I spent the first 10 years of my career in the U.S. Navy. Since that time, on several occasions after telling someone about my history, someone would say, “Thank you for your service.” I was always honored to hear it, and humbled too.
As I’ve reflected on this, it strikes me how little I thank people for something. For example, when I check out at the grocery store, I may exchange “Thank you’s” with the person behind the counter. This is a fine custom, of course, but it doesn’t carry much meaning because it’s mostly done out of habit with little thought behind it.
As we read through Paul’s letters it’s interesting how often he begins by thanking the individual or church he’s writing to—in fact, it’s the majority of the cases. For example, consider what he wrote to the saints in Philippi, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil 1:3-5).
Paul does not give a generic, throw-away “thank you." Instead, he identifies something specific about the letter's recipients that he is genuinely grateful for. For the Philippians, it was their "partnership in the gospel." For the Romans, it was because their faith was “being reported all over the world” (Rom 1:8). Even the struggling Corinthian church was told: “For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge” (1 Co. 1:5).
Notice that Paul brings a vertical component to his gratitude. He thanks God as the source of the blessings, while appreciating the recipients as the means of His blessings.
As we enter a month in the U.S. when we'll have an opportunity to collectively give thanks, I am challenging myself to up my thankfulness game! Perhaps you'll join me? I’m making it a goal to thank God every day as the source of a specific blessing that He provides. I also want to extend my gratitude to the means of his blessings by telling them, "Thank you for....(whatever the blessing might be.)"
So I’ll get a head start by thanking all of you! Those who read these musings want to see God’s people live as whole-life disciples, no matter where they go, and no matter what they do. So whether you are serving God in a frontline role or in an equipping one, be encouraged that you are making a difference in advancing the gospel day by day. Thank you for your service!