March 22, 2018

By Pastor Abel Lara, Norwalk UMC, West District

Philippians 1:4-6

I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy. I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now. I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus.

Paul and the Philippians enjoy an incredible connection of Christian friendship, where each one holds the other in high regard, love, and support.

However, these verses also illumine for us part of the nature of prayer. There are two elements in particular that deserve our attention. First, thanksgiving is at the heart of prayer. Paul begins his letter with this simple but thoughtful statement: “I thank my God every time I remember you.”

Imagine, for a moment, what it would be like to start our letters like this. Or to start our conversations. Try it. Seriously. The next time you have a conversation with a friend, start by telling the other person that every time you think of him/her, you give God thanks for her/his friendship and support. Or the next time you have a get-together at work, start by telling your workmates why you are grateful to work with them. Or maybe the next time you sit down with your family, turn to each one and say what you are grateful for about them.

Thanksgiving is powerful because it builds up the other person, names what is beautiful and wonderful. Each of us could do with a little more thanksgiving in our life. And secondly, we all need to know that we’re loved, and we all need encouragement and support. The Philippians needed that kind of encouragement and support. So Paul makes sure it is the first thing they receive in this loving pastoral letter.

Paul gives thanks for the Philippians, and because he treasures them he also prays for their wellbeing and happiness. We sometimes think of prayer as an individual matter, giving thanks for the good we have received or petitioning God for our needs. But prayer can also be deeply communal, as we seek after the welfare of those we know and love. Indeed, love might be described most simply as a commitment to seek consistently the good of another. And this is Paul’s prayer.

This is something we can practice, too. Giving thanks, seeking after and praying for the welfare of another. These are powerful things, not only for those we pray for, but also for ourselves. Because gratitude and love invite us at the same time to be so fully ourselves – bringing all that we have and are in the moment – and yet draw us beyond ourselves for the good of another. Yes, in this self-focused culture that will take time to learn, but as you practice prayers of gratitude and love I think you will find yourself more confident, more at peace, more at wellbeing with yourself, those around you, and with God.

Prayer: Dear God, let us give thanks for all the people you have placed in our lives, seeking after their welfare and entrusting their strengths and needs to your love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.