It’s Thanksgiving week. Time to count our blessings and give thanks.
If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep—then you are richer than 75 percent of this world of ours.
If you have money in the bank, cash in your wallet and spare change in a dish someplace— you are among the top 8 percent of the Earth’s wealthiest people.
If you woke up this morning with more health than illness— then you are more fortunate than the million who will not survive this week.
If you have never experienced the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation—then you are ahead of 500 million people in the world.
If you can attend this worship service, or any other religion-related meeting, without fear of harassment, arrest, torture or death—then you are fortunate. Millions of people in the world cannot.
It’s not hard for us to count our blessings, is it?
Most of us could quickly and easily jot down a lengthy list, including thanks for family, friends, food, clothing, cars, our home, our job, our church, our health, freedom, and so on.
And we should be thankful for such—we are blessed.
But what is our general awareness of such blessings?
How well do we express our thanksgiving for them?
How often do we really say “Thank you”—not arbitrarily, but genuinely and authentically?
In the letter-writing conventions of Paul’s day, it was common to include an expression of thanksgiving in the opening section of letters, and Paul did it in all of his epistles to churches, with the exception of the one to the Galatians.
In that single case, it’s likely that he was so distressed about problems in the Galatian church that he couldn’t think of any basis for thanksgiving. But that single exception also suggests that when Paul did include a thanksgiving in a letter, he didn’t do it as a matter of courtesy or routine, but only when he believed it was warranted.
Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is an example of the common practice of expressing thanks.
In this letter, he not only included a thanksgiving for the Thessalonians church members at the beginning, he also thanks God again for them halfway through the second chapter and again in the third chapter, which is a lot, considering that there are only five chapters in the whole letter!
And Paul had reason to be proud of the Thessalonians.
Paul and Silas planted this church and had barely gotten it started before they were run out of town by a mob. And yet, even in those hostile surroundings, the church they’d launched continued and grew, and so Paul had much to thank God for on their behalf.
Their growth amid that hostile environment may be what Paul had in mind when he wrote in his thanksgiving, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers.”
What we can take from this is that Paul was certainly one who knew the powerful impact of these two little words: “Thank you.”
But more so than simply saying “Thank you”, Paul was well aware of what to truly be thankful for because he knew that the effort and actions of the people were unique and special.
Paul is not saying he’s thankful that the Thessalonians are nice people; he’s much more specific about his reasons for thanking God. He’s thankful for their “faith in the Lord Jesus and their love toward all the saints.”
He’s thankful for the reflection of Jesus seen in their lives.
We are all familiar with Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13, so we already know that he considers the trifecta of faith, hope and love to be the highest of virtues.
And because we are, it’s not a surprise that he also refers to them here. But when he includes these three in his thanksgiving for the Thessalonian Christians, he does not talk about them as virtues in isolation, but rather he gets more specific: He’s thankful for their work of faith, their labor of love, and the hope they are called to.
In other words, Paul is thankful for not what they have around them, but thankful for how they live their lives, for what is in their hearts.
Their faith is grounded in the salvation presented by Jesus, but it doesn’t stop there. It gets translated into what they do, how they act toward one another, the way in which they face the troubles of life, and their attitude about how things will come out in the end.
Being followers of Christ is not a static belief for the Thessalonians, but a dynamic force that permeates all they say and do. When we tell another person that we are thankful for something they have done or some attitude they exemplify it not only acknowledges and affirms them, but it has another effect as well: It encourages the person to continue in that way.
And Paul has that goal in mind as he lavishes praise on the Thessalonians—he wants them to keep on living their faith wholeheartedly because that is the way of followers of Christ.
Now, this practice is certainly beneficial for the recipients of Pau’s “Thank you”.
But, there are personal benefits for Paul himself.
Through his expression of thanks, Paul himself is also becoming a better person—filling up too, like the Thessalonians—with faith, hope, and love. By expressing his praise to God for them, Paul is recognizing the ways in which God is blessing his work. He knows that their ministry impacts his ministry. Their success is his success.
It becomes this ongoing cycle of benefit between those who he thanks and those who hear it. All of this is created, and maintained, when we say, “Thank you.”
That’s something John Kralik discovered.
At the beginning of 2008, Kralik was living in one room in Los Angeles, separated from his wife and watching his law practice sinking in hard times.
He started the year by taking a walk in the mountains, and on that walk, he kept asking himself the question, “What do I have to be thankful for?”
First is was a question asked in perturbed disgust. “What do I have to be thankful for?”
But then the tone began to change. “What do I have to be thankful for?”
Then another thought occurred to him, an epiphany if you will: “Until you learn to be grateful for the things you have, you will not receive the things you want.”
In response to this new awareness, Kralik decided to begin writing thank-you notes, and he started with his oldest son.
At Christmas, his son, a grown man, had given him a coffee maker, but as he sat to write the note, Kralik realized that he didn’t know his son’s address.
Kralik, who has since written a book titled “365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life”, said: “Realizing you do not have the address of someone really takes you out of yourself and helps you focus on the other person. You begin asking questions such as, ‘Where are they living? How are they doing?’ We get so wrapped up in the day-to-day that we lose touch. It made me want to hand-write a note rather than send him one that was machine created.”
Suddenly, Kralik discovered that the thank you was less for the coffee maker, and more for the relationship with his son.
As the year progressed, Kralik made it a practice to handwrite someone a thank-you note every day. It included family members, clients and even the server at the shop where he got his morning coffee.
And to his surprise, gratitude became his way back to success and harmony. “I was at the point of financial collapse, but I decided to keep saying thank you. I wrote to other attorneys and to good clients. One colleague said, ‘When we sent you a client we didn’t know how you felt about it. Now we do, and we appreciate it.”
He also wrote to people he’d lost touch with, some of whom have now renewed their friendship.
When the year was up, he briefly stopped writing the notes until he realized, “That didn’t work out for me. I knew I had to keep expressing my thanks.”
He resumed the practice and now continues to write a note of thanks a day.
Kralik admits that he didn’t gain control of the universe, and he says that there continued to be some setbacks. But, he says, “In the act of being thankful—my world began to thrive.”
And indeed it did. John Kralik went on to become a judge on the Los Angeles Superior Court.
Kralik learned to be grateful for everything—even the simplest, everyday things.
He learned the power of saying these two little words: “Thank you.”
And by learning and living such, his life, and the lives of others were transformed for the better.
It’s Thanksgiving week— Time to count our blessings and give thanks.
It was Paul’s practice of thanking God for those among him who worked and ministered with. It was not just a habit, but a genuine expression—a way of life.
It encouraged and inspired and motivated the people in the churches he wrote to, who were working to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ—AND—it made Paul a better person.
The same can happen when we make it a practice, a way of life, for thanking God for the faith, hope and love of our family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, even the stranger—and by thanking them directly.
When we say “thank you”, when we express a genuine “thank you”… when we live out a deep authentic “thank you” we become better people— and we better the people around us.
So may we offer to God and to others an embodiment and a manifestation of the transformative faith, hope, and love that Jesus brought to this world by saying two simple words…Thank you. Amen.