It can be difficult to be thankful in life. Whether it’s a phone that stops working or a tragic accident that changes our plans, we have trouble being thankful during tough times. In this sermon, Greg gives us three ways to remain thankful despite what’s going on in this world.
In Colossians 1:3-4, Paul is giving thanks to God for the faith and love that the people of Colossae have demonstrated. However, it’s difficult to understand why Paul is thankful. When he was writing this letter to Colossae, he was in prison not knowing what his future would bring. He may be killed any day. He was beaten and in chains, and many had abandoned him. Yet, he overflows with thankfulness and encourages Jesus’ followers to be thankful as well. Thankfulness was clearly very important for Paul and the early church.
Yet, life can be very frustrating and often makes us feel a long way from overflowing thankfulness. It can be small things like technology that doesn’t work or big things like health failures or a marriage breaking up. Life can seem like a very sad country song, where the dog dies, the tractor quits, and the spouse is having an affair. It can be easy to be negative about this broken down and corrupt world, so how does Paul manage to overflow with thankfulness, even while in prison?
Paul has three ideas in this first passage of Colossians that speak to how he is overflowing with thankfulness. But first, we need to understand a little bit about what overflowing thankfulness is and is not. Sometimes when Paul spoke the truth, it came across a little nasty. In the letter to the Galatians, he was very irritated at them, and it wasn’t the nicest letter. Paul is not saying that overflowing thankfulness is being happy all the time. Rather, he’s describing and recommending an attitude of thankfulness despite how a person is feeling. This attitude can be adopted no matter if a person’s plans don’t work out or a person is suffering needlessly.
The first idea that Paul mentions is to ask God to free us from ourselves. Paul writes in this letter that he is thankful for the Colossians actions and faith. He concentrates on things that others are doing when the things in his own life are miserable. This reflects an other-oriented person in an other-oriented Kingdom. When existing within the Kingdom of God, we should be pointed towards others and care for them. This also means that despite what is going on in our lives, we can be others-oriented in thankfulness. If we constantly focus on ourselves and our own situation, there will be times where we won’t be thankful for much of anything, or even jealous of others. We need to ask God for this eye towards others, as it comes from the heart of God. God empowers us to be others-focused.
The second idea that Paul mentions is to understand where our hope lies and what our thanksgiving is pointed towards. The good news of the gospel does not lie in this world. We can manifest the Kingdom in this world, but that doesn’t mean that this world will be become pure based on our actions. No matter how good we are in this life, we will face pain and suffering. Consequently, while we live in this world, we can’t always focus on this world for our thanksgiving. The only source of constant and unchanging thankfulness is the grace that God has given us. We can always be thankful for this in spite of what happens on this Earth. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, and that is something for which we can be eternally grateful. Even if this life is full of hardship, we can focus on the good news that was found in Jesus. If we married the wrong person, the job is lost, or our health fades, we can always be thankful for the day when God will redeem all the horrible things in this world. We can be thankful that we are a part of that, no matter what happens in this world. We should remind ourselves everyday that eternal life is a gift from God, and we can be thankful for it.
The third idea that Paul uses is an attitude of gratitude. Many variables affect our lives in this world. There are free agents that can suppress God’s good plan, and we find that evil things can happen in this world as a result of that suppression. We should not attribute these evil things to God, but rather, when we see something good, we should attribute that to God. In James, it says that every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father. When we start to view the world this way, it enhances our thankfulness for the good things in this world.
Even if most of the world is pain and suffering, the one small, good thing that comes into our life can remind us of what God has stored for us in heaven. Every good thing is a gift from God, and we can thank God for every good thing. The worst aspect of an entitled culture is that it blinds us to the beauty of the gifts God sends us everyday. When we can give thanks for the small things, it opens our eyes to the beauty of this world, and we can find overflowing thankfulness.
When we engage these three ideas into our own attitude and life, it can be game-changing for how we see the world. When we view this world through the lens of overflowing thankfulness, we see God everywhere, and we can see the beauty in this dark world. God wants us to view his creation this way, because it is how he views it. Before the disciples and Jesus sat down for their last meal, they gave thanks. Jesus gave thanks, despite knowing what the next few days held for him. He gave thanks, and we can give thanks despite what this world holds for us.
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