us by the extravagant mercy of God in Christ our Savior, let us cultivate grateful feelings in our hearts, take grateful words on our lips, do grateful deeds with our hands.
Douglas Bond is author of more than thirty books, speaker, editor, director of Oxford Creative Writing Master Class, and leader of church history tours in Europe. If this post was a blessing to you, please share it with your friends and family. We also invite you to subscribe to receive more content like this. If you're looking for gift-giving ideas, author-signed books often make cherished gifts--and we have a special free book and free shipping for you when you buy three books here at bondbooks.net/shop. Use promo code: WYCLIFFEBIO when you check out.