with joy giving thanks

St. Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae starts like most of his others. In the opening salutation, he identifies himself and Timothy as the senders, the Colossians as the recipients, and proceeds to express his gratitude to God for his readers’ persistent faith. Then he shares with them what he’s been praying and wanting for them in verses 9-14. He says, in part, “We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light.” Talk about a pretty cool prayer! I hope someone somewhere is praying that I would have knowledge of God’s will, wisdom, and spiritual understanding so that I can live a God-pleasing life characterized by effectiveness and growth. And I hope that someone somewhere prays that I would be strengthened with all power so that I can endure with patience and joyfully give thanks to God! It sounds great, and it teaches me a couple of things about joy right off the bat. First, joy is to be an integral part of the faith experience. Paul’s language indicates that the saints in Colossae should have joy. It’s supposed to be there in all believers. The second lesson that I catch here is a bit more subtle, and it’s found in the words with which this joy is coupled. Notice the progression of 11-12:

  1. May you be strengthened
  2. with all power
  3. for all endurance
  4. and patience
  5. with joy giving thanks to the Father

As much as I like the last bit of that, I’m struck by the things that come first here. Why would I need strength and power if there wasn’t work to be done. Why would I need endurance if this hard work wasn’t going to be demanding and long? Why would I need patience if this demanding and long work wasn’t going to be downright hard? The train of logic is that I get strength and power so that I can do long, hard work with joy! Long, hard work with joy!

But Paul wasn’t done here. In fact, if you follow this first chapter of Colossians on down to verse 24, you find this: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you…” Just in case you didn’t get the hint before, Paul thinks the believer should rejoice in the very midst of long, hard work and suffering.

And not only that, he thinks this joy should be coupled with giving thanks!

Okay, so confession time. I don’t always have the joy or the gratitude when I’m working or suffering. Perhaps, though, I’m not alone in this. I mean, the apostle is praying that the church at Colossae would embrace this stuff. The implication may well be that they weren’t always working or suffering with joy, either.

Clearly, this is a tough teaching. And I think you can probably guess that the joy that Paul is exhorting is not about smiles and parties. Rather, it must be that kind that is looking forward with certainty to the arrival of good from God. But I dare say that the two aren’t really all that different from one another.

A joyful worker won’t stalk around with a scowl on his face. He won’t snap at everyone who addresses him. She won’t sulk in the corner or throw a tantrum when things don’t go her way.

No, Peter reminds me, a joyful worker is grateful to God for His blessings and promises, even in the most God-forsaken situation imaginable. But then again, maybe that’s the key. I mean, it’s tough to not have joy when I start recounting all the stuff He’s done for me. As St. Peter reminded his readers in 1 Peter 1, even when I have no other reasons to give thanks to God, I can – and must – still thank Him for our new birth in Jesus; for His ongoing protection to eternal life (which is distinct from protection in this specific instant); and because I love Him and want His will far more than my own, even if that means hardship for me in the short run.

Indeed, a grateful worker remembers, no matter how hard the job is, the stuff that God has already done. And because he remembers the stuff God has done, the grateful worker can trust Him to do even more. And because he trusts Him to do even more, he has hope. And because he has hope, he can rejoice. No matter what the situation is. No matter what.

So I guess that, if I find myself running low on joy, regardless of the situation, I need to start giving thanks.

I think I can do that.

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