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 1:1-2 (NIV)
In Philippians 1:1-2, Paul expresses his gratitude to the Christians in Philippi while in a Roman prison. He is physically in prison, but he is spiritually free. How did Paul live with such freedom when he spent so much of his time in prison? Paul’s freedom came on the road to Damascus where in a quick minute, his life changed dramatically. The life he once knew was gone and he had to learn to live as a follower of the Way instead of a persecutor of the Way. Paul lived knowing the life he lived before his Damascus road experience was wrong. Stephen’s blood was still on his hands when Jesus called Paul. How did he move beyond the regret of his past? How did cultivate such a grateful heart when most of his Christian life was spent either running from the Jewish officials, being beaten or being thrown in prison? If imprisonment wasn’t enough to deal with, he also had the responsibility of leading the churches. Did he just love misery or was there a secret Paul understood about contentment and thankfulness?
I believe freedom comes when we learn to live beyond our circumstances, including being set free from the guilt of our past. Certainly, Paul didn’t allow his past experiences, difficult circumstances, or heartaches and fears to define him. Paul was so much more than a man with a past or a man who had conflict with the Romans and Jewish leaders. And even though he loved the churches he was more than a mega-church planter. Jesus called his name and Paul responded and never looked back. Knowing Jesus was all Paul needed to be content.
What if Paul joined your family for Thanksgiving dinner? If you asked Paul to make a list the things he was thankful for, what do you think he would include on his list?
- the satisfaction of admitting he was wrong?
- church planting?
- writing letters to the churches?
- standing up for what is right?
- finding his giftedness?
Or would Paul’s response be more along these lines? “I have learned to be content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, or whether living in plenty or in want because, you see, life to me is Christ. I have Christ and if I should die, then even better, I will be with Him!” I personally think this is the secret of Paul’s contentment. It’s a secret because very few can truly grasp understand how to love Jesus with such passion. Maybe, just maybe, this kind of heart sold out to Jesus is the key to being able to praise Him in all circumstances.
I love that Paul didn’t allow his suffering to define his life. He was a follower of the Way and Jesus was the foundation of his self-worth. Paul’s life was made complete because He knew Jesus; Jesus was his life and no one or nothing could take that from Paul.
This Thanksgiving, let’s give thanks and be thankful followers of Christ. As Paul found, the secret to a heart full of gratitude is a heart that is set on Jesus—a heart totally devoted to the One who gives us life and who sets us free.
FURTHER READING: Philippians 1:20-24 Philippians 4:11-12