Thank You, God
By Dot Bowen
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now... Philippians 1:3-5 (NIV)
When I think about the Apostle Paul, an image of a powerful man who turned the world upside down for the cause of Christ comes to mind. Even when Paul was a persecutor of the church, his persecution was significant enough to spread the gospel worldwide. Paul was multi-talented! He was trained as a Pharisee, a tent maker, and traveled the world for Christ. What more could he possibly need? A “get out of jail card” might be handy since he spent the majority of his time as a believer in prison. Yet, not once did Paul ask to be released from jail. Paul leveraged his time in prison as an opportunity to preach Jesus. If anything, Paul considered imprisonment another opportunity to trust God. He consistently had a heart of gratitude in whatever circumstance he found himself and encouraged others to do the same. Thankfulness and joy are two consistent themes in Paul’s life.
In his personal letter to the church in Philippi, his first words are of gratitude and thanksgiving for their financial support and prayers. As I think about Thanksgiving, I realize it should not just be a day to reflect on God’s blessings, but a reminder to be thankful every day. Paul encourages us to find our joy every day and in every thing. I need to remember Paul’s grateful heart did not come from pleasant circumstances. It’s easy to expect a joyful attitude from someone who’s life seems perfect, but not from a person who has been beaten, shipped wreck, thrown in prison, and faced death. How could Paul be so joyful in prison? What is Paul’s secret in finding joy in all things? I believe Paul’s joy came from his understanding of forgiveness. I can’t imagine how Paul must have felt when he discovered he was wrong in killing Christians. Don’t you wonder if Paul felt shame and humiliation when he realized he had killed innocent people? Paul understood God’s forgiveness. Nothing brings joy like knowing you have received forgiveness when you don’t deserve it.
This reminds me of the story of Jesus visiting a Pharisee in Luke 7:36-50. A woman came to Jesus and wiped His feet with her tears. The Pharisee was critical of both the woman and Jesus. He thought if Jesus were a prophet, He would know what kind of sinner was touching him. Jesus, knowing the Pharisee thoughts, said: “Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” It’s the grateful prostitute—not the religious leader—whose sins were forgiven in this story. Jesus went on to say, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” Jesus is telling us when someone understands they are forgiven, they are filled with a heart of gratitude and love.
When life is hard and it’s difficult to find anything to be thankful for, try being thankful for Jesus. We can learn from Paul that our circumstances don’t rob us of our joy. This Thanksgiving, every follower of Christ has a reason to be thankful because we have been forgiven. A person who understands what it means to be forgiven is a person who has every right to be thankful. I remember the first time I really understood I had been forgiven. I gave Jesus every reason not to love me, but when I was reminded of the cross, I knew I was loved and forgiven. Do you know you have been forgiven? Do you know God loves you? When you look at your life and find it hard to be thankful, think of the cross. Isn’t the cross enough reason to say, “Thank you, Jesus?”
Further Reading 1 Timothy 12-15; Luke 7:36-50; Acts 7:54-60; Acts 8:1; Acts 16:22-34