Giving Thanks

Colossians 1:1-14

“If the only prayer you say is ‘thank you.’ that would be enough.” — Meister Eckhart

Today’s passage is about thankfulness. Particularly appropriate since we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday this coming Thursday.

As we see, the Apostle Paul both practices thanksgiving himself and encourages us to be thankful. At the very beginning of this letter he thanks God: that the Colossian believers heard the Gospel message through his co-worker Epaphras; that they responded with faith, and entrusted their lives to Jesus; that they love their brothers and sisters; and that the Gospel message is bearing fruit in the lives of the Colossians and throughout the world.

What a thrill Paul must have felt when he learned about the Colossians’ faith in Jesus and growth in love. For us too, it’s wonderful to see those we care about growing in the knowledge and love of Christ. And to see them bear fruit for God and neighbor in compassionate service and ministry.

I’ve thought recently of our brother in Christ, Alan. Alan came to faith through our church’s outreach. He’d had a very difficult life of struggle and addiction. But he found peace in Christ and a spiritual home in our church.

Alan died some years ago and some of us went to his funeral in Philadelphia, in which Pastor Kirk officiated. His sister said to us afterwards, “Thank you. This was what Alan always wanted.” She didn’t mean a funeral, of course. But rather Alan longed to have a group of people who loved and respected him and whom he loved. And through Jesus and our church he found that community.

Let us never doubt, brothers and sisters, the impact we have in Christ on the lives of others. 

Paul goes on in the passage to pray that believers are empowered to joyfully give thanks to God for his many spiritual blessings: thankful that our sins are forgiven; thankful that Jesus’ death on the cross freed us from slavery to wrongdoing and waste; thankful that we have been given wonderful new life in the Holy Spirit; and thankful that we will be part of God’s glorious future when heaven and earth are united as one.

These gifts of God are such a basic part of our life in Christ that we may take them for granted. Giving thanks renews our awareness of the wonder of our relationship with God.

Greatest of all our blessings in Jesus is knowing God himself, intimate fellowship with God, union with God in Christ. We have the astounding experience of living our lives in the awareness of the gracious and loving presence of God. And of being God’s co-workers in bringing new creation, repairing the world in love and justice. These are wonders truly worthy of thanksgiving.

Sometimes thanking God is best expressed in song. Here’s a very simple song of thanks from our heart to God’s. I ask your grace while I sing it!

I want to thank you Lord for saving my soul;

I want to thank you Lord for making me whole;

I want to thank you Lord, for giving to me;

Thy great salvation so rich and free.

May God renew in us a heart of joy and gratitude.

We are also enriched by giving thanks for more mundane things, for everyday blessings: for our loved ones and friends; for the beautiful blue sky, green earth and autumn colors; for our home and heat this winter.

There are countless opportunities during each day to thank God for his blessings both great and small.

Giving thanks awakens our heart. So often we kind of sleep-walk through our life. But giving thanks makes us alive to the moment: alive to ourselves; alive to God; alive to others.

There’s an old pop song with a line that goes: “Don’t it always seem to go, that we don’t know what we’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” Giving thanks saves us from that waste.

Here’s a song about thankfulness for the everyday gifts of God. Can we sing it together? It will be familiar to some of us and the words in English and Spanish are on the screen. 

For the beauty of the earth,

For the beauty of the skies,

For the love which from our birth

Over and around us lies,

Lord of all, to thee we raise

This our hymn of grateful praise.

For the beauty of each hour

Of the day and of the night,

Hill and vale, and tree and flow’r,

Sun and moon, and stars of light,

Lord of all, to thee we raise

This our hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of human love,

Brother, sister, parent, child,

Friends on earth, and friends above,

For all gentle thoughts and mild,

Lord of all, to thee we raise

This our hymn of grateful praise.

Paul encourages us to “give thanks in everything.” He does not say, “for everything,” but “in everything.” Our lives are not without hardships, and the world exhausts itself with tragedy and violence. We have ample cause to lament. Yet in the most difficult of circumstances God demonstrates his gracious presence and help.

I’m always aware that my thanks to God never feels like enough. God’s blessing far exceeds my response of thanks, which often seems so meager. But I think God is incredibly pleased with our thank offerings, as inadequate as they may feel.

Something I’ve started doing recently is looking back over different stages of my life and thanking God for them. I want to remember and be grateful. I’ve started with my early childhood. Thanking God for various aspects of it and the people in it. Going into a much detail as I can think of.

Thanking God for my parents and sister and childhood friends; for my schoolteachers; for memorable bike rides; for getting up Saturday morning to watch Howdy Doody and the Lone Ranger; for playing “kick the can” in the street with friends on summer evenings; for my climbing tree and the fascinating ant colony in my backyard.

And remembering the painful times. Watching my pet dog Dinky hit and killed by a car. My mother’s 3-month absence with tuberculosis. I give thanks, not for those things, but in them. For wasn’t God with me during these times too?

The Bible talks about “redeeming the time,” and this seems like one way to do that. I wasn’t as appreciative as I might have been for things in my life at the time they occurred. When we remember and give thanks, in a sense those times are redeemed, making them truly ours perhaps more than they were before.

Giving thanks – for the present, for the past, and for God’s promised future – helps us be truly alive. 

I’d like to close with a video of a song of praise and thanks. It’s a version in Swahili and English of All Creatures of Our God and King called O Sifuni Mungu. As we listen to this song, and watch the video, let’s lift up our hearts to the Lord. For it is good to give God thanks and praise.

Marty Shupack, November 2022