This past Sunday I straggled into church five minutes late for the noon service with a Starbucks chai tea latte in tow. Yawning deeply, I took a seat in the back struggling to join in the worship song. When my pastor finally came to the pulpit I nearly rolled my eyes as he began his introduction to a gratitude message as we headed into this week of Thanksgiving.
Turning to Luke 17, I began to tune out and think about how my principal would be coming to observe me the very next morning. The passage was read aloud:
On the way to Jerusalem, he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 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."
The obvious bend of the passage revolves around the one Samaritan leper who came back and expressed his immense gratitude to Jesus for his immediate healing from a painful and endless disease. Where were the nine? Why hadn't the Jewish lepers expressed their gratitude before going to the priests for approval?
But the secondary thought expressed by my pastor was what really grabbed my attention:
"The most fundamental thing about you is not your circumstances, but what your circumstances have turned you into."
All week I've been thinking about this concept. Our circumstances are widely varied and certainly have affected us both brutally and otherwise. But clearly the Samaritan leper had made a choice following his presumably life-long affliction. He had made the choice to praise. The choice to run back to Jesus in spite of the pain he had suffered. Sincere gratitude from the deepest parts of himself came to the surface as he praised God with his loudest voice and fell on his face at the feet of his healer.
What have your circumstances turned you into?
What are some of the things we can become in the wake of life altering circumstances?
Bitter- One of the easiest responses to less than desirable circumstances is to become bitter. To continually resent those who have hurt you. To think on their betrayals and blame them for the life you have now. You can turn into a shell of your former self as you are consumed by the resentment and overcome by the need for blame.
Angry- Sarcasm and hate run rampant through your mind. Nothing is fair. Nothing is right. The wrong that has been done to you grows into an all-consuming rage that threatens to spill out with the slightest of inconveniences in your life.
A Pleaser- The events that lead you to these unwanted circumstances may feel like you did something to deserve this. The lepers in Jesus' day were often told that their sickness was due to hidden sin or poor choices they had made. Maybe you start to believe you can make everyone happy and be the nicest person around to avoid ever going through difficult circumstances ever again. If everyone likes me, maybe I won't get hurt by people again.
Self-Absorbed- After the nine lepers were healed and went to the priests for approval, they must have gone back to their regular lives. Sometimes after the worst trials of our lives we go back to our old "normal" and pretend everything is okay. The nine lepers never expressed their gratitude to Jesus and missed out in growing their faith the way the tenth leper did. If we chose to go back to the way things were before our refining circumstances, how will we ever build our faith the way Jesus desires?
Grateful- We can chose to be like the tenth leper. We could say, thank you Jesus. I can't imagine my life without this big, terrible trial. I can't even say that I wish it hadn't happened, because all I can see is how faithful you've been and how much I've grown in you. I want to be healed by you. I want the faith that says I am more empathetic and more aware of pain than I have ever been. The understanding that only through the pain I have become more like Christ.
Throughout the week I have felt all of these things. I feel anger and bitterness. I yearn to please people and I can be self-absorbed to the point of exclusion. But when I lay my head on the pillow each night I am nothing but grateful to a God who loves me. A Jesus who heals me. I pray for strength to continue a down the path of becoming who I am after the trial. To not linger in the emotions, but purposefully walk towards God.
Pastor ended his sermon with this thought, "When we have real faith in God, thankfulness is merely a reflex of that faith." When we put our face down before him in faith all we can see is gratitude for the way he shepherds and protects us.
What will you allow circumstances to do in your life? Who will you be as a result of the hard and hopeless days you've lead? Will we hear Jesus say to us, "Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well"?