February 17, 2019 Pastor: John Palka

Introduction –Nobody likes hardship, disappointment and suffering. These fields of life are fertile grounds for the roots of bitterness and division, but they can also be fertile field in which we learn to experience the freedom of gratitude. Unfortunately, I’ve lived in both fields. I’ve told you about this time in my life and I will no doubt again refer to it because it was a formative time for me.

It was not the way things were supposed to go. This was not my plan. I had worked through many hard times in my ministry in Africa. My feet were at home in the red dirt of West Africa. My intestines were now used to all those bugs that made their home here. My body had learned to work as if nothing was wrong even when my blood test came back telling me I was filled with malaria. I had learned how to productively work with our African national partners and I had won their respect and love. I earned a good future.

But instead walking in the dust of Africa, I found myself walking in a well manicured suburban neighborhood of Chicago. I was not going back and I had no idea what was ahead of me. Whatever was in front of me I did not want because it was NOT a part of MY plan.

I entered into a one-year season of life in which I experienced, for the first and only time, the black tunnel of depression. There was no joy in life…only dullness. I was filled with the spirit of bitterness.

By the time a year went by I was again able to feel life. The dullness of the black tunnel was gone. Over the next several years I prayed about what had happened to me. For me and only me, in my very specific situation this is what happened. My me-centered orientation about what I wanted became everything and my gratitude for everything God gave me became nothing. I completely lost the freedom of a faith-driven gratitude.

We just finished a series of messages on spiritual wellness. If you weren’t here for them, I would encourage you to go to our website and listen to audio versions of the messages. As we grow stronger in our spiritual wellness what happens to us? Today, we’re going to see that a faith-driven gratitude leads to freedom.

Gratitude in the Bible - If we look at the OT, particularly in the early parts of it we see a conspicuous absence of gratitude. Adam and Eve didn’t thank God. The families of Isaac and Jacob fought over God’s blessings rather than thank him for them. Ingratitude hit its zenith when the Israelites, after being rescued from Egyptian slavery, could only grumbled, completely forgetting the majesty and power God just demonstrated.

In the ancient Hebrew language the closest word they have to gratitude or thankfulness is a word that is most often translated as “to praise.” That’s why this morning we chanted Ps. 103 which expressed its gratitude by praising God. Praise the Lord my soul, all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord my soul, and forget not his benefits-…who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion. Praise is a Hebrew form of gratitude toward God.

But when we turn to the NT part of the Bible we see the Greek concept of gratitude and thanksgiving all over the place. The Greek word is euchristia from which we get our word Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper.

In our Gospel reading we heard about the how Jesus experienced a lack of gratitude. 10 men with leprosy stood at a distance from Jesus yelling “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.” They stood at a distance because people with leprosy and other skin diseases were banded from villages and cities. They were complete outcasts.

Jesus and Gratitude - Jesus tells the 10 to present themselves to the priests. Jesus told them this because the priest was the only one who could declare a person clean of a skin disease, readmitting them to society. All 10 obeyed Jesus’ command and on their way to the priests they are cleaned. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God (The ancient Hebrew way of expressing gratitude) in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him. Jesus said, “Were there not ten cleaned? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?

What was different about this one man that caused him to return to Jesus? The text doesn’t explicitly answer this question, but hints are given. The single man returned “praising God” and he fell down at Jesus’ feet. Abraham fell on his face in God’s presence (Gn. 17). When God spoke out of cloud at the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James and John fell on their faces (Mt. 17). And in the Book of Revelations we see the angels falling on their faces around God’s throne in awe of and worshiping God. The more and more our jaw drops in the presence of God the more and more we are led to a gratitude-saturated life that praises God.

Spiritual wellness involves our gratitude for being cleaned, not of a skin disease, but cleaned of something far worse, sin. God through His son Jesus, cleansed us of our sins. In a very real sense, Jesus tells each of us to go and present ourselves to the priests. On our way we discover we also been cleaned of our sins, forgiven and given new life. 1 John 1:9, But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

Gratitude and Freedom - When we realize that our greatest gift is God’s grace that he gives us through Jesus’ cleaning of our sins, we, like the Samaritan leper, return to Jesus, filled with gratitude, praising God and falling down at Jesus’ feet. When we consider the greatest gift we have NOT as what we see, but in how God sees us, we cannot help but be filled with gratitude. Filled with gratitude I cannot help myself, I run to Jesus and I worship him. Filled with gratitude for God I find myself freed from the chains of bitterness, fear, shame and disappointment.

Faith-driven gratitude is a gift of our faith that frees us. Try being bitter and grateful at the same time; I dare you, try it. You can’t be grateful and bitter at the same time.

There was an elderly lady living in a nursing home. Her abilities were wasting away. A young student was drawn to repeatedly visit the elderly lady because of the strange force of the woman’s freedom. Eventually the lady could no longer move her arms or legs, but she would say “I’m so grateful I can move my neck.” When she could no longer move her neck she would say, “I’m so grateful I can see and hear.” The young student then asked the elder what she would do if she lost her hearing and sight. She responded, “I will just be grateful that you come to visit me.”

The blackness of bitterness and disappointment had no grip on her. Gratitude for God’s grace and for what he gave her freed her.

During that one year of my life I exchanged that faith-driven spirit of gratitude and praise of God for the bitter spirit of disappointment…I didn’t get what I wanted and I was determined to wallow in it. It was a really bad exchange.

Do you want freedom of gratitude in your life? It all starts with Jesus cleaning you from the fatal disease of sin. Here are a few things you can do to remind yourself of the Spirit of gratitude and praise that Jesus’ cleaning of our sins brings.

1. At the dinner table besides asking how the day went, ask those eating with you what they are grateful for today.
2. Besides keeping a prayer journal keep a Gratitude Journal.
3. Let your final thoughts of the day as you slip into sleep be a listing of the blessing you gratefully received today.
4. Be a source of blessing to others by speaking words of affirmation and gratitude for who they are.

As your faith-driven gratitude seeps into your life you will be freed.