Count Your Blessings

Carve YourBlessingsWords: Johnson Oatman Jr., 1897
Music: Edwin O. Excell, 1897

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings—money cannot buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

“Count your blessings.” It’s an expression most of us know well. It was made famous by a great old hymn that you may or may not know depending on your age. Hymns are rare nowadays. This inspiring hymn of thankfulness to God makes for a wonderful meditation for your private devotions or to share in a time of quiet prayer and reflection with a small group, as I did last night.

This is a song about perspective. It doesn’t call for us to be Pollyannas, or even optimists; it simply reminds us not to dismiss the good aspects of our lives that we so easily take for granted. Every day God blesses us all with many things: “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”(Matthew 5:45) How sad that so many do not see this, and that so many even of His followers neglect to notice it!

Sometimes a little deprivation is required to make us realize what we have. This past week was my week for counting blessings; after nearly a quarter of a year waiting on the Lord for answered prayer, the Lord came through for us in a way that only God can do. In His time, he makes all things beautiful and I posed a moment to reflect and counted my blessings.

My children have often heard the saying, “If you have a roof over your head, clothes on your back, and food on the table, be grateful. Many people do not.” Many of us in these thriving economies really have far more than this; we have so much roof over our heads we don’t know how to pay for it all, so many clothes we don’t have enough closet space, and so much food on the table we have an obesity problem. We run all the more risk of taking it for granted; we also run more risk of failing to realize how many around the world are in need of just the basics of life. But what does counting your blessings do in the face of “life’s billows,” when we are “thinking all is lost?”

The Story Behind Count Your Blessings

Johnson Oatman, Jr. grew up in New Jersey in the middle of the 19th Century singing hymns with his father. His life is a testimony to the legacy left by a loving Father who sings praise to God with his children! Johnson grew up to become a bi-vocational Methodist minister and he wrote over 5,000 hymns, including Count Your Blessings in 1897. Count Your Blessings is considered his finest hymn and for over one century it has been one of our most loved hymns. It’s a song of thankfulness to God that his sung by English speaking people around the world on Thanksgiving Day and all year long.

One writer said about Count Your Blessings, “It is like a beam of sunlight that has brightened up the dark places of the earth.” Early on it was especially popular in Great Britain, where it was said, “The men sing it, the boys whistle it, and the women rock their babies to sleep on this hymn.” During the revival in Wales it was one of the hymns sung at every service.

The Meaning Behind Count Your Blessings

The wonderful encouragement to “Count your blessings” is often misused. It does not mean to deny that you’re having  problems. It does not mean to ignore your troubling emotions. It does not mean, “Cheer up and act like everything is fine.” That doesn’t work! It certainly doesn’t lead to lasting joy and peace. The hymn is actually encouraging us to acknowledge openly that we are “tempest-tossed” or “burdened with a load of care” and bring our concerns to God in prayer.

When we go to God with our troubles we can begin to see that we do not need to be discouraged because “God is over all.” In other words, we bring ourselves and our circumstances to Christ in the Kingdom of the Heavens, which he said is right “at hand” (Matthew 4:17). In the spiritual reality of God’s Kingdom is “wealth untold,” a “reward in heaven” and a “home on high,” “Help and comfort” now and “to [our] journey’s end.”

To count our blessings is to appreciate, one-by-one, that we have “every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). And genuine thanks and praise to God goes with openly unburdening ourselves before the listening ears of the “Father of compassion” and “God of all comfort,” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

How has God blessed you? What has he done in your life? As the hymn teaches, don’t just look to God’s physical blessings, but also to his spiritual blessings, which are eternal and are in the heavenly realms for us to drawn on today and ever more so into eternity. As you “count your blessings” you’ll find that “it will surprise you what the Lord has done.” (Indeed, experiencing a sense of surprise is one of the distinguishing marks that God has spoken to your heart or acted in your life in a special way.)

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