The reflexive “thank you” is deeply engrained in our patterns of speech. And yet for us it is all too possible to be forgetful about thanking God. Even as we receive His good gifts, we can be distracted from our holy duty of gratitude.
Scripture recounts a striking story of this kind of forgetfulness. It is when Jesus passes through a village and meets ten men afflicted with leprosy (Luke 17:11-19). In the dire need of their condition, they cry for help, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (v. 13).
And in response, Jesus sends the ten men to the priest. As they go, they are suddenly healed: their skin goes from being black and mushy and without feeling, to being pink and healthy and alive. The priest can declare them clean and able to be restored to life in the communion of God’s people. This was more than a marvelous restoration of health, it was a life-changing encounter.
But Luke reports that only one of the lepers, a Samaritan, returns. Coming to Jesus, he “fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks” (v. 16).
Jesus asks the question which must have been on the mind of all present: “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?” (v. 17).
Maybe one went to celebrate—there was a lot of living to catch up on. Maybe another was too shy to approach the Master amid all His followers. Another might have been too proud. Perhaps one leper simply forgot to say thanks in all the excitement, or another one could not find Jesus back again.
The failure of the nine men is captured in an imaginative poem marked by the regretful refrain,
“I meant to go back—
oh, I meant to go back!”
Even if they had good intentions, Jesus was not given his due. One man alone responded rightly to the gift of healing.
He bowed before Jesus and he thanked and adored Him as the life-giving and life-restoring Lord. “The joy that exceeded the priest’s pronouncement that he was clean was the joy of his heart being full of love for Jesus Christ.”
We often approach Scripture as if it is describing ways of living that are absolutely foreign to us. “We read this story and we think, ‘How could those nine men be so ungrateful as to not even turn back and say a word of thanks to Jesus?’ And yet far too many of us are guilty of the same sin of unthankfulness.” Sadly, we forget to thank God for His good gifts. We receive much, yet say little.
Where does our gratitude disappear to?
Perhaps it is swallowed up in the happy moment of enjoying God’s gift.
Perhaps we have good intentions to say thank you later, perhaps when we do our evening prayers, or when we attend church next Sunday: “I meant to go back—oh, I meant to go back!”
Perhaps we are proud, and resent the fact that we’ve been on the receiving end.
Perhaps we simply forget, because our mind is frail and our spirit is weak.
Whatever the way we account for our failure to be thankful, we need to see that it is more than a cognitive miscue: “Ingratitude and forgetfulness are ultimately moral rather than mental; they are the direct expression of sin.”
Instead, we must live in the spirit of the grateful Samaritan. In thankfulness, we gladly bow before our Lord, for He has saved us from bondage to death and decay. Like the healed lepers, we have new life because of what Christ has done for us and must respond rightly.
Bridges asks us, “Have you stopped today to give thanks to God for delivering you from the domain of darkness and transferring you to the kingdom of His Son?”
Forgetfulness can only be countered by remembrance. What particular graces have you received from God? Remember how He has been so good to you. And more than this, what does it mean that you have received the kindness of God in Jesus Christ?
For all of the riches of God’s grace, let us dedicate our lives to Him in thankful praise.
 From a poem, “But Where Are the Nine?” by unknown author, in Knight’s Treasury of Illustrations, edited by Walter B. Knight (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963), 404.
 James W. Beeke and Joel R. Beeke, Developing a Healthy Prayer Life (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010), 34.
 Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins (Colorado Springs, Colo: NavPress, 2007), 79.
 Os Guinness, The Call, Revised and Expanded 20th Anniversary ed. (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 2018), 260.
 Bridges, Respectable Sins, 80.