Nine words of thanksgiving written long ago from a lonely Roman prison cell might, if heeded, break down most of the barriers that divide families, hinder the growth of churches and separate friends.
Ten years earlier, Paul, the apostle, who penned these words, had visited Philippi, introduced a few there to his Lord, spent an unusual night in their jail and, upon being set free by an earthquake that shook the prison doors off their hinges, started a church.
What are these nine life changing words?
“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” (Philippians 1:3).
We’re now nearing the end of the season that incubates attitudes of gratitude. Fields of golden grain have been harvested, colorful crops of fruit are largely off the trees or vines and it’s pleasant to bask in the beauty of fallen leaves decorating lawns and crunching beneath our feet.
A great harvest makes thankfulness come easy, but the Old Testament prophet, Habakkuk concluded we ought to be thankful either in bounty or blight, writing: “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls — yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation (Habakkuk 3:17-18).
“Sounds like a tough time to be thankful,” you say.
But carrying out Paul’s pronouncement on thanksgiving may be even more difficult.
Think about it!
These nine words call for being thankful for everybody in your church (even the pastor) whenever they come to mind.
What’s going on here?
Was the church at Philippi perfect?
Of course not! There are no perfect churches because there are no perfect people.
Someone told the still noted nineteenth century English minister, Charles Spurgeon, that he was looking for a perfect church to attend.
“If you find one don’t join it or you’ll spoil it,” Spurgeon replied.
How then could the author of this powerful nine word formula carry out his guarantee of continual thankfulness?
He chose to focus on the faithfulness of these frail people, rather than on their faults and following his example would create an atmosphere of love in any church or family.
Frequently, I have conducted a “Thank God for you” service in churches where I have been a guest speaker. This featured a time when all members of the congregation were to look at the others and let me know when they saw someone for whom they were thankful.
The results have always been gratifying as people discovered how many loved, appreciated and gave thanks for them.
Changing your attitude from grumbling about people to gratitude for them may make this the greatest harvest season your church and family have ever known.
Roger Campbell is an author, a broadcaster and columnist who was a pastor for 22 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.