On the night of September 6, 1860, the steamship Lady Elgin collided with the schooner Augusta on the chilly waters of Lake Michigan. The next morning, as people were walking along the shore, there were several that noticed large amounts of debris floating within the chilly waters. It wasn’t long after hearing the cries that they began to realize that, instead of debris, it was the bodies of many of the 387 passengers onboard the two ships that were drowning, fighting vigorously for their lives. Edward Spencer, a student at Northwestern University and known for his exceptional swimming abilities, was among those who saw what was happening, and, grabbing a life vest, jumped into the frigid waters attempting to save as many as possible. Over the course of the next six hours, he proceeded to bring in survivor after survivor after survivor, totaling 17 in all – a task that would leave him with injuries rendering him wheelchair bound for the rest of his life. 

Several years later, as Edward Spencer was approaching the end of his life, he was invited to give a lecture in Los Angeles on people who would give their lives to save others. At the end of that lecture, during a question and answer session, a reporter asked him about the night of September 6, and what the strongest and most striking memory of that event was. Without hesitation, Edward Spencer replied “That out of those 17 people I saved, not one of them came back to say thank you.”

What a sad story. And yet, a similar one is found in Luke 17, when, as Jesus was passing between Samaria and Galilee, He came across ten lepers who shouted, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” No doubt these men were in immense suffering, both from their physical afflictions and the social stigma that comes with such a disease. But yet, when Jesus told them what to do and they were subsequently healed as a result, only one of them came back to give thanks to Jesus for what He had done! To this individual, Jesus remarked, “Where there not ten cleansed? But the nine – where are they? Was no one found who turned back to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18).

Were they grateful? More than likely yes, and as they returned to their homes and places of business, they undoubtedly told of the Man who had made them whole again. Yet Jesus expresses sorrow over the fact that out of ten lepers, only one of them thought it was important enough to come back and actually say “thank you” to the One who had cleansed them in person. And while we frown on that and talk about how pitiful a response that is and begin to exclaim how we would do so much better, we have to ask ourselves, when was the last time we went to God in prayer simply to thank Him for what He’s done for us? No asking for anything, no requests for assistance, no complaining about life, just a simple prayer of thanksgiving – anywhere between 10 seconds to 10 years in length – that we simply said, “thank you”?

What we need to realize about gratefulness is that it is not enough for us to simply have good thoughts about something; gratitude must be lived out in our lives. If we are truly appreciative of the things God has given us, then our attitude in life will be to show Him that, day in and day out, by the way that we conduct ourselves. To quote Clint Stuart in last week’s invitation, “How would you feel if your son gave his life rescuing your neighbors from their burning house, and then those neighbors didn’t even come to the funeral?” Gratitude demands action.

Remembering to be grateful, and then acting on it, reminds us of who it is that gave us those things in the first place. Paul would chastise the gentiles in Romans 1:28 by saying, “Since they didn’t see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper.” When we forget about God, we pray less, we study less, we teach less, and we will eventually begin to wonder why we even need to show up to services in the first place. Forget about God, and He’ll forget about you.

It also keeps us from a prideful spirit. In Deuteronomy 8, after telling them of all their blessings that will multiply under God’s instruction, Moses warned them of their “heart becoming proud” and “forgetting the Lord your God” that gave you all those things (Deut. 8:14). The danger is, that after they were physically satisfied, and they began to look at all the things they possessed, they would not give glory to God, but rather say, “My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth” (Deut. 8:17) – which is exactly what would eventually happen. Let us be careful not to make the same mistake.

When I was a kid, one of the things my parents forced me to do was to write thank you letters within a couple days of Christmas and my birthday to everyone that had given me gifts. And, even though I hated doing it (mainly cause it took time away from all that new stuff I had just gotten), it still is a solid practice within our own lives today, especially within the realm of our salvation. We don’t know the full weight of sacrifice that the Father and the Son gave on our behalf to make our atonement possible, but it cost Him, at the very least, His life. The least that we can do is humble ourselves before Him, and say thank you on a regular basis – both in word and deed.

Last modified: January 22, 2019