In the song "Count Your Blessings" the refrain encourages us to "count our blessings one by one and see what God has done." The idea is to focus on individual things, very real things in our lives that contribute to our happiness and give God the glory or "credit" for them. Sometimes, especially when we're down or sad or stressed, it helps us to specify what our blessings are from God so that we can better appreciate them and appreciate the God who provides them.
In the United States, we celebrate Thanksgiving Day each year. This is a general holiday where people are encouraged to appreciate this nation and all that we have here. In my lesson today, however, I'd like to get a little more specific about the very real blessings that we have and can be thankful for.
The first group of blessings are the most obvious ones, the ones we can see and touch and measure. Actually the number of these are beyond measure but there are a few that we take for granted and that should be mentioned:
1. We Have Food
Despite the doom and gloom of "Climate Change" our markets are bursting with every kind of fruit, grains, vegetable and meat possible. We have too much food! In a world where millions go to bed hungry our main worry in the United States is that we eat too much, not too little!
2. We Have Jobs
In a free market system like ours the unemployment rate is between 5-10%. It's not possible to get it much lower than 5% because of the cycle of workers leaving one job for another. In the United States our current rate of unemployment is 3.9%. This means that 96% of the country's population have jobs. Economically and statistically - it doesn't get much better. Oh, you may not have the job you want or deserve; maybe you could use more money - but we all have paying jobs and that's a very real blessing!
3. We Have Peace
The history of the world is the history of war interrupted by short periods of peace. The United States, as a nation, has been at peace for almost 60 years. Oh yes, there are terrorist attacks, foreign wars, threats of war but here in the United States - no riots, no bombs, no civil unrest.
We complain a lot, and comment on other nations' problems, but we are at peace. If you don't think that 60 years of political freedom, and civil peace is a blessing - ask those from other countries who have experienced war and oppression if this is not a true blessing. Like I said, we take these type of blessings for granted but we shouldn't because:
A change in weather could damage our harvest resulting in food shortages. The best farming techniques can't control drought or floods - only God does this.
And there's no guarantee that the economy will always be good. Economies are fragile things and the government can't protect you if there's a depression that throws many people out of work.
Of course, we shouldn't take peace for granted either. Wars can begin over little things. Leaders with big egos have been known to plunge their nations into foolish and bloody wars. One person with one bomb could destroy our sense of peace and safety.
I say this because these blessings we have are very real, and we are actually experiencing them now, and we should be thankful for them because they can disappear.
Of course as Christians we not only give thanks for physical things but also the spiritual blessings we enjoy in Christ. Again, there are numerous but a few and very tangible ones are:
1. Knowledge of the Truth
...you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
- John 8:32
We know the truth about:
- Where and how the world began
- Why we exist
- How it will end and what will happen
What happens after death and how we prepare for it:
- How to live in this world
- Who and how God is etc.
We are free from ignorance, fear, shame and condemnation we have the truth against which all things can be measured.
2. Friendship with God
Jesus said, "You are my friends..." in John 15:14. Most of us strive to find and keep friends, they are among the most precious things we have. Many try to cultivate friendships among the rich and powerful. We, however, are friends with God, the creator of wealth, the seat of all power.
In the Old Testament the Jews had to go through a priest and he in turn had to go through an elaborate ceremony in order to communicate with God. Violation of the manner of communication resulted in death. But as Christians, we are intimate friends of God.
We talk to Him when we want to, whenever we want to. We can ask for forgiveness, for favors; we can praise and rejoice at all times. God enjoys our company and because of Christ we enjoy His - without fear, without condemnation, without ceremony, without dread because we look forward to being together forever in heaven.
3. Eternal Life
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
- John 3:16
We will not be extinguished. I will be me but a perfect me forever. This is the great promise of Christianity. The ceremonies we do all point to this:
- Baptism acts out a burial and a resurrection to a new life.
- Communion reminds us of the way this was accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Regardless of the condition of our lives now, the great blessing of Christianity is that we know that we will always be us and someday will become the us we always wanted to be forever. Paul says that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places and these three, knowledge of the truth, friendship with God and eternal life are the very real blessings into which all of the others can fit.
Now this review of our blessings would not be complete if we didn't mention some of the very real blessings that we, as Christians here in this church enjoy from God.
1. We have Unity
There is one mind and one heart in this congregation - it exists and it is evident. Oh there are the normal stresses and strains that occur from time to time (but that's normal in any family). But we are united in belief, in hope, in love for God and each other. While in the society around us there is suspicion, intolerance, division among cultural groups.
Here, in the Lord's church, we have 17 different cultures living in harmony - 18 if you count our most recent arrivals. We are enjoying a golden period of peace and unity - not every church has this - we have to realize that this is a very great and very real blessing.
2. We have Opportunity
In many places the church has to deal with: War, civil unrest, tragedy, poverty, disease, persecution, etc. Most of the church's efforts are invested in staying alive! We, on the other hand, have peace, prosperity, modern technology. Our church is growing as new members are added in a variety of ways. Our church is growing as new members are added in a variety of ways. We have three full-time ministers and a full-time ministry intern in training while in many other churches one minister is caring for two or more congregations.
- Opportunity is staring us in the face!
- Opportunity to reach out and share our faith (Coco; internet; personal in 18 languages!)
- Opportunity to build the largest and strongest and most fruitful N.T. church in Quebec, even in Canada.
- Opportunity to prepare elders, deacons, preachers for our future leadership.
- Opportunity to grow and plant churches in other parts of Montreal.
- Opportunity to grow old watching our children and children's children know God, build relationships with one another in Christ, and start their own Christian homes.
Not every congregation has these opportunities, not every church can devote all its efforts to growth - we need to recognize what we have here, and not let these opportunities go by.
What To Do
You know, when you stop to think of it, all of these physical, spiritual, and individual blessings can overwhelm us - we don't know what to do with them all! In order to really appreciate all we have fully, here are a few things we need to do:
1. Give thanks for all things
You can't really be satisfied with your blessings unless you give thanks. This is why many rich people or those with great talent or advantages often feel unfulfilled, unsatisfied - they are not grateful, they don't give thanks (they think there's no need).
Paul says that this is the sin that leads to all others:
For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations and their foolish heart was darkened.
- Romans 1:21
Giving thanks, having a grateful heart before God is what enables us to actually enjoy our blessings with a clear conscience and a peaceful heart. The nation "feels" thankful once a year on the holiday - as Christians we should give thanks and be grateful for everything, every day - and in doing so enjoy the spiritual blessings that come from having a thankful heart.
Another thing to do in order to fully appreciate our many blessings...
2. Take the time to enjoy your blessings
People are in such a hurry - they miss so many wonderful things in life. It's not a sin to take the time to savor, to enjoy, to taste the good things of God. It's ok to celebrate with food and laughter and fellowship.
Did Jesus not attend a wedding as well as a funeral? Do we think we're better Christians because we seldom laugh? Or rejoice? Or celebrate? Paul says that self-denial for its own sake may look like true religion but it has no power to make you better or more pleasing to God - Colossians 2:16-23.
Why do you think God gave the Jews many festivals throughout the year where they were to celebrate, feast, rejoice and be thankful? Life is hard enough all by itself. God wants us to be thankful and actually enjoy the things He has given us to enjoy.
Finally, in the face of so many blessings...
3. Take advantage of your blessings
A. Physical Blessings - as far as your physical blessings - build on them; grow; invest in yourself, your family, your church, your business, your community. Solomon says that you need to:
Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.
- Ecclesiastes 11:1
In other words launch out, step out in faith, step up and take responsibility - God will provide. Take advantage of these times of blessings, they don't go on indefinitely.
B. Spiritual Blessings - finally, as far as our spiritual blessings are concerned, let's remember to actually take advantage of the things God has given us in Jesus. The way to do that is to take a step forward in our own growth process. Take a step - the next step that you need to take to grow in Christ. You know what that is:
- Give up a bad habit, today.
- Be baptized, if you haven't.
- Be restored, without delay.
- Be reconciled, to your enemy.
- Start a new ministry.
Whatever the next step is, you know what it is and God knows it - take advantage of the blessings here and take the next step. If you want to show your gratitude for all your many blessings by taking a step forward - do it today. If you need prayers or to fill out a prayer request card, take one and fill it out as we stand and sing.