I Am Thankful
At this time of the year, I find myself pondering Paul’s words, “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God” (Phil. 1:3).
Recently, the death of dear saint, at a church where I once pastored, reminded me of why it is important to be thankful. Every now and then God places individuals in our pathway that make our lives more enjoyable. This man’s ministry to me was extremely encouraging; and it continued for thirty years after I left that church. He called me often during those years, and his calls always brightened my day. His final call was about a month before his death at ninety years of age.
Take a moment this thanksgiving and remember those who have been a blessing in your life. You’ll be surprised at just how much you can find to be thankful for. Write down their names and reflect on them. Paul did. You can find his list in Romans 16.
In Paul’s list there is a husband and wife, Aquila and Priscilla. There’s a man and his mother, Rufus and his mother. There is a brother and sister, Nereus and his sister. There are brothers, Andronicus and Junias. There are sisters, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. There is an old man, Epeanetus.
Isn’t that an interesting profile of the church. There’s a single woman named Mary. There’s a single man, Herodion. Not a lot of nuclear family there at all except that Christ had called them together. It’s an interesting list.
But for Paul it’s not a list. He’s packing his stuff. He’s in the home of Gaius in Corinth who is host to Paul and a host to the church in Corinth.
Paul is getting ready to go west to Italy and to Spain. He doesn’t have much to pack – his coat and his books and a few other things. And while he is throwing things away to trim down the load for packing and moving, Paul comes across some notes and some correspondence. He sits down among the boxes and begins to remember. So, we best not call it a list. These are names that evoked deep emotions and sentiments in Paul.
You’ve done the same. How many times have you fondly remembered people during your Christian journey. Something happens or something is said that instantly triggers a fond memory of someone and you find your soul erupting in joyful thanksgiving to God that he placed this person in your life.
You can make a mental list right now even as you read this. But don’t call it a list. Paul didn’t. Imagine with me that we are listening to an imaginary time of thankful reflection going on in Paul’s mind.
“Aquila and Priscilla, they risked their lives for me. I am thankful to them, and so are all the Gentile churches.” Talk about being feeling indebted to them. These were invaluable workers and servants of God who everyone loved and respected.
Then Paul mentions Andronicus and Junias. “We were in prison together.” One can easily picture the bond and affinity Paul felt as he mentioned their names. They suffered in isolation together. These were not your modern prisons. These were dank and grim jail cells, But they encouraged each other in Christ and Paul was grateful for their relationship.
Then there is Mary. Mary worked hard. She was there when everybody else quit. She’s the one who always said, “Now, Paul, you go on home. I’ll put things away. I’ll pick up all the papers and straighten the chairs. You go on home. You’re tired.” “Well, Mary, you’re tired too”, Paul said. “Yes, Paul, but you’ve got to ride a donkey across Asia tomorrow. You go on. I’ll pick up here.” Mary worked hard. You know these people. They are a delight to work with on committees. They cheerfully carry their load and then some.
Epaenetus. Paul said, “He was the first person converted under my preaching, and I didn’t sleep a wink that night saying, “thank God, finally somebody heard and respond to the Gospel. What a marvelous day that was!”
Tryphaena and Tryphosa, possibly twins. You hear it, don’t you, in the names? Tryphaena and Tryphosa. They always sat in the same place and Paul never really did figure out who was who – they looked so much alike.
“Greet Rufus, whom the Lord picked out to be his very own; and also, his dear mother, who has been a mother to me.” Can’t you see her, this woman was able to be a mother to Paul? He probably stayed in her home. She was a gregarious woman; she always wore an apron. Hair pulled back in a bun. Fixed a great breakfast. Paul woke up one morning and said, “I’m sorry. I can’t stay. I must be on my way.” She said, “Sit down and eat your breakfast. I don’t care if you are an apostle. You’ve got to eat.” You can see why he said, “greet my mother too.”
You know people like this, don’t you? No, this is certainly not a list.
I remember watching people at memorial services for victims of 9/11. It would be easy to look at the names as though they were just a list of names. But when you watch people’s behaviours, you notice that one woman went up and put her finger on a name, and she held a child up and put the child’s hand on a name. There were others there who kissed the name on the wall. There were flowers lying beneath the wall. Don’t call it a list. It’s not a list.
In fact, these names in Romans 16 are, for Paul, extremely special because even though he says, “Hello,” what he really is saying is “Good-bye.” He’s going to Rome. But before he goes to Rome he has to go to Jerusalem. He’s going with an offering, and he’s going into a nest of hostility. So, at the end of chapter fifteen, he says to these people, “Pray with me. Sunagonisomai. The Greek word means, agonize with me that I won’ t be killed in Jerusalem, that the saints will accept the money in Jerusalem, that I’ll get to come back to be with you. Please, pray.”
These are not just names. They are people with whom he has fostered a strong bond in Christ. They risked their lives for Paul. They stood with him through thick and thin. We all need people like this don't we? And we are blessed when God sends them our way.
Like Paul, my ministry responsibilities require me to travel to churches in our denomination. I have come to be thankful for all the special people who have brightened my way, said an encouraging word, sent me a timely e-mail or card and have lightened my load.
This Thanksgiving, take time to reflect on the people God has brought into your life. It could be your family, a friend, a mentor, a brother, or sister in Christ – someone who has gone the extra mile. Tell God how thankful you are that He brought these people into your life. I know I will.
Prayer: Thank you God for all your blessings to me and my family. For the strength you give me each day and for all the people around me who have made my life more meaningful and enjoyable.