“Be thankful in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” 1 Thessalonians 5:18.
“Count your many blessings, name them one by one. Count your many blessings, see what God has done.”
The words to this kid’s Sunday school song echo through my head often. My favorite Sunday school teacher was Mr. H and he must have sung those lyrics a thousand times. I hear his precious monotone voice in my head just like I’m 4 all over again. I can see him doing the awkward little hand motions in front of our rowdy group of kindergartners. At the time we didn’t really care about the message of the lyrics. Mostly, we just wanted to get our wiggles out. We could to be as loud as we wanted so long as we were singing the appropriate words (every kid from the beginning of time tries their hardest to insert “poop” or “bum” or some other variant into church songs). As long as we stayed on the that rug and kept our hands off those around us, all motions were fair game.
Kids are sponges, it’s true, but the content of what we’ve sponged up doesn’t always come out right away. Sometimes it takes years or even decades for that mental flashlight to come on. When it does, all of those faithful years of putting up with crazy kids begins to yield its fruit. I haven’t been in class with Mr. H for a very long time. He taught me, I had the privilege of teaching with him as a preteen, and he taught my daughter. That’s quite a legacy. It seems that all these years later, he’s still teaching me.
Because of what I do for a living and who I’m married to, I get the privilege of talking with a lot of pastors, their families, and future ministers all across the country. Ministry is a really tough life for a lot of reasons that I’m not going to get into here. Suffice it to say, every day is jammed packed with both triumph and struggle. Truth and feeling are not the same thing, however there are many days that the scale feels like it’s tipping toward struggle over triumph.
I was recently talking with a pastor who made the statement that he felt perpetually defeated. He wanted to win but he felt loss nearly constantly. Around every corner someone was waiting to sucker punch him in the gut. His was more of a rhetorical statement of how things are than it was a need or desire for input. I added input anyway because Mr. H began to sing in my head. “Count your many blessings, name them one by one. Count your many blessings, see what God has done.”
“Have you counted your blessings lately?” I asked. Silence followed. “No I mean, seriously, have you named them one by one?” Sometimes when I speak, the reactions and expressions I receive would lead everyone to believe that I am proof of life on Mars. I pay those looks no mind. I told him it’s possible that many of us in ministry have forgotten what it means to be truly thankful. We’ve forgotten to practice thankfulness in the middle of the daily battles and grind and it’s snuffing the life out of us. “Maybe so” was his quiet and defeated reply.
I don’t know the reason behind the why where most things are concerned. I don’t know why Christians are mean. I don’t know why people tell lies. I don’t know why good people die or especially children. I don’t know why seemingly horrible people live long miserable lives. I don’t know why the bad guys win much of the time or why cheaters prosper when those who play by the rules get left in the dust. I don’t know the answers to any of these things and so many more. One thing I do know for sure is that in the middle of all of it, God remains good. His character isn’t scratched or dented by the things that leave us bruised and he doesn’t stop being good in the face of bad and my conversations with him are the only place I’m not misunderstood. His eyes see and he is cognizant of everything. Nothing escapes his attention.
The yuck often blinds us from all the good that God is doing. When we stop and begin to count the blessings around us, it’s then that we are able to see not only what God has done but also what he continues to do both in us and through us. It’s easier to see the bad which is why we must make a conscious effort to count our blessings with an attitude of thankfulness.
The effort this takes is tremendous for all of us. Some days more so than others. Sometimes to count the blessings feels like trying to locate a needle in a stack of straw made up of hurt and pain. The more that gratitude is exercised, the more the straw piles of blessings become visible and the more we begin to see what God is doing through the pain and the hurt.
There are a lot of things that I absolutely don’t know but there are some simple things that I learned as a child that I know are absolutely, without doubt the truth.
- I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.
- Jesus loves me, this I know!
- My God is so big so strong and so mighty. There’s nothing my God cannot do.
When you’ve forgotten that you’re no longer blind anymore because grace has saved you and given you sight. When you wonder if anyone, even Jesus, loves you and you question the power of his might; count your many blessings. Name them one by one. Count your many blessings because that is where you will see and remember all that God has done.