Count Your Blessings

Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done. Johnson Oatman

Occasionally we forget. We forget all that God has blessed us with and we let our momentary problems get us down. We permit ourselves to get the "poor me's"  and begin to question the quality of our lives, from our families to our jobs to our nation.

We do this because we forget what we are here for. We focus on the physical and then we begin to actually think that we are here for our jobs or school or making payments or whatever else might be on our radar screen on a given day.

It's not that these things are unimportant (just let one of my kids decide not to show up for school one day), it's just that they are not to be our focus. This life is a test, and sometimes tests are hard. God wants to know if we will serve Him in good times and bad, so there are uncertainties in life and things will not always go as planned.

This is when many allow defeat to creep in. We have financial hardships, or relationship problems or health concerns and we think that life is over. This is when we count our blessings: Our family, our friends, a free nation, plenty of food, clothing shelter. Not enough? How about a Father who loved us so much that He gave his only Son to die for our sins so that we could spend an eternity with Them? What in this life is so bad that the first 10,000 years of Heaven won't make up for? Will we allow ourselves the luxury of self-pity or the joy of counting our many blessings?

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. II Corinthians 4:17

 

Continual Joy

My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate - that's my philosophy. Thornton Wilder

When I look back on the various stages of my life, I realize that my happiest times have been those that I simply enjoyed the moment I was in. I also see that the times of greatest stress were those times when I thought along the lines of, "Sure, this is good now, but it could get bad in a hurry".

This is when Mr. Wilder's advice comes in so handy. Why, while in the process of sampling a tasty cone, must we even think about the fact that it will soon be gone? Isn't it far better to enjoy the process, rather than to fear the inevitable outcome. It's true that the fleeting pleasures of life will by definition come to an end, but why not just go ahead and enjoy them while they last?

At no time, I suppose, has this been as true as during this past year. With droughts on the front burner and financial crises on the back, it just seems that the entire year has been consumed with thoughts like, "Today is okay, but if it doesn't rain soon, we will be in real trouble" or "It's true that I have a job and can pay my bills now, but what if the recession spreads to this region, or I become sick and can't work, or something bad happens to one of my loved ones, or..."

The fact is that bad things do happen. It's also true that we cannot go through life with blinders on, and that we must be ready to act in times of unexpected hardship. But truer, still, is that God is in Heaven and He is in control.

So, if He has blessed you this year - enjoy it! You don't have to feel guilty, nor do you have to fear that He will somehow take His eyes off of you and let something happen that you cannot handle. Bad things do occasionally happen but, more often, good things happen. And we are blessed! 

So go ahead and enjoy that ice cream before it melts. It's not wrong, nor is it failing to be a realist. It's called gratitude and a joyful person will, with a heart filled with thanksgiving, enjoy every minute of this beautiful life that God has blessed him with. Bad things can and will happen to us all, but we are going to Heaven someday. So... enjoy the ride and don't forget to be grateful along the way! 

Be joyful always. I Thessalonians 5:16, NIV

 

Conditional Blessings

The Lord is with you, when you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you, but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you. Azariah

The account of King Asa is an amazing part of Israel's history. Asa was the great-great grandson of King David. At the outset of his rule, God sent His prophet Azariah to relate the above message and for 35 years, Asa enjoyed many blessings from God. But then, a funny thing happened: Asa got to thinking that he was a great king as a result of his own doing, so he decided he would do things his way... and God left him.

Before leaving Asa, God sent another prophet - Hanani - to relate this message: "The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him". But Asa did not pay any attention to God's words - after all, he was the king. So Asa suffered and then he died.

This seems to be a harsh lesson, but it is one that we all need from time to time. We correctly understand that God's love is unconditional, but we often then draw the incorrect conclusion that His blessings are unconditional... so we suffer. And sometimes, people die with that false understanding. Why do we do that?

I cannot speak for anyone else, but I know why I do that - it's because I think that I am the ruler of my own life. We like to be in charge and we like to do what we want to do when we want to do it. Then, when trouble arises, we think that God has abandoned us. But the fact is that God is always with us, when we are with Him. It was true 3,000 years ago during Asa's days, and it is true for us today.

God will never leave us, unless we leave Him. Understanding this will spare us from a lifetime of pain. And, understanding that God is literally searching for those whose hearts are committed to Him will give us the confidence we need to meet all of life's challenges. God's blessings are not unconditional, but they are always available. They are available to anyone wise enough to resist the urge of attempting to sit on the throne that belongs to God and His Son. Who reigns in your life? The correct answer to that question will open the floodgates of blessings for you and your loved ones.  

The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad... Psalms 97:1, NIV

 

Common Sense

Common sense is very uncommon. Horace Greeley

We hear a lot today about the death of common sense -  and why not? It seems that so many things in life lack any semblance of reason. Yet common sense can never die as long as we keep in touch with the source of common sense, namely, God.

I have found a very simple way to keep a proper perspective in a world gone mad. Before I step a foot out of bed, I express my gratitude to God for His blessings, and I entreat Him to help me serve Him as best I can.

Then, prior to breakfast, I open the Psalms and read a chapter. Without fail, I receive a word of comfort, of direction, of praise, and of perspective. Total time elapsed between the prayer and the reading is about two minutes. Not a bad price to pay for a good day and a bit of common sense from the Creator of the Universe.

If you have been feeling that the world is losing its grip on common sense and wisdom - welcome to the club! The only question is which will you let dictate the type of day you will have - God, or those who have abandoned common sense? The correct answer to that question could truly change your perspective and your life.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. Proverbs 9:10 (KJV)

 

Christianity Requires Courage

There is plenty of courage among us for the abstract, but not enough for the concrete because we allow our daily bits of bravery to evaporate.

Helen Keller

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to talk about the virtues of Christian living? When we are in the safe and friendly environment of our church buildings, it is easy to talk about things like faithfulness, courage and undying devotion. When we are surrounded by the support of strong Christian brothers and sisters, we can easily imagine our having the faith of Abraham, the courage of David, the devotion of Ruth. Then we leave our places of worship and go out into the real world - and what do we find?

We find that the real world does not operate on theory - it must be lived.

When Jesus was with his disciples at the last supper, he told them that they would abandon Him. To a man, the apostles stated that they would die with Jesus rather than ever deny Him. It was easy to be courageous when they were in the cozy upper room, surrounded by allies and in the presence of Jesus.

Then came the test. (Have you ever noticed that life always comes with tests?) Evil men came to arrest Jesus. There were a lot of them. They had swords. Some of the apostles wanted to fight back with swords, but Jesus stopped them. Jesus did not come into this world for a sword fight - He came into the world to save it. When the apostles realized that Jesus was not going to vanquish the enemy in the way they thought, they did what you and I often do. They abandoned their theories of courage and faithfulness. And they ran away.

Have you ever run away when your Christian faith was tested? I have. More times than I care to remember. The point of all of this is not to suggest that we will never fail - the point is to determine what we will do after we have failed. For Christianity was never designed to merely discuss in the abstract, it was designed for living. And... Christian living requires courage.

If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.

Isaiah 7:9, NIV