Philippians 1:3-11 3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.
When you read the letters of Paul one overarching theme pervades them. It is his thanksgiving for his friends. He was truly grateful for the people God had placed in his life and took opportunities to tell them. This Thanksgiving I want us to take a look at the people God has used in our journey, people we could point to and say of them that they have been instrumental in our growth, faithful in our trials, helpful in times of need, and a blessing from God meant to lift us and enable us move through life as better people because of their imprint and impression. Do the people in your life who have helped you along know you are thankful for them? Taking a lesson from the Apostle Paul I want to suggest four things you could do this Thanksgiving to make your friends aware of what they mean to you:
Express your thanksgiving by praying for them. Paul let his friends know they had a place in his prayer life. They were on his list of things he talked to God about, and he told them so. He didn’t just thank God for his friends and ministry partners, but he also prayed strategically for them. He wanted them to experience life at its best (verse 10). He wanted them to experience more and more love in their lives, more and more knowledge in their lives. He wanted them to go on and be transformed into people who lived pure and blameless lives. He wanted their lives to overflow with righteousness.
If God has brought a good friend to your mind, perhaps you have already recalled some prayers you prayed for them. Perhaps it was prayer asking God to heal them or maybe it was a request that God would grant them a new job. Those are great things to pray for, but how about praying for fruit in their lives? How about praying they will go deeper in the things of God? How about asking God to establish them in love and to help them live holy lives?
The content of Paul’s prayers tells me he had the right perspective about these friends. He hadn’t put them on a pedestal. He wasn’t just the kind of guy who would say what they wanted to hear in order to keep them around so that they would support his ministry. He knew they were works in progress. He knew they weren’t perfect. He knew that even as God had put them in his path to help him in the ministry, he too was placed by God in their paths to pray for them and to help them be disciple into Christ’s image.
Any concern we have for a friend ought to include a spiritual component. So, when we pray for a new job for our friend, let’s also pray the place of employment will be a place where someone can build relationships through which they can share the Gospel. Let’s also pray it will be a place where God’s glory and patience and generosity will be seen in our friend. Let’s pray it will be a place where our friends can shine like stars in the universe that others will know Christ.
When we pray for a friend going through a trial whether physical, emotional, or relational, let’s pray for the end of the trial, but let’s also pray for the development of even greater faith. Let’s pray for a new understanding of how God can be their Provider. Let’s pray God uses the trial to develop perseverance and other characteristics in their lives. I’ll be honest, it feels great when someone tells me they are praying for me, and when I hear those words from someone, I know I can call them “friend.”
Last Sunday after church we drove to Cincinnati. I participated in an evening concert as a benefit for a friend. It was held at our previous church. When the concert was over, those who knew us from when we lived there were engaging us in conversation. They wanted to hear the latest about our kids and the ministry here. It was fun to update everyone. But then a man came up to me who didn’t ask how the kids were or what was going on at our church. He just said, “What two things can I remember in prayer on your behalf this week?” Wow! I knew him to be a man of prayer from our time there, but the fact that he would still be moved to pray for me almost eight years removed from ministry there ministered to my soul. What great friendship he demonstrated when his friendship included prayer for me.
Express your thanksgiving by encouraging them. Paul said in verse 6, “I don’t know where you are in your current walk with Christ, but I know this: God will finish what He has started in you.” Isn’t it awesome when you hear words from a friend that convince you that you are going to make it? We all have our ups and downs. If we are truly grateful for our friends we will still be grateful for them not only when they are up, but when they are down, and we will look for ways to invest in them and lift them up when they need it.
The story is told of a teacher in New York who decided to honor each of her Seniors in high school by telling them the difference they each made. She called each student to the front of the class, one at a time. First she told each of them how they had made a difference to her and the class. Then she presented each of them with a blue ribbon imprinted with gold letters, which read, “Who I Am Makes a Difference.”
Afterwards she gave each of the students three more ribbons and instructed them to go out and spread this acknowledgment ceremony to others who had made a difference in their lives.
One of the boys in the class went to a junior executive in a nearby company and honored him for helping him with his career planning. He gave him a blue ribbon and put it on his shirt. Then he gave him two extra ribbons, and said, “We’re doing a class project on recognition, and we’d like you to go out, find somebody to honor, give them a blue ribbon, then give them the extra blue ribbon so they can acknowledge a third person to keep this acknowledgment ceremony going. Then please report back to me and tell me what happened.”
Later that day the junior executive went in to see his boss, who had been noted, by the way, as being kind of a grouchy fellow. He sat his boss down and he told him that he deeply admired him for being a creative genius. The junior executive asked him if he would accept the gift of the blue ribbon and would he give him permission to put it on him.
His surprised boss said, “Well, sure.” The boss seemed very surprised. The junior executive took the blue ribbon and placed it right on his boss’s jacket above his heart. As he gave him the last extra ribbon, he said, “Would you do me a favor? Would you take this extra one and pass it on by honoring somebody else. The young boy who first gave me the ribbons is doing a project in school and we want to keep this recognition ceremony going and find out how it affects people.”
That night the boss came home to his 14-year-old son and sat him down. He said, “The most incredible thing happened to me today. I was in my office and one of the junior executives came in and told me he admired me and gave me a blue ribbon for being a creative genius. Imagine… He thinks I’m a creative genius! Then he put this blue ribbon that says ‘Who I Am Makes a Difference’ on my jacket above my heart. He gave me an extra ribbon and asked me to find somebody else to honor.
“As I was driving home tonight, I started thinking about whom I would honor with this ribbon and I thought about you. I want to honor you. My days are really hectic and when come home I don’t pay a lot of attention to you. Sometimes I scream at you for not getting good enough grades in school or your bedroom being a mess, but somehow tonight, I just wanted to sit here and, well, just let you know that you do make a difference to me. Besides your mother, you are the most important person in my life. You’re a great kid and I love you!”
The startled boy started to sob and sob, and he wouldn’t stop crying. His whole body shook. He looked up at his father and said through his tears, “Dad, earlier tonight I sat in my room and wrote a letter to you and Mom explaining why I had taken my life and asking you to forgive me. I just didn’t think that you cared at all. The letter is upstairs. I don’t think I need it after all.”
His father walked upstairs and found a heartfelt letter full of anguish and pain. The envelope was addressed, “Mom and Dad.” The boss went back to work a changed man. He was no longer a grouch but made sure to let all his employees know that they made a difference. The people we love do make a difference in our lives and it makes a difference when we let them know it. If you are thankful for someone, your words of thanksgiving could be what changes the course of their lives in a positive and profound way.
Express your thanksgiving by sharing your emotions with them. Paul said this about his friends in the Philippian church in verse 7: “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart.” God has designed us with the capacity to feel. Even the toughest man in this room has feelings which move and inspire them. Walls are broken down and relationships are strengthened when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable with one another. People can be transformed when they hear how much we care about them, that we love them and are grateful God has given them to us as friends.
Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, let’s not be stingy with those words, “I love you.” Words have weight, especially when there is emotion behind them. Words spoken with true emotion add value to the person who is hearing them. Paul was helping his Philippian friends see how valuable he thought they were in his life.
When your heart is smiling with pride because of something your children do, let your emotion shine through the powerful, self-confidence giving words, “I’m proud of you.” “I’m so glad you are mine!”
In some exchanges with some of you this week, I was able to express my genuine love for you as a brother or sister in Christ. It was neat to hear, “We love you too” back in one of those conversations. We are like family here. We do need to express our love for one another. People who feel loved will live stronger, more confident and productive lives. I’m not basing that comment on any study, but I believe it to be true. Someone ought to set out to prove me right!
The early church was good about expressing their love for each other. One of the early church fathers, Tertullian reported that the love the early church had for one another was so visible that even the Romans would exclaim, “See how they love one another!” (http://www.earlychurch.com/unconditional-love.php)
When Paul addressed the Thessalonian church he highlighted that the exhibition of love they had for one another was a hallmark of their gatherings. 1 Thessalonians 4:9 says, “Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.”
Hebrews 13:1 tells the church to continue loving one another as brothers and sisters. Let’s be thankful for one another. Let’s not take this place or these people that we worship with each week for granted. Let’s not take our family and friends for granted. Let’s express our love and appreciation for one another.
Express your thanksgiving by taking time for them. In verse 8 Paul was expressing that he wished he could see his friends and spend time with them. Writing from a jail cell made that impossible. Spending quality time with people we are thankful for is so important.
Parents, your children need your time. Put down your phone. Turn the TV off. Get off your computers and Ipads. Talk to them. Take them on a special date somewhere. Plan a family weekend without interruption.
Husbands and wives you need to spend quality time together. Go do something fun. Even if it is just walking the mall or taking a hike do something together that gets you away from the routine of your week. You will talk about different topics than you do during the course of a week. You will relax when you have extended time together and enjoy one another on a level you can’t during the week.
If you are truly thankful for your friends and family you will make time for them to demonstrate that, especially during this holiday season. Making time for people you love means saying “no” to some other fun things and sometimes saying “no” to what might feel like a responsibility or an obligation. This past Tuesday I announced we would be having our family Thanksgiving meal on Friday and afterward I wanted to put up the Christmas trees. It wasn’t easy to keep that space reserved for family time as shortly during the course of the week some things tried to encroach upon that reserved space, but we made it a priority.
We will be in VA this week on a family vacation. I have a goal to communicate with our kids how thankful we are to be their parents and to have quality time with them, how thankful we are for ways they are growing and excelling. Parents, this is especially important because the time comes quickly when our kids leave our homes and move out from under our influence. We must invest in them and prepare them and build the kind of relationship that can be sustained and transformed into an adult relationship when they eventually move out.
Can you think of a friend you haven’t seen for a while? Perhaps it is one of those people that you can just pick up where you left off kind of relationships. Why not pick it up in the next couple of weeks? Schedule a lunch or call to just catch up. Time is the MOST precious thing we have. Many are dealing with losses in their families and the holidays can be the hardest time to get through. If you have a friend like that, take an opportunity to spend some time with them. Let them know they matter to you by the time you are willing to spend with them.
The video at the beginning of the message reminds us that families and friendships aren’t perfect. They can be quirky. They can be messy. But in the end, they are what God has given us in order for us to live life to its fullest. This Thanksgiving would you pray for those you love? Ask God to pour out His richest blessings on them and to transform them into the image of Christ. Express your thanksgiving by encouraging one of your friends who is struggling during this holiday season. Express your thanksgiving for a friend or church member by sharing your emotions with them. Let them know you love them. Finally, take time to catch up or to build on to your relationship with someone who is special to you.
This Thanksgiving, like the Apostle Paul, let me say, “I am thankful for you.”