Thankfulness - Especially for the Small Things
Colossians 2:6,7

(c) Copyright 2005 Rev. Bill Versteeg


Colossians 2:6, 7

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

The beauty of this passage is in the word pictures that create it. If we were to read the sentence without some of the pictures, it would read like this: 6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, overflowing with thankfulness.

The picture is of a tree that is tall and strong and so loaded with good delicious fruit that its branches are hanging under the weight  ready to snap. This is an overflowing thankfulness, a miraculous harvest, a gardener’s delight, the consequence of receiving Christ.

But my experience tells me that Christians generally speaking are not people who overflow with thankfulness. They may be thankful, but to say that it is the characteristics that shapes their entire lives - no. To say that we can recognize each others’ faith by our thankfulness - hardly. Like all other people, we face challenges, we struggle, we suffer too. And when things go wrong, it is sometimes hard to be thankful people.

Paul in this passage uses words to picture that the source of overflowing thankfulness is not in how life goes, the source of overflowing thankfulness is in the small realities that make faith, that make life in Christ, that make growth possible.

Paul starts by pointed to being rooted.

For any tree to bear fruit. there need to be roots, roots through which nutrition can be taken from the soil. Roots that developed even as the tree started as a seed, the plant not visible among the grass. Roots on which a tree can be anchored to bear the heat of the day and the wind of the storm. Roots, though hidden, which are the foundation of everything the tree is and ever will be. And Paul tells us that we are rooted in Christ. Our beginnings come from him, our life is sustained through him, our future is no future except in him. It is in Christ that we have been born anew and protected, In him we live and move and have our being...God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Christ is for us all in all - the soil in which we are planted and the taproot that gives us life.

If the first source of thanksgiving is those unseen, unrecognized things called roots that give us life, the second thing is all the rest of the trunk and limbs that come from the roots. Rooted and built up in him....  Everyone of us is an amazing complex of cells, muscles, organs, nerves, bones, systems that miraculously work together and that is only on the biological level - let alone the level of language and knowledge where we become conscious of self and conscious of others, where we discover the wonder of identity formed in the image of God, where thought and emotion can mix to appreciate beauty and goodness, ugliness and evil. Each one of us has, like a tree, limbs to do work with, limbs to run, limbs to walk, limbs to lift, hands to bless and create. And not only our bodies, but everything that we do is enabled through him as his Spirit works within us, blessing us with gifts and abilities and talents that become the expressions of who we are in this world. We are not only rooted, we are built up in him.

And then Paul adds the aspect of strength.  We are being strengthened in the faith as we were taught. Our roots, our limbs would be nothing, useless without strength. And so, our strength to arise in the morning, to live each day, to work, to give, to love, to care, to see, to hear, to know God and know his word - every one of these abilities comes from God, every good and perfect gift comes from our father in Heaven. It is his breath of life that gives us life. It is his power that enables us with spiritual power to live the Christian life and do well. There is nothing that comes to us that we might call good that does not come to us from God. Even the tests of faith that through trials make us stronger, they come from God.

A life overflowing with thanksgiving does not come from just noticing the big things that God gives to us.  If we focus on the big things that God does, we tend to be thankful in spurts and spells, and we have difficulty being thankful when our lives are tested by trials. But when our thankfulness is focused on the little things, the foundational things, the normal part of our everyday life things, acknowledging that strength comes from the living God, then we realize that it is those small things, the hidden things, the small blessings, that make all the other blessings possible.

This came especially clear to me this past January when I heard that James Mitchell (who this morning has allowed me to share part of his story) had been hospitalized for a condition called Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy: (CIDP). This is a condition where, for unknown reasons, the body starts attacking the lining around the nerves. By the time they discovered what was wrong with James and started giving him blood transfusions and anti rejection therapy, he had stopped breathing and to keep him alive, they had to put him in ICU for 25 days on a respirator. I saw him the first time about a week after he had come out of ICU - and the disabled James that I met looked weak, (and dare I say it - floppy) but he was overflowing with thankfulness. So much so that I was surprised at his thankfulness. And so I asked him why he was so thankful...

In answer to my question - he started listing the small things.

Like the ability to breath. After 25 days on a respirator, when they finally felt he was well enough to take the assistance of the respirator away, he could only, with extreme effort take two or three breaths and then they would put him back on the respirator until he regained his strength. By the time I met him, his breathing was still hard work, but he was breathing and so thankful to feel his diaphragm pulling air in and pushing it out again!

As James Physiotherapy continued, he had to learn all over how to use his hands and then to walk a few steps. For every movement, for every step, for every spoon he could pick up and actually reach to his mouth he was thankful. James showed me how he was thankful for all those things everyone of us takes for granted.

He was thankful for the little things. As he shared, a new philosophy of life started coming to the surface through his expressions. Life is not made up of the big things we do, its made up of the little things we can do. The small unnoticed abilities that we take for granted. Life is made us of the gifts and qualities that we think are just normal but nevertheless they are gifts from God. So James was thankful everyday for the small steps he made in recovery, the "just" measurable increments that his strength increased from day to day, the understanding of physiotherapists who knew that the first day out of ICU, there was no way he would be able to walk a mile, let alone a block, let alone two steps.

But it wasn’t only the physical things that James was thankful for. Having been unconscious for an extended period of time and on a respirator for 25 days, he was thankful for the angels who stood guard over him and the community, some of them people he did not know, who were praying for him. He said he could feel their prayers. And he was especially thankful for the powerful desire he felt inside of himself to live, live life to the fullest, to enjoy what God had given him.

What struck me was overflowing thankfulness - overflowing because there were so many many small things in his life to be thankful for.

Paul reminds us that these our blessings in God: our hidden roots, the trunk, that which structures our life day to day, and strength that we claim is ours all to often, but in truth that too is a gift of God. So this morning, in prayer, join me in thanking God for the small things...

Prayer

Father, scripture tells us that from the dust of the ground you made humanity, and you breathed into them the breath of life. As we sit quietly for just a moment, listening to the silence of our almost always unnoticed breaths, we thank you for the capacity to breath that gives us life.

There are so many complex systems in our bodies that we take for granted, DNA that give us design rather than just being blobs of protoplasm, mitochondria that metabolize sugars and give us energy, a heart that pumps, lungs that breath, stomachs that digest, joints that work most often without pain, muscles that respond to our commands, eyes that see, ears that hear, noses that smell, nerves that sense touch, kidneys to clean, fingers that manipulate, toes that maintain balance, immune systems that fight off cancer, nerves that fire and communicate,

Those are our bodies - but there is so much more...

We want to say Thank You for the capacity to think, to feel, to reflect.  We want to Thank You for our capacity to read and speak, hear and truly listen, to think in wonderfully complex languages that we just take for granted.  We want to say Thank You for the ability to be emotive, with love, care, anger, frustration, and We want to say Thank You for the gifts of relationships even though some of them may be difficult.  We want to say Thank You for Moms and Dads and Grandparents and children and brothers and sisters and teachers and students and friends and companions and even our enemies.  We want to say Thank You for our ability to work and play, "make ends meet" and even do well and enjoy life.  We want to thank you for a country that enables our ability to prosper and works at applying justice equitably to all.  We want to say Thank You for beauty all around us, beauty that we are so accustomed to. We want to say Thank You for our ability to appreciate beauty.  In all these things, We want to say Thank You for Christ, for his sacrifice, for the free gift of grace that gives us salvation.  We want to say Thank You for our capacity to be people of faith, filled with hope and meaning in every day.  Thank you for the big things, but we recognize and we give you thanks especially on this day for the infinite number of small, hidden things that make these big things possible.  Through Christ. Amen.
 

Colossians 1:15-20
He (Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
 


(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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