Most people who are busy seeking to do the work of the Kingdom by God’s grace will know that it is often a thankless task. Either you will hear little if any praise from other believers, or if you do hear from them, it will often be just to criticise you.
No wonder so many Christian leaders and activists do not last the distance! With friends like that, who needs enemies? With so little positive feedback, so much deafening silence, and so much criticism, it can be very hard indeed to want to keep going.
I guess I am writing this for at least two reasons: I just read a gospel passage on this very issue, and also because it has been one of those days. You know the ones; you spend many hours trying to help someone, dealing with their questions, and helping them with their problems over a period of time, only to be told to get lost after all your efforts!
But we of course must keep going. And the reason we do so is because Jesus kept going – for us. And given what a thankless and undeserving mob we are, that is far more amazing. How could he go all the way to the bitter end, and even die a horrible death on a cross, when most folks could not give a rip about him or actively hated him and wanted him dead?
And of course Jesus knows all about critics and silence. He had plenty of people chewing him out all the time, but few who praised and thanked him. And often he was met with stony silence. We have a perfect illustration of this in the account of the ten lepers. In this familiar passage as found in Luke 17:11-19 we see that Jesus got a very poor gratitude response:
Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
Wow, ten healed and only one returns to give thanks. So a 90 per cent failure rate in terms of even an acknowledgement from those just healed. And this one was a foreigner, not even a Jew. So God’s own people were happy to accept the benefits of Jesus but not bother to even give him a word of thanks.
Darrell Bock remarks, “The portrait of Jesus’ compassion, even in the midst of rejection, is a crucial theme here. Jesus continues to minister to any who reach out to him. None is turned away. When people cry out for pity, Jesus offers it. God is not an ogre who hoards his compassion and needs persuading to exercise it. All he asks is that we approach him humbly and on his terms, recognizing that he is ready to help.
“Also significant in this story is the example of who is helped. Jesus reaches out to those who are regarded as outsiders. He touches especially those whom others have often given up on. Similarly, our ministry needs to share the scope of audience that Jesus’ ministry had.”
While this sad story is not meant to be a precise template for our own experiences, it can nonetheless serve as a broad grid by which to understand and assess our own ministry. To say that 90 per cent of those you minister to, share with, and seek to bless will likely not even say a word, let alone offer you any thanks, sounds about right.
For every person who gets back to you with a word of praise, there will likely be nine others who will say nothing, or will have something to complain about. That just seems to be the way it goes in Christian work. If it was true for Jesus, why would we expect it to be any less true for us?
We are not above our master, and if he took in more criticism and silence than praise, well, then that will almost certainly be our lot as well. How can we expect any less? If the most gracious and loving man to ever walk the planet got such poor treatment, what makes us think we are going to get any better?
But this is not just about those in ministry – both Jesus and his followers – who work much but get thanked little. It is also about a general attitude of ingratitude that most people have. Very few have a heart filled with thanks for what God has done. As Philip Graham Ryken comments,
“When we watch nine people out of ten forget to thank Jesus, we are witnessing a microcosm of humanity. Is any sin more characteristic of our fallen race than ingratitude? ‘Although they knew God,’ Paul writes of depraved humanity, ‘they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him’ (Rom. 1:21). Elsewhere he goes so far as to identify ingratitude as one of the prevailing sins of godlessness in the last days (see 2 Tim. 3:1-2). We are inclined to think of ingratitude as a relatively minor sin, but in fact it is one of the worst sins in the bible.
“Ingratitude is a way of saying that God owes us whatever he gives us, and that we owe Him nothing in return. Thus it is a complete reversal of our real position before God, namely, that He owes us nothing and we owe Him everything. Ingratitude is also a direct assault on God’s glory. When we do not thank God for his blessings, we are refusing to give him the praise that he rightly deserves.”
So let us be prepared for a lack of thanksgiving in any work we do for the Kingdom. Most people will not even bother to say thanks. But let us at the same time never cease to give thanks to our Lord who made our ministry for him possible in the first place.