Philippians 1:1-11 (MSG)
Paul and Timothy, both of us committed servants of Christ Jesus, write this letter to all the Christians in Philippi, pastors and ministers included. We greet you with the grace and peace that comes from God our Father and our Master, Jesus Christ. Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart. I am so pleased that you have continued on in this with us, believing and proclaiming God's Message, from the day you heard it right up to the present. There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears. It's not at all fanciful for me to think this way about you. My prayers and hopes have deep roots in reality. You have, after all, stuck with me all the way from the time I was thrown in jail, put on trial, and came out of it in one piece. All along you have experienced with me the most generous help from God. He knows how much I love and miss you these days. Sometimes I think I feel as strongly about you as Christ does! So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover's life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.
Mark Twain was once contracted to write articles for $5 a word, an astronomical sum in his day. He was asked by an interviewer what he thought was the most significant word in the English language. Twain’s answer was simple. He said that the most significant word was “Thanks.”
Thanks was at the center of Paul’s love letter to his cherished friends in Philippi. Paul wrote to the Philippians while under house arrest in Rome. He’s old, tired, and at the end of his life and ministry. How wonderful that at the end he could give thanks to those who had supported him with encouraging words, prayer, and finances. Paul’s letter reminds us that thankfulness is one of the cornerstones to a healthy.
I cannot help but think of Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist, neurologist, and holocaust survivor. Dr. Gordon Allport, in his preface to Frankl’s most important work, Man’s Search for Meaning, writes of Frankl’s amazing survival and almost mystic transformation in spite of the horrors he endured as a young man in the German concentration camps of World War II. Allport writes:
. . . there he found himself stripped to a literally naked existence. His father, mother, brother and his wife died in the camps or were sent to the gas ovens, so that except for his sister, his entire family perished in these camps. How could he--every possession lost, every value destroyed, suffering from hunger, cold and brutality, hourly expecting extermination--how could he find life worth preserving? A psychiatrist who personally has faced such extremity is a psychiatrist worth listening to.
Frankl offers an answer to Allport’s question by recounting his experience immediately following his liberation from the camps:
One day, a few days after the liberation, I walked through the country, past flowering meadow, for miles and miles, toward the market town near the camp. Larks rose to the sky and I could hear their joyous song. There was no one to be seen for miles around; there was nothing but the wide earth and sky and the lark's jubilation and the freedom of space. I stopped, looked around and up to the sky--and then I went down on my knees. At that moment there was very little I knew of myself or of the world--I had but one sentence in mind--always the same: "I called to the Lord from my narrow prison and he answered me in the freedom of space."
How long I knelt there and repeated this sentence, memory can no long recall. But I know that on that day, in that hour, my new life started. Step for step I progressed until I again became a human being.
Frankl, released from one of the most leprous of episodes in human history, could do nothing but kneel before his creator and express extreme gratitude. How could we do less? Think about it.
Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1984), 7.