Friday, April 27, 2012

SMALL GROUP LEADERSHIP

TITLE: SMALL GROUP LEADERSHIP
SCRIPTURE: Acts 2:13-14
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 27 Apr 2012

"Some however, made fun of them and said, 'They have too much wine.' Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd." (Acts 2:14)

This is Part 2 of a series of 4 articles dedicated to small groups ministry. For the next three weeks, I will write about small groups with regards to leadership, to meeting inner membership needs, and to reaching out and outreach as a group.

A) Leaders are So Hard to Find

I have been involved with small groups ministry for a long time. Since my Inter-Varsity days, where I first came to the faith, I have been active as a participant, as an organizer, as a leader, and increasingly as a trainer and equipper. Everywhere I go, there is a recurring need: Leaders.

Leaders are so hard to find. Good leaders are even more difficult to get. This is why one of the most important activities in the Church is training and development. Back in my undergraduate days when I first became a Christian, I was filled with enthusiasm to be with fellow believers, to learn from my seniors, and to grow in Christ. I read. I pray. I memorize Scripture. When it comes to the Annual Leadership Conference organized by my fellowship, I would just say to myself that those are for the more experienced, the more capable, and the more mature people. I had no sense of calling. I had no idea what leadership actually means or requires. I preferred to simply grow my own faith, and be content with my small circle of brothers and sisters in Christ. Living together in the hostel can be fun. People would come by my room each day, thanks to my proximity to my neighbours who were extremely active in the Christian Fellowship. They had many more years of experience as a Christian than me. I was barely two years old in Christ. One evening, the chairman of the Fellowship came by. I was visiting my neighbours. He was confirming the attendance list for the annual leadership training event with my esteemed neighbours. I happened to be visiting and chatting away with them. The chairman said that he had one last spot on the Christian leadership training course. Whether it is by coincidence or by divine calling, he saw me and offered me the opportunity to take that last spot.

I was bowled over. Me? I'm such a young believer.

My neighbours egged me on. The chairman looked at me with an inviting eye. I was floored. Resistance then is futile. Thus began my introduction to leadership. Simply put, I was there at the right time, at the right place, and at the right moment. I did not know why I accepted the opportunity then. What I do know is that I am glad I accepted the invitation. It opened my eyes to the new world of being a leader for Christ. It encouraged me to grow in ways that I would never have dreamed possible.

B) Sweet Spot of Leadership

Leadership Discernment: G.O.A.L
One of the ways in which discernment needs to do is to locate what Max Lucado calls the "sweet spot." I like to call it the G.O.A.L. Comprising three concentric circles, spiritual discernment is to find the spot where three things intersect: Gloryfying God; Opportunity to Serve, and Availability of our Strengths, toward Leading for God. I call it the way to discern our calling.

Three questions are to be asked in discerning God's call for leadership.

  1. G: How does it glorify God?
  2. O: What are the opportunities and needs in my community?
  3. A: What are my available strengths?

The central point of intersection is a great spot for us to discern our calling to leadership.

B) G = Glorifying God

When the early Church experienced ridicule from people who said that they were drunk from wine, Peter stood up to lead the disciples. Instead of cowing away in fear like what he did to Jesus when he denied Christ thrice, Peter became a fearless witness for God. He seeks to glorify God with his leadership.

In small group environments, sometimes it is easy to get caught up in trying to make small groups an end in themselves. Call it a "Holy Huddle" or an exclusive "Holy Club." These groups exist only for themselves. I have known of groups which continue to remain in the similar size for decades. They are mainly content in serving one another. Leaders need to learn to see beyond the obvious membership needs. As a Shepherd, he/she needs to keep in mind how the group glorifies God. One of the things I regularly do in my group is to worship as a group. Playing musical instruments is not a requirement for leadership though it can surely enrich the worship experience. One reason why I like to encourage singing as a group is because it unites all of us to sing as one body. In singing, we remind one another the reason we gather. Songs like "As we gather" or "Bind us Together" remind us of our common bond in Christ and the reason we gather. The key is to let the worship guide our thoughts and to allow the Spirit of God to set the mood for the meeting. If there is no one who can play the music, use an MP3 player, or a Youtube video. Sing Acapella. Read Scripture. Leaders must be worshipers themselves. Worshipers will worship regardless of music, instruments or available facilities. The moment the prospective leader shuns away from worship, he has disqualified himself from leadership.

C) O=Opportunities

The Early Church waited for the Holy Spirit to come, and when the Spirit fills their hearts, they are empowered to serve and the share the gospel. Acts 2 shows us that the people were gathered together as one body when the Spirit arrives. Being Church is essentially coming together as a people of God in the Name of Christ. When people come together, they open themselves to learn to recognize needs within the group as well as outside the group.

The next question to ask is about the opportunities and needs around us. It is tragic to see groups disperse when the leader fails to turn up for the meeting. When I lead groups, I make attendance a priority. The one person expected to be present at ALL meetings is the leader. As I look back at my years in leading small groups, I notice one thing: No one else beats my attendance record. Another thing is, I find coming to small group gatherings a joy rather than a chore.

The needs of any group are many. Probe deeper and one will easily find all kinds of challenges. They can range from issues with spouses to discipline matters with children. While people can sometimes choose to come on the basis of how interesting the topic of study is, when the relationships are there, people will come. In other words, for those without good relationships with the other group members, often come to the meetings on the basis of how interesting the study is or how convenient the meeting times and locations are. Those with good relationships will come regardless of the logistics or the study.

Leaders are to maintain a conscious balance for both content of the meetings as well as the relationships among the group. The most important opportunity available for leaders is prayer. Leaders must be prayerful people for their group members. If a prospective leader shuns from prayer, he has disqualified himself from leading small groups.

D) A=Availability

Peter has a gift of leadership. As the spokesman of the group, he stood up with the Eleven to address the  crowd. He made himself available to be used by God, on behalf of the group, to share with the hearers outside the group. Peter could have said that he is busy trying to unite his small group of new believers. He could have spent time to analyze what had happened when the Spirit fell on them. He could have avoided the ridicule of the people by just closing the door in the upper room. Instead, he made himself available to speak for the group, and for God.

In our modern world, "busy" is our common name. It is a cultural symbol of importance. It becomes a convenient excuse for anything we try to avoid. "Busy" is a catch-all reason not to go for any small group meetings. When one is unwilling, any reason is good enough, including busyness. If a prospective leader is not willing to make sacrifices, to make him or herself available for the greater cause, he/she has disqualified him/herself from leadership.

E) Leaders are Called

Leading small groups is not necessarily difficult. Taking up the mantle of leadership can be quite an easy feat. The challenge is to grow in leadership. Entering is easy. Sustaining is hard. Good leaders are growing leaders themselves. They need to. I take encouragement from the life of Peter. Having been a disciple of Jesus for three years, his number of years as a believer is perhaps about 4 years by Acts 2. Some Churches tend to choose only from people who have more than 10 years as a believer. No. I know of some who have been Christians for many years but remain spiritual babies. On the other hand, there are young Christians who are giants in faith.

My former professor at Regent College has this to say about leadership and calling.

"Inherent in God's call is something fierce and unmanageable. He summons, but he will not be summoned. He does the calling; we do the answering. . . . . . At times we try to tame the call by equating a staff position in a church or religious organization with the call itself. But the call always transcends the things we do to earn money, even if those things are done in the church. Our vocation in Christ is one thing; our occupations, quite another." (Darrell W. Johnson, "The Call to Ministry," in Leadership Handbook of Management and Administration, Baker Books, 2007, 43)
I thought about my early years as a Christian. In my heart, I asked about how best to glorify God (G). The opportunity to be trained as a leader was offered to me: (O). Inside my heart I was nervous but keen to take the step of faith. I made myself available (A). That began my growth as a leader.

What about you? Is God calling you to avail yourselves to be a leader? Are you willing to step up to serve? Are you willing to carve out time to pray for your group members? Are you prepared to give up personal comfort for the sake of community benefit? If the answer to any of these is yes, follow the Spirit's prompting.


THOUGHT: "We often say we have no priest, but that is not so. The fact is that we are all priests, or potential priests. In the same way, we may think we have no leaders, but that is not so either. We are all leaders, or potential leaders. Just as we are all required to be prepared to minister through the spoken word, we are all required to be prepared to receive a leading, or a prompting which may call us and others in directions we had not dreamt of." (Margaret Heathfield, a Quaker)

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Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries.

Friday, April 20, 2012

On Small Groups

TITLE: ON SMALL GROUPS
SCRIPTURE: Acts 2:42-47
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 20 Apr 2012

"They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."(Acts 2:42-47)

I will be graduating next month from my doctoral program. That means, after May 11th, you can officially call me (Dr), though I will feel weird about it all. I want to pay tribute to my small group in Singapore. Many of them have been supporting me in different ways for the many years since I left for Vancouver. Thus, for the next four weeks, beginning with this article, I will be writing on small group matters. This week, I will be reflecting on small groups as a necessary part of any Church. Growing Churches will have vibrant small groups. Growing groups have people who are convicted by the Holy Spirit about one's sin, counseled by one another, and live in community that shares not just material needs, but spiritual needs.

A) Growing Churches (Acts Style vs Modern Style)

I have read Acts 2 umpteen times, never bored, always amazed. Amazed at how united the members of the early Church are. Amazed at how diligent they meet on a daily basis. Amazed at the same things that they do and yet they do not seem to be bored by the routine.  Most of all, I am amazed that the Lord added to their numbers on a daily basis. In a context of a Western Church that seems to be shrinking year after year, this passage of Scripture appears out of this world! The Church in Acts shares everything they have. The modern Church takes when it is possible. The Acts Church comes together daily enthusiastically. The modern Church gathers on a weekly basis, depending on one's work schedule.The Acts Church gave fully of what they have. The modern Church gives a little of what they have. The Acts Church enjoys the favor of all the people. Many in the modern Church expect favor from people.

In a nutshell, the modern Church is a far cry from the early Church. I confess I may have been a little harsh on the modern Church. My point is that I am more amazed at how the Church in Acts behave. I am simply giving credit where credit is due. The Acts Church is amazing! It does something that modern Church seminars, inspirational talks, or leadership conferences cannot replicate. Growth. We have seen how the world's largest Church has grown beyond a million members. South Korea's David Cho Yonggi's Church has been growing tremendously. We have also seen the great success stories of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, as well as Rick Warren's Saddleback Church. There are also stories of the unofficial church in China, North Korea, and elsewhere in Africa that are growing by leaps and bounds.  A sizable amount of growth comes from the prosperity gospel camp.

B) A Growing Church Has Vibrant Small Groups

Go to most growing churches and you can easily hear leaders talking up the impact of small groups and how people's lives have been changed. Most churches have them. Traditional churches need them. Megachurches thrive on them. One of the biggest impacts have come about through the popular concept of 'cell groups.'

Groups are essential to any Church. It is essential for community building. A healthy Church is not one that has a big building packed every Sunday. A healthy Church is one that has every member in a small group. In other words, a healthy Church is not an efficiently run organization, but a living organism. An organization can strategize, plan, and implement programs to attract people. An organism will be attractive in itself. After all, if a person is cared for, and is able to care for others, everything else is secondary. That includes programs, type of study materials, or the logistics of meeting times and places. If a person has a reason to come, he/she will find every means to make it to the meeting. If the person does not want to come, any excuse is possible.

C) A Program Is Only An Introduction

I once interviewed a pastor at a large Church about his Church strategy for growth. "Programs!" he said. His reasoning was that the programs are needed to meet the different needs of the people. Thus, there are programs for different ethnic groups, various age groups, and all kinds of interest groups. The basic conviction is that, with the right program mix, the people will keep coming, and keep bringing friends. I am not too sure if that works. I know of several people from that same church. Apparently, they are not very involved in the Church at all. "Attend Church service only" is the regular answer. The pastors do not know them. They do not know others. Others do not even know they exist. My problem with this approach is that programs may draw people in, but they do not necessarily build relationships. We build relationships with people meeting people where they are, not programs catering to people's tastes.

My point is, programs come and go. People live and love. Programs only lead us to the meeting place, but the rest is up to the people. Programs are temporal. People are not. If that is the case, why focus on programs when we ought to focus on people?

Now, let me be clear. I am not against programs. I simply want to maintain that programs are only introductions or invitations. The growing and the relating is up to God using us, and us obeying the Spirit's leading.

D) Small Groups are Necessary

John Wesley has often been credited with the invention of small groups. Douglas Hunt calls Wesley the "pioneer of small-group evangelism." Tim Stafford acknowledges the small group as one of Wesley's "most enduring legacies." It has also been widely recorded that John Wesley's famous "Holy Club" marks one of the earliest versions of Wesleyan style small groups. Here is one tip that Wesley has given the Christian world. D Michael Henderson has even called John Wesley's Class Meetings as the "Model for Making Disciples." John Wesley writes about the beginning of a small group.

"In the latter end of the year 1739, eight or ten persons came to me in London, who appeared to be deeply convinced of sin, and earnestly groaning for redemption. They desired (as did two or three more the next day) that I would spend some time with them in prayer, and advise them how to flee from the wrath to come; which they say continually hanging over their heads; that we might have more time for this great work, I appointed a day when they might all come together; which from thenceforward, they did every week, namely, on Thursday, in the evening. To these, and as many more as desired to join with them (for their number increased daily) I gave those advices, from time to time, which I judged most needful for them; and we always concluded our meeting with prayer suited to their several necessities." (John Wesley, in his Preface to the Rules of the Societies)

Like the Acts Church, I am amazed at John Wesley's strict no-holds-barred purpose of conviction, counsel, and communion. Firstly, there is a conviction to tackle sin head on. Secondly, there is counsel via opportunities to pray and come together to meet on a regular basis. While it is a little different from the Acts Church which meets regularly, Wesley's model follows the rules of consistency (every week) rather than a literal copy of Acts (every day). Thirdly, there is a communion element, whether people's needs are addressed via prayer.

Be amazed by the quantity of people being added in the Acts Church. Be amazed by the desire of people to meet to confess sins and grow in Christ during Wesley's times. Can you be amazed by opportunities in your Church to grow small groups? You do not need many. Just begin with two or three persons and launch a small group. Do all the sowing that you can. Do all the watering that you can. Do all the care and cultivation that you can. Then sit back. Pray. Relax, and watch the Holy Spirit makes it grow.

THOUGHT: "The heart of this revolutionary system was a cell group of six to eight people which Wesley named 'the class meeting.' They met weekly to give an account of their personal spiritual growth, according to the rules and following the procedures which Wesley had carefully crafted. The class meeting proved to be such an effective tool for radical personal change that it can be acknowledged as the pivotal medium which enabled the message to be internalized. The Methodist movement helped shape England's moral and spiritual destiny, and its impact continues to be felt around the world, . . . . . but the key element was the class meeting." (D. Michael Henderson, A Model for Making Disciples, Evangel Publishing, 1997, p11-12)



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Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries.

Friday, April 13, 2012

In Defense of Plan B

TITLE: In Defense of Plan B 
SCRIPTURE: Acts 16:6-8
Date: 13 Apr 2012
Written by: Conrade Yap

 “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.” (Acts 16:6-8) 

Life is strange.

Sometimes I feel like we are easily stuck when we feel like we do not have all the right answers. More often than not, we like to have things laid out properly and done correctly before we really get that feeling of satisfaction. When things are rushed, we feel less than 100%. We are not as contented with the results, saying that things could have been better. When our Plan As fail to take effect, we kick in Plan B, often lamenting that “if only” we have Plan A, then life will be better. Much better. Pete Wilson writes about this effect on how we tend to believe that the grass is always greener on the other side. We say,

Everyone else is getting married. Everyone else is having kids. Everyone else is successful. Everyone else is healthy. Everyone else is happy in their marriages - or content and productive in singleness.” (Pete Wilson, Plan B, Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2009, 4) 
When our Plan As fail, we scramble our Plan Bs reluctantly. We work out our contingency plans not without dreaming how life is much ‘better’ if our As turn out according to plan. This week, I like to reflect on why we ought to see that very often, man’s Plan B may very well be God’s Plan A for us. 

A) When A Fails

People generally loves a good story. Fairy tales are best. It brings about the glimmer of hope that we can one day have a happily-ever-after ending. Single girls dream of being swept up by a handsome princely character, full of riches and charisma. Married men dream of a nice loving wife who cooks well, brings us children brilliantly, looks beautiful all the time, and provides excellent sex on bed. Young men envision careers that provides global travel with executive perks. Living in a society infatuated with all things success and happiness, everyone seeks after the same things: Becoming rich and successful. Even Christians are caught up in that mad rat race. They employ their best efforts. They utilize their connections. Some even use God. When times are good, they answer with shouts of “Hallelujah! Praise God!” When times are bad, they question God.

B) The Bithynia Denial

After traveling far and wide, Paul must have gotten used to preaching the gospel to different lands. After all, Acts recorded him making four missionary journeys in his outreach to the Gentiles. During his second missionary journey, made sometime between AD 50-52, Paul and his followers encountered a road block. After traveling westward through the lands of Galatia and Phrygia, they were attempting to bring the gospel to the lands west of Mysia. At that time, the Roman Empire has divided Phrygia into two separate regions: Asia and Galatia. It was in Asia that Paul encountered the impasse. This Roman province of Asia is not to be confused with our modern understanding of Asia. Around AD 25, the Romans have carved out an expanded area comprising of cities such as Mysia, Lydia, Caria, and parts of Phrygia.

So Paul and his companions, instead of heading up northward toward Bithynia, they headed west toward Troas. All because Paul had been prevented from entering Bithynia. Whether it is through visions, dreams, of physical barriers we do not know. What we do know is that Paul wanted to enter Bithynia (His Plan A) but instead entered Troas (Plan B). The text says that “the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to” enter Bithynia. As a result, they skipped Mysia.

C) Paul’s Focus is on Christ

I am not sure how Paul felt at that time. Perhaps, he was disappointed that Bithynia was out of his reach. From the use of the Greek ‘perazo,’ it can be interpreted to indicate their best efforts to enter the land. This same verb can also be translated as ‘to attempt to go; or tempted to enter.’ It is enlightening to note that as far as the gospel is concerned, it is not the place of travel but the heart of obedience that matters. For Paul, if northward bound is not possible, head westward. It does not matter as long as the gospel is preached. This attitude has been recorded in Philippians 1:18:

But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,” (Philippians 1:18) 

I have heard of some friends of mine wanting to reach a particular people group for God. Along the way, their best intentions fell apart. Their dreams were not met. Their Plan A fails to materialize and they have to accept their Plan Bs, even Cs. I too have my fair share of Plan A not coming into play.

Back in 2004, I was eager to get theological training, and then return to my home church and hopefully teach in a local seminary. Naive and idealistic, my wife and I uprooted ourselves from the comforts of Singapore to go to Canada, thinking that after 3-4 years, we will all return and then serve happily ever after back home. Unfortunately, that Plan A seems more distant with each passing year. Our kids became more used to the school systems here. Lifestyles change. People changes. We change. Even the place that we used to call home has changed. The Singapore we know in 2004 is no longer the same as in 2012. My father passed away in 2010. Each time I returned home for a visit, people tend to be extremely busy with their own stuff. A friend of mine who has since decided to stay in Canada commented to me in a somewhat skeptical manner:
“Don’t bother returning to Singapore. People have no time for you anyway.” 
I hesitate to come to that conclusion. I know of many people who will spend time. I also understand why he said what he said. After all, I too have experienced my fair share of disappointments with regards to trying to meet up with ‘busy’ people in Singapore. You can plan ahead. You can even get all the people’s names and reminders in place. Yet, at the very last minute, things can change. People have their own priorities. Their Plan As are not necessarily yours, and your Plan As is not necessarily theirs.

Personally, we need to be open to one another. Emergencies can happen at any time. Our Plan As are often simply a plan waiting to be changed at last minute’s notice. Matt Chandler once said that there is a big difference between trust and understanding. Trust is what is needed when we lack the understanding. Likewise, when we fail to understand why our Plan As did not work, we need to trust God to help us work out our Plan Bs, Cs, or even Ds.

Who knows? Our Plan As need time to be baked in God’s perfect timing. In the meantime, He can choose to use us more effectively through Bs, Cs, Ds, Es, even Fs. As far as God’s will is concerned, it is not the plan per se. It is the heart that seeks to obey God regardless of what it is. Pete Wilson writes:

God can take the pain and hurt you’ve experienced and use it to expand and mold your heart to reflect his heart. The question is, do you think you can sacrifice who you are today for who you could become?” (Pete Wilson, Plan B, 222) 

Bingo! Sacrificing something temporal in order to gain something eternal is priceless. Paul is able to obey God despite the Bithynian denial. He knows what is at stake. It is not his pride of being denied entry. Neither is it his frustration at why God is stopping him from sharing the gospel northward. As the song goes in the Jimmy and Carol Owens’s play called the Dreamer:

“When GOD Closes the door, HE opens a window,
so I can see HE's working it out the very best for me.

Trust God. Trust Him for all of your plans, not just your plan As or Bs. As far as God is concerned, He does not distinguish it according to A, B, C, D, or whatever. His goal is to love us so much that He gave Jesus for us. We are called to bring this love into our homes and beyond our local comforts of home.


THOUGHT:  "Disappointment to a noble soul is what cold water is to burning metal; it strengthens, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it." (Eliza Tabor)

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Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Thanksgiving for everything? Are you kidding me?

TITLE: Thanksgiving for everything? Are you kidding me?
SCRIPTURE: 1 Thessalonians 5:18
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 6 Apr 2012

"In everything give thanks." (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

How is it possible to give thanks in everything?

(Credit: manwifeanddog.com)
Tom went into a business partnership with his best buddy Tim. Both put in their fair amount of hard work. One day, for some reason, Tim decided to take the money that was meant to be deposited into the business account and absconded. How on earth is it possible for Tom to be thankful about what had happened?

Patricia prayed for years for the eventual healing of her sick mother. She had faith. Faithfully she asked her church elders to lay hands, to pray, and to anoint her mother's head with oil. She followed the best medical advice given to her, took her mum regularly for treatment. Unfortunately, her mum died a year later. How can Patricia give thanks?

After working faithfully for his employer for 30 years, Anthony was laid off and were treated the same way as a 1-year old employee. How can Anthony be thankful about such a treatment to him, a loyal and faithful worker?

Life is tough. Many things can be planned, but outcomes are very much unplanned. A business failure, a death, and a terminated career are some of the things that make thanksgiving such a difficult thing to do.

1) State of Unthankfulness in Society

It is easy to simply take things for granted. Whether it is a cleaner at the food courts, or the parking attendant, we tend to assume that it is their job to do what they are supposed to do. When we see dirty spots on our table and off we go, barking at the frantic cleaner to come and clean up. Sometimes, just waiting a few minutes longer for the response drastically reduces our readiness to thank the cleaner. Consider the parking attendant. He is doing his job, applying company policies to vehicles that have breached the time limit for parking. Drivers who have received violation tickets are normally mad. Are we to withhold thanks from people who are merely doing their jobs, and who have inadvertently annoyed us with violation tickets? After all, aren't errant drivers at fault in the first place?

The list is long.

2) An Unthankful Heart is a Spiritual Condition

Perhaps, the reason why Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to give thanks in everything comes out of something less externally affected, but internally motivated. Things done to us may irritate us and make us unhappy. External things are not within our control. The same is not true for internal.

Like Jesus' teaching about turning the other cheek when a person slaps him. Or the fact that if we have two coats, to keep one, and to give the other away. Or the example of giving in secret instead of in public. All of these actions stem from the inner self. It transforms an internal heart of gratitude into external actions of thanksgiving. Good fruits come out of a good tree. An inner disposition drives an outer application.

Jesus has even said about a kind of unclean condition. He reminded the people.

"He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’" (Mark 7:6-7)
When our hearts are far from God, we cannot honour God with our hearts. Likewise, if our hearts are not thankful in the first place, thanksgiving is more a challenge than a joy.

3) Story of the Ten Lepers

In the story of the ten lepers, Jesus laments at the poor level of thankfulness in the hearts of people. Out of ten people who desired to be healed, and who were healed, only one returned to Jesus and thanked Him. Not only that, he was a Samaritan, a 'foreigner' as recorded in Luke 17:18. The story has several pointers with regards to thanksgiving.

#1 - Thankful People a Minority
It is sad that people in general have lots of opportunity to demonstrate thankfulness. The sad case is that many chooses NOT to. Christians are called to be thankful for everything because without God, we are nothing in the first place. When we are thankful, we acknowledge that God is in control and we are trusting God to deliver the best, not on our own mortal timeframe, but in God's eternal timelessness.

#2 - Spiritual Healing is Harder

The ten lepers were all healed, but the poor rate of thanksgiving only goes to show that man's default condition is sin manifested in unthankfulness. Jerry Bridges in his book, "Respectable Sins" have even called unthankfulness a sin. An interesting thing in the story of the ten lepers occur in Luke 17:19.

"Then he said to him, 'Rise and go; your faith has made you well.'
What? The one who has given thanks have been declared 'well?' Is Jesus implying that the other 9 men are not fully well yet? This is a remarkable clue that healing needs to be holistic. Just like faith without good works is dead, or theory without practice is empty, outer healing without inner healing is incomplete. The 9 lepers who are healed were healed on the outside. Only the tenth obtains inner healing. For Jesus has declared: 'your faith has made you well.'


#3 - True Thankfulness is Heartfelt

Note the four acts of the tenth leper. He intentionally came back. He praised God loudly. He flung himself at the feet of Jesus. He gave thanks. Only a person deeply touched can do such things. It goes beyond the head and flows from the heart. Such a thankful heart is what Paul is asking the Thessalonians to practice.

Finally, let me close with some of the possible reasons why the other nine lepers did not return to give thanks.


  1. SKEPTICISM: "How do I know if the healing is permanent or not?"
  2. ABSENT-MINDED: "Oops. I forgot."
  3. PRESUMPTUOUS: "I'm sure others can do it."
  4. UNTHANKFULNESS: "Am I supposed to give thanks in the first place?"
  5. INFERIOR COMPLEX: "Jesus is so high, and I am so low. How can I even approach Him?"
  6. SUPERIOR COMPLEX: "Jesus is a Jew. I am a Samaritan. How can I thank Him?"
  7. TAKE FOR GRANTED: "Jesus is supposed to do his job anyway."
  8. FEELING UNJUST: "I have suffered so long. Why didn't Jesus heal me earlier?"
  9. VICTIMIZED: "If Jesus is God, He should have prevented me from being leprous in the first place!"

Is it possible that the nine men who failed to return are guilty of at least one of them above? Perhaps. May we be free from these acts of ungratefulness as we reflect upon the immense grace of God as we think of Christ willingness in going to the cross.

THOUGHT: "You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink." (G. K. Chesterton)


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