In one of the churches I served it, was the tradition on the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving for the children to sing the song “Count Your Blessings One by One, See the Great Things God has Done.” They would walk past the altar singing the song, and placing gifts of food there. I was always enchanted by this song and it caused me to take stock of my blessings.
Counting our blessings does not come naturally to most of us. There have been moments in my life when I have found it hard to give thanks. Yet, when I began to count the blessing which were mine, I discovered a multitude of ways that God was alive and working in my life. Most of all, I learned that in difficult and painful times God reaches out to us through God’s people. Groceries arrived at my door when I was not sure how I would manage the rest of the month. There were notes of support and encouragement and people who listened. Little things, which meant a lot, for they told me that God was still watching over me. They told me God’s love was real.
The Apostle Paul expresses his joy that God’s love is touching him through old friends as he writes to the people of Thessalonica, “During all our distress and persecution we have been encouraged about you through your faith . . . How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before God because of you?” (I Thessalonians 3:7,9)
Paul knew how to count his blessings. He opened his eyes to see the good that God was doing in his life. He valued the prayers of his friends. He cherished memories of special moments. He rejoiced that even in times of suffering, God’s love was made known to him, by the simple care of friends. May your eyes be opened to the many ways God’s love and light are surrounding you today, and then give God thanks.
Minnesota Landscape Arboretum Fall 2014
As I write this, much of the Middle East is embroiled in turmoil. Syria is a mess . . . ISIS is on the run, but still poses a serious global threat. A terrorist plot was just averted in Europe. Our nation is divided over the recent election. Demonstrations continue around the country. There are many who fear the future and what changes might come. Daily tragedies tug at our hearts. In spite of the economic recovery too many people do not have a living wage. Painful stories of tragic events come to families who live near us. Our own lives have their share of grief and pain. We are anxious for ourselves and those we love. Depression strikes. Our dark moods deepen. We wonder what there is to be thankful for.
In challenging moments we have a choice. We can focus our thoughts on the painful pieces of life or we can focus them on the good. A bit of perspective helps. Not so many years ago, in the spectrum of the ages, pilgrims driven by their need for religious freedom came to this country. Life was difficult. Cemeteries filled quickly as hunger and disease spread across the colony. The men, women and children who survived had to work through their many losses and the tremendous amount of pain those losses brought. In spite of that, when the first harvest after several bad years came through, they turned their eyes toward God. They reflected, not on their losses but, on their many blessings. Our pilgrim fathers and mothers did this because they knew that even in painful moments, God never stopped loving them.
When we look at our lives honestly we have much to be thankful for. We have reason for giving thanks even in imperfect time. God does not abandon us. God walks with us through the heartaches of life. When I take time to list the blessings I experience daily, I am amazed at all the gifts I so take for granted. I see the ordinary gifts of color and beauty, of harvest and food, warmth and shelter. I remember the people God has put in my life who have graced me at different stages and times. I think of struggling moments which led to life long friendships. I find blessings in my family and joy in relationships. I celebrate God’s faithfulness and mercies.
“It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night” Psalm 92:1-2
The Apostle Paul writes, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”(I Thessalonians 5:18.) I used to puzzle over this verse. How on earth do you give thanks in all circumstances? How do you thank God, when your water’s about to be turned off, your children are sick and you’ve just heard that you’re being laid off? How do you thank God when your best friend is mad at you, your boss in on your case and your spouse has blown up at you? How do you thank God when divorce has left you in poverty or the death of a loved one has colored your world in gray? How do you thank God when your world is in chaos, your heart weeps and you can hardly keep from drowning in your pain? And what is this stuff about it being God’s will – those trying moments you’re in. Is this really what God wants for you?
I don’t think that the Apostle Paul ever intended us to read his letter that way. I think his intention was that we recognize God’s presence in the midst of what we are experiencing. When we look at our lives through the lens of thanks, we find much to be grateful for. We see God’s hand coloring our world with beauty in every season. God writes a masterpiece in the sky. We look up on a clear night and we know that we are part of the vast mystery of all creation. We are awed by a sense that we have a place in God’s universe.
When trouble lands at our door, God is there to break into our darkness with light. In our brokenness, God yearns to make us whole. We are touched by acts of kindness, mercy and compassion. God’s presence and love become a source of courage, strength and hope. When we despair, God surprises us with life giving waters. Then, in some inexplicable way, God weaves the bitter and harsh places of our lives into a tapestry that glimmers with beauty.
We may never be grateful for the crisis which threw us into turmoil and grief. But we can give thanks for the people God sends into our lives who care. We give thanks for the ways we are helped through our crisis. The care we are shown is cause for gratitude. One day we will look back through the perspective of years and realize, that even there – especially there – we were covered with the light and love of God. In the midst of our turmoil we discover God planted people in our lives to listen, to care, to touch us with love. A book, a sermon, a word from a song, a friend reminded us that we are beloved and precious children of God. Genuine gratitude is born out of recognizing that God has not left us without comfort or comforters. The apostle Paul wrote his words to the people of Thessalonica through the eyes of one who had been shipwrecked, beaten, imprisoned and falsely accused. He knew there was nothing that would ever separate him from God’s love in Jesus Christ. For that gift, we can indeed give thanks.