Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess 5:18)
Paul exhorts us to give thanks to God regardless of our circumstances in life. But that’s hard. Sometimes conditions are less than ideal; at other times, they’re downright bad. We all feel overwhelmed by life at times. In those instances, we are so close to our own problems that we think they must be greater than anyone else’s. It seems impossible to carry such a heavy burden. Even so, we are encouraged to look for something for which to be thankful. How can we do that?
Johnson Oatman was born in 1856 near Medford, New Jersey. His father happened to have a rich, powerful voice, widely regarded as the best in town; young Johnson delighted to sit next to him and hear him sing the songs of the church. He could never sing as well as his father, but he longed to make some musical contributions of his own. He was ordained to preach in the Methodist Episcopal Church in his 20s, all the while working side by side with the old man in the family business.
But at 36, he realized that he did have musical talent after all: he had a gift for writing songs. So he began writing, hundreds every year, totaling more than 5,000 by the time of this death in 1922. Through these, though never more than a bi-vocational local minister, he spread the gospel to literally millions of people. Some of his hymns are classics we still sing today: “No Not One (There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus);” “Higher Ground.” But perhaps his best-known song is “Count Your Blessings.” This was the favorite of my great-grandfather, not because of its tune or its poetic language, but because of the message it conveys. That message is powerful and worthy of reflection.
It is imperative to notice what this song does not say. It is not a denial that we are having problems. It does not mean to have a stiff upper lip and everything will be alright. The song frankly acknowledges that those trials are real, confronting them rather than ignoring them.
When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged thinking all is lost…
Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Instead, we are encouraged to look to God in the midst of those problems. That does not mean they will automatically cease to exist. As the last verse sums it up:
So, amid the conflict, whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
It is easy to become preoccupied with our problems. A sore toe or a toothache dominates the whole body. It’s a small part, and it may not even be seriously injured. But it makes us forget about all of the more intricate parts of the body that are functioning normally and concentrate on the minor hurt. A flat tire immobilizes an entire car. It may be a new car, even an expensive car, but if it has a flat tire it will not go.
The same principle applies in other areas. The news that we hear and read, day and night, emphasizes the problems of our society to the point that we often feel overwhelmed. Advertising emphasizes what we do not have. Surfing the internet or watching television leaves us with the feeling that what we already own is out of date, old fashioned, and inadequate
The point simply is that it is quite easy for us to focus our lives on what we do not have, or on weighty decisions that are on our shoulders, or problems which press upon us, to the exclusion of the things that we do have and the blessings of our lives. If we allow our focus of life to be on the negative, we will constantly be unhappy and miserable.
Our problems may be real; our needs may be legitimate. We dare not minimize them. But how has God blessed us? What has he done in our lives? Consider not only the physical blessings but the even greater spiritual ones. If we count those, even in the midst of our troubles, it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.