Restoring Gratitude

As I write this article, October is winding down, and the anticipation of November already piques a sense of gratitude. Certainly, we anticipate our annual Thanksgiving observation that we will celebrate with friends and family, within the church, and throughout our nation with various expressions of gratitude. With many folks, especially within the church, prayer is the primary expression of our gratitude, giving thanks specifically to God for the blessings we have received. Many people also have traditions of sharing thoughts of thanksgiving, often around a dinner table with family and friends for whom many will express their gratitude for many varied reasons.

The apostle Paul had a habit of praying with thanksgiving for his brothers and sisters in Christ. In all but a couple of his letters, Paul stated his gratitude for each church to which he was writing, often stating it as a prayer of thanksgiving to God for them. One notable thanksgiving prayer of Paul is found in Philippians 1:3-6:

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, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (NIV)

As we read through Paul’s prayer, we find several significant points. Paul thought about the church in his absence from them, and when he remembered them, he thanked God. He remembered all of them, and he prayed for all of them. His memories and prayers prompted joy within Paul and gave him confidence in their faith and in their faithful God who continued to work within each of them, among all of them, and through them together. Paul’s thanksgiving and prayer for the church was prompted by their shared faith, their partnership in the work of the gospel, and their shared future into eternity together in Christ.

As Paul remembered the church and prayed for them, giving thanks to God for them, his gratitude restored him; it buoyed him. Paul wrote, “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me” (Philippians 1:7). Not only does gratitude reflect our faith, it supports it. Because Paul and the church shared their faith in common and because they were partners in the work of the gospel, his gratitude to God for their faith and partnership bolstered his own faith, he wrote, whether he was working in the ministry or suffering in that work. This gave Paul joy.

I must confess that this work is hard, sometimes nearly overwhelming. However, like Paul, I find myself restored by gratitude to God for the faith we share together and your partnership in this work. Obviously, I don’t face the same kind of hardships or opposition that Paul and the early church faced, that many other ministers face, or that many Christians face in parts of the world where they are not free to worship and serve God as we do; however, I am restored, even encouraged, by the faith that we share and the partnership we have in the gospel.

I pray with gratitude for all of you as I consider the many ways we share in this work. God, forgive me when I am distracted by the lack of obvious results of my work, of our work. I am grateful for the shared faith and partnership of our elders, deacons, ministry leaders, and volunteers. I pray that you will consider those who serve within our congregation and be encouraged and restored by gratitude to God who began this work in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, who sustains it by the presence of the Holy Spirit within us and among us, and who will complete it when Jesus returns. I pray that this gratitude will sustain us as we continue to work together in the ministry of the gospel, through good times and bad, all the while thanking God for one another.