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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Count Your Blessings


Count Your Blessings



It took a week for my Grandfather Richard to die from Meningitis.  The country doctor rode by on his horse every day to check on Richard but there was nothing much that he could do to stop the raging infection.  The year was 1911 and antibiotics had not been discovered then.  Six other people on nearby farms had died from Meningitis that winter and fear was spreading throughout the community that more would catch this contagious disease..


My Grandmother Eva was thirty years old with two little children when her beloved husband died and she became a widow.  She wore black dresses and cried a lot those first few months.  Her grief and fear were more than she thought she could bear.  She was fearful for herself and her children.  How could she run the farm all by herself?  How could she feed her children?  There was no welfare system in place at that time and few jobs outside the home for women.  Fear and depression settled in over her like a dark cloud.


But shortly after my grandfather’s death my grandmother was in church one Sunday when the congregation sang a favorite hymn, “Count Your Blessings” (published in 1897).  As they were all singing this hymn my grandmother thought to herself that perhaps she should do what the words of the hymn were encouraging folks to do – to count their blessings.  So she promised herself right then and there that she would do that.  That she would thank God for all of her blessings. Even though she had lost her beloved husband and had no money to raise her children, she would trust God and develop the habit of thanking Him for any blessing she might have. 


Gratitude is a discipline.  It involves a conscious choice. The prophet Habakkuk chose to praise God in the midst of terrible times.  Let’s listen to what he had to say:  “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines:  Though the labor of the olive may fall, And the fields yield no food:  Though the flock may be cut off from the fold.  And there be no herd in the stalls.  Yet I will rejoice in the Lord.  I will joy in the God of my salvation.”  (Habakkuk 3: 17-18)  My grandmother told me that if Habakkuk could praise God during his dark night of the soul that she could do it too.   


So after that, every day my grandmother counted her blessings.  And every day she thanked God for each one that she counted.  She told me that she found more and more blessings every day to thank God for.  And the more she was thankful the more blessings seemed to pop up. New ones every day! 


 Her father promised to come over to her farm and help her one day a week with the farm work.  And she rented out part of her house to a single woman and used the rent money to hire another farm worker to do more of the work that her husband had done.  My grandmother told me that her decision to remember her blessings and to thank God for each one turned her life around and gave her the strength to keep on going during a difficult time.


The concept of remembering what God has done for us (and is doing) is an important biblical theme.  The command not to forget is given more than four hundred times in the Bible.  We are to remember the wonders of God’s creation. (Deuteronomy 4:32)  And we are to remember that the world belongs to God. (Psalm 50:10)  The Israelites were to remember that God delivered them from captivity in Egypt.  (Deuteronomy 5:15)  And we are to remember the sacrificial gift of Jesus Christ on the cross for us.  (1 Corinthians 11:25)


Remembering keeps us from the sin of ingratitude.  It helps us face the future with confidence – like it helped my grandmother so long ago.  Scripture says:  “I will remember the deeds of the Lord: yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.”  (Psalm 77:1) 


My grandmother had an old piano and she began singing her praises to God as she played hymns on the piano.  She told me that it helped to sing out her thanks to God for all that He had given her.  She said that when she quietly gave thanks to God sometimes her thoughts were still on herself and her problems to some extent.  But when she sang out her praises she focused on God and His glory and all of her problems faded.  She told me that she felt that she could sing her cares away easier than she could reason them away.


My grandmother chose to be thankful when it would have been easy to grumble.  And we can choose to be thankful for the things we have instead of complaining about the things we don’t have.  It is so easy to complain.  I am very good at it so I know. The antidote for grumbling is gratitude.  When the Israelites were in the desert traveling from Egypt to the Promised Land they had so much to be thankful for but instead it seems they spent much of their time grumbling!


God had miraculously delivered them from bondage and slavery in Egypt and He had opened up the Red Sea so that they could cross it and not get caught by the Egyptians who were chasing after them.  God fed them manna every day when they were in the desert which was quite a number of years.  (Numbers 11:4-6)  And God miraculously gave them water that sprung up out of a Rock when they were thirsty.  God led them and protected them all the way across the desert on their long journey.     


You would think that the Israelites would have thanked God and praised Him for His many gifts and mercies during that difficult time!  But no, Scripture says that the Israelites fussed and grumbled all the way across the desert to the Promised Land. They grumbled about the food that God provided and they fumed and didn’t trust God’s leading and worried that they would never get into the Promised Land. They missed the good old days in Egypt when they had been slaves in chains.  And they grumbled because they were commanded not to worship idols like all their neighbors did!  


It seems that God took their grumbling personally, because God angrily asked Moses: “How long will these people treat Me with contempt? …”  (Numbers 14:11a)  Does God also take our grumbling personally after all that He has done for us on our life journey?    


There is a story in the Bible of a time when the Jewish people like my grandmother, sang their songs and praises to God while He took care of them.  Scripture tells of a time in antiquity when strong neighboring countries with large armies surrounded the little tribe of Judah and were preparing to attack and kill and destroy!  The Jewish people were in big trouble!  The king of Judah called for every Jewish person to fast and pray and then he called everyone together to stand and sing praises to God as the enemy approached.  And this is what happened.  “As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.”  (2 Chronicles 20:22)   


So as the people of Judah was singing and praising God together, God confused the brutal band of soldiers who were rushing in for the bloody kill screaming battle cries and waving swords and spears.  God played a trick on these violent attackers and messed up their brains.  Instead of slaughtering the men, women and children of Judah that they were going for, these crazed enemies suddenly turned in confusion and began fighting one another.  Not one Jewish soldier had to fight that day.  They all just stood there and sang praises to God and watched in amazement as their violent attackers turned away and savaged one another as they went.


Some of us may have a day, like Habakkuk or even like the ancient tribe of Judah.  A day when it seems like everything is coming against us.  It is comforting to know that we have God who loves us and we can turn from our own limitations to a God who has no limitations. And from our own time limits and come to God who works outside of time and doesn’t have to hurry.  There are no deadlines against which He has to work and He will hear our prayers and take care of us in His own way and time.  He has a plan and a purpose for each one of us and He can do things that we never thought of or imagined possible.  He can take care of problems that we considered impossible.


We have a God who is everlasting and un-changing.  He is full of grace and we are cleansed and perfected and will be taken to glory through His overflowing grace. .We have so much to be thankful for.  Psalm 100:1-2 reads:  “Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands!  Serve the Lord with gladness.  Come before His presence with singing.”  If we are not already coming before the Lord often with our thanksgiving, then let’s choose to start doing that now.  Let’s start counting our blessings and thanking Him for each one every day.    






Some of these ideas were taken from “A Daybook of Grace”– A Year of Devotions – Mark Gilroy and Jessica Inman and Patti Hummell   pp. 320-349. 






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