One year my husband and I attended a church conference in Kansas, and stayed part of the time with friends who lived on the outskirts of a small town not far from our conference site. The town was so small that it had just one restaurant, one pizza place, one traffic light.
After the busy days of meetings in over hundred-degree weather, it was wonderful to return to their quiet town and their cool guest quarters in the basement of their home. We shared a light evening snack, some good conversation, and had a wonderful time together.
Once we were home, we decided to send our friends a thank you gift for their hospitality, and settled on a small wood carving by an Indigenous artist. We wanted to send them something unique to the West Coast where we live, and since our friend was a woodcarver, we thought they would both appreciate the beauty of the wood and the craftsmanship. What’s more, the card that came with the carving said that while the eagle is a symbol of power, eagle down is a symbol of friendship. That seemed like just the right gift for our friends.
In a letter to the Thessalonian church, Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy ask, “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?” (1 Thessalonians 3:9). The choice of words in the original Greek means “to give back as an equivalent.” So the force of their question is “how can we thank God in a way that’s equal to all the joy we feel?”
For the three co-workers, that was a rhetorical question. Of course there was no way they could thank God enough! The Thessalonians were their “glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:20). They could never give back to God an equivalent gift of gratitude.
Perhaps that’s why they kept repeating their thanks over and over throughout their letter:
- In their introduction immediately following their opening words of greeting: “We always give thanks to God for all of you” (1 Thessalonians 1:2)
- As the letter recalls how the Thessalonians first came to faith: “We also constantly give thanks to God for this” (1 Thessalonians 2:13)
- In response to Timothy’s report on his visit to the church: “How can we thank God enough for you” (1 Thessalonians 3:9)
- As the letter draws to a close: “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Four times in this one short letter, Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy couldn’t stop expressing their thanks to God and encouraging the Thessalonians to do the same. They could never thank God “enough,” but that didn’t stop them from trying!
Like Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, I sometimes ask myself, how can I thank God in a way that’s equal to all the joy I feel? How can I thank God in a way that feels just right like the eagle carving felt just right for our friends?
I know I can’t possibly give thanks enough for all the blessings I’ve received: for God’s constant presence and generous provision, for the people that God has graciously brought into my life, for the wonder of creation all around me. Nothing seems big enough to express my thanks to God. Yet like Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, I won’t stop trying to express my gratitude.
With Psalm 30:11-12, I can say:
You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
This then is my gift of gratitude—not that it will ever be enough, but like the psalmist, like Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, I’ll keep on giving thanks in all circumstances.
image by Flash Alexander on Pixabay
Looking for inspiration for your celebration of Celtic Advent and Christmas, or looking forward to Lent and Easter? Or perhaps you are looking for a gift for a friend who could use some encouragement. These cards include 10 prayers inspired by ancient Celtic saints like Patrick or contemporary Celtic writers like John O’Donohue. A short reflection on the back of each card will introduce you to the Celtic Christian tradition, along with prayers by Christine Sine and imagery crafted by Hilary Horn. Also makes a lovely stocking stuffer! Celtic Prayer Cards can be used year-round or incorporated into various holidays. Available in a single set of 10 cards, three sets, or to download.