(This devotion is day twenty-four of a 30-Day Thanksgiving Challenge. Each day includes a daily reading that will be accompanied by a post on this blog.)
Read Colossians 1:3, 12; 2:7; 3:15–17; 4:2
When you open an email or an old-fashioned letter, you know right away if it’s good or bad news. The first few words set the tone for what follows.
Since Paul had never visited the city of Colossae, his opening sentence of thankfulness (Colossians 1:3) acted as a first impression for his readers. He sets the tone not with a rebuke for their failures—like Galatians—but by affirming God’s good work in them. This casts a shadow of encouragement and pastoral love over the entire letter. If New Testament letters had emojis, Paul would have included a big smile or high five.
Paul starts several of his letters with a similar thanksgiving to God (see 1 Corinthians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; Ephesians 1:3). He’s not casually saying, like so many do, “thank God” when they like the turn of events. Nor does he offer it out of some customary obligation. He knows the Colossians would still be in darkness if God had not intervened. The light and life in them is a supernatural act of God.
If you can recall a time when God powerfully worked in your life or the life of someone close to you, you can likely recall the experience of gratefulness.
Thanksgiving goes beyond recognizing acts of kindness. It gets to the character of God and our role as worshippers of Jesus Christ. This explains the overlap in the Bible between words like bless, praise, rejoice, and thank. God’s works draw out words of gratitude.
Paul didn’t relegate thanksgiving to one month a year; he promoted it to a daily rhythm. He glimpsed God’s fingerprints everywhere he looked. A Christian with eyes open to the work of God possesses a heart primed for the praise of God. Thanksgiving then becomes a personal act as we better know God through seeing and responding to who He is and how He’s at work.
In verses 3–8, Paul makes one primary assertion: we give thanks to God because of what He’s done among the Colossians. Yes, later he warns them to avoid false teaching. Yes, they have a long way to go in their walk. And yet, Paul creates an atmosphere of hope, affirmation, and even biblical confidence by recognizing God is at work in them. More reasons exist to give thanks for God’s work than there are reasons to grumble about their failings.
Don’t you want to be more like Paul? I’d love to be more inclined to give affirmation and reassurance than criticism.
Paul doesn’t turn a blind eye to the shortcomings and concerns within this church. This isn’t a false optimism. He addresses these things head on as he warns and teaches, but he comes out of the gates thanking God. However small our growth might feel, there’s an immeasurable distance between where we were apart from Jesus and where we are now in Him. This gospel-growth in us and among us is God’s working for us. For that, Paul gives thanks.
Light has conquered darkness. Thank you, God.
The dead are alive. Thank you, God.
The broken are made whole. Thank you, God.
Strangers far from God become sons and daughters. Thank you, God.
Sins are washed away. Completely. Permanently. Thank you, God.
Giving thanks leads to many byproducts. God receives praise and believers benefit. Paul commends the Colossians for their faith and love (1:4–8) while rooting such affirmation in God’s work (1:3).
Let’s be careful not to discourage fellow Christians or diminish God’s glory by failing to give thanks. Shortcomings will always be present, and with it the opportunity for discouragement. Sin nips at our heels, haunts our thoughts, and pulls at our hearts. But that’s not the only story, or even the main story, for a believer.
Despite the reasons for disappointment when I look down—or around—there’s even more reason to rejoice when I look up. I am in Christ and He is in me. He defines me, directs me, and will ultimately deliver me from the sin and suffering that hangs on like a nasty cold.
Grumpy or Grateful?
Every day presents opportunities to complain and murmur, including when we’re frustrated by what we think God hasn’t done. Paul exemplifies a heart trusting and in tune with God. He chooses not to grumble but to rest in God and be grateful. Grumbling says I know better than God. Gratitude says God not only knows what’s best, but He always gives what’s best…at the best time.
Joy and thankfulness don’t happen by accident. With eyes wide open, choose to see what God is doing and give thanks for it. Gratitude’s foe, grumbling, will try to keep you from walking down this path. The two butt heads, battling atop your heart like two boys in a King of the Hill contest.
Whichever side we give sway to in our thoughts, feelings, and words will have the upper hand. This means we crowd out complaining, criticism, and discouragement by giving thanks, praising God, and appreciating God’s gifts and plans. Growing in gratitude requires both an intentional cultivation of thanksgiving and a decision to fight grumbling.
Where have you seen God at work in the lives of His people around you? Even though their faith is imperfect and maturity might be slow, who can you affirm and encourage today by specifying how you see God working in them? Or, to make it personal, what trial, frustration, or pain gnaws at your heart right now and makes thankfulness hard to imagine?
Even in this valley, God’s grace for you has not run dry. Give thanks for God’s good plan and for His seen and unseen blessings.