“I thank my God every time I remember you . . .“. Those are the opening words of Paul’s prayerful greeting to the members of the church at Philippi. (Philippians 1:3 NRSV). It’s truly a beautiful and bold statement, one of my favorite beginnings to a New Testament Pauline letter. So, it seems a fitting jumping off place for some thoughts on giving thanks in this Thanksgiving season.
Here are three statements about Paul’s thankful statement and what giving thanks can lead to:
A BIG STATEMENT
Not only is Paul’s opening statement bold, it’s also BIG. To so emphatically declare that he is thankful “every” time he remembers these brothers and sisters in Christ must indicate that they hold a special place in his heart. Yet, if we stop and think about it, I would guess we might each have someone for whom this is true – someone for whom we give thanks when we think of them?
Maybe it’s a spouse, child, grandchild, friend or parent. Maybe it’s the person who led us to Christ, or the prayer partner we share our heart with? Who is it for you? Search your mind for a moment to see. Then give thanks for them. Then, tell them! Part of what makes Paul’s statement so BIG is that he shares it with the Philippians. Have you told the “someone(s)” you give thanks for when you think of them, how you feel? Go for it! Thanksgivings that are shared have more impact than those held too close.
A TRUE STATEMENT
I do not get the sense that Paul is engaged in any kind of hyperbole or stretching of the truth with his claim. This is not “preacher speak” or the buttering up of an audience. He is being truthful and vulnerable. Thanksgiving wells up in him when he thinks of these friends as he prays for them. They have been partners in ministry with him. They have stood with him during his imprisonment and separation from them. He knows that they “hold him in their heart”, just as he most assuredly does them.
Sharing a thanksgiving like this requires a certain amount of vulnerability. Many of us are not all that comfortable with such openness, yet that is part of what makes this prayer of Paul’s so memorable and touching. He’s taking the risk of being completely open and honest with his partners in the faith. When were you last this open and honest with someone? What was the outcome? Did you feel even more thankful for them after they returned some form or empathy or understanding? True statements of thanksgiving are often received with reciprocity.
A HOPEFUL STATEMENT
When we are thankful, we are by nature more hopeful. Would you agree? In my experience, both in being around thankful people and practicing thanksgiving myself, I have seen the relationship that grows between thankfulness and hopefulness. It is as if a thankful thought or comment prompts one to look forward with greater optimism and promise. Thankfulness, in this way, becomes a seedbed for hopefulness.
This past summer I expanded my vegetable garden, adding some additional space to the preexisting garden. The land I took in, however, was not in very good shape. It had been occupied for several years by a dead pine tree that over the years had dropped many pine needles and cones. Not only did I have to remove the pine tree and it’s stump, I then needed to cultivate the soil. I began to do this by bringing in some additional dirt, working it in with the existing dirt, and removing (by hand) rocks and other debris that surfaced in the cultivation of the plot. While I improved the seedbed it did not yield as nice or productive a harvest of vegetables as the preexisting garden plot did. I will need to continue working on the foundation of this new seedbed so that it will produce a better yield.
Thankfulness leads to the improvement of our hopefulness seedbed. When we practice thanksgiving it’s as if we aerate the soil, infusing it with oxygen and nutrients that will produce better results. In life those better results from cultivating thanksgiving frequently translate into a more positive, hopeful disposition.
No wonder Paul was so purposeful in the verbiage of his opening prayer to the Philippians. It’s as if he knew that his Big, True and Hopeful statement about giving thanks was going to have a lasting impact on that community of faith (and others) far exceeding his own life. Here’s hoping your expressions of thanksgiving can yield similar dividends this year and beyond.