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Count Each Other’s Blessings?

Threesome

Is it ever right to count other’s blessings?

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 has done.
Johnson Oatman, 1897
could barely hold back. Airing, venting, bemoaning her stay-at-home mom status- short nights, short showers, short of funds, cluttered closets, laundry without end, amen. 

Blessings flooded my mind. I was counting blessings, all right. Her blessings. Like her hard-working husband and retired parents the next block over. And her four kids and the chance to stay at home with them. Blessings she didn’t seem to see. But I didn’t mention these.

Should I have? Should we ever count each other’s blessings? Before you answer, let me explain.

Don’t sing songs to heavy hearts.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your moths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29

I absolutely don’t mean this: I don’t mean telling a friend who just lost her Mom, at least you’ve got your sister. Or “reminding” a friend who recently miscarried again, at least you’ve still got Emma and Ben.  I don’t mean saying at least your house is paid for, to a friend who lost his job yesterday.

That is not what I mean. That is pouring vinegar on soda, stealing a coat on a cold day. That is singing songs to a heavy heart (Proverbs 25:20). Counting blessings over fresh wounds is mean. That’s not what I’m asking.

Sometimes words won’t come. And that’s a good thing. Then is time to weep with those who weep, to live in harmony. 

Count each other’s blessings?

But is there ever a time when it’s okay to look a friend in the face and tell her how good to her God’s been-to her? Is it ever good to remind disgruntled friends how kind God’s been to them?

Winston Churchill said, Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. 

Call it courage, or wisdom from on high, to know when hold ’em and when to play those blessings down. To know the word that will sustain the weary, or if the weary are blind.

The song says, Count your blessings. We get that. We’re called to rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances. This is God’s revealed will for us. That we know for sure.

But what about counting for others?

Prime the thankful pump.

May the word of God dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom…with thankfulness to God. Colossians 3:16

I do mean to ask this: Does she have to come to her senses alone and see that she’s the one complaining about having no shoes? Or can we prime the thankful pump?

 

We all can get blind to the familiar. Blind to blessings. Blind to both common and special grace. We can so easily take God’s goodness for granted. When is a friend- even incumbent on a friend- to remind us of our blessings?

The Apostle Paul thought so. He often helped the saints count the blessings they might not have seen.

Paul prayed the eyes of Ephesian hearts would be enlightened so they would know their great hope, and God’s power and the riches of his grace. He reminded Colossians how they were dead in trespasses and now made alive. He reminded the Romans they’d been set free from sin. Spiritual, sure. Blessings, indeed.

But Scripture does describe counting others’ physical blessings, too. As, when in the dark days of the judges, the former widow Ruth bore a son.

Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter in law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” (Ruth 4:14-16)

The women called out Ruth’s blessings.

It’s a do-unto-others sort of thing.

Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Hebrews 3:13

Counting each others’ blessings can be a subset of Hebrews 3:13. Matthew Henry wrote on that verse,

 

We should be doing all the good we can to one another while we are together, which will be but a short and uncertain time. If Christians do not exhort one another daily, they will be in danger of being hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. 

 

It’s a do-unto-others sort of thing. Because no one wants a hard heart.

 

But sin is deceptive. And since grumbling is a sin (1 Corinthians 10:10), and since many of us find it easier to count problems and worries, it might be incumbent on friends to help us count our blessings. Because sanctification is a community project.

 

But, yes, timingand intent-are everything. Don’t sing songs to a freshly wounded heart. But if the Spirit leads, and you have a heart to help, count your sister’s blessings. Restore gently, testing your own heart for envy and pride. Then start counting. It might surprise her what the Lord has done.

And much as we might not want to hear it, ungrateful grumbly hearts might turn to hardened, sinful hearts. I for one don’t want a heart like that.

So, friends, please don’t hold back on me. If you catch me in a grumbly rut, start singing.

I give you permission: Please Recount God’s blessings to me.

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. 
Psalm 9:1

 

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Game On, Grumble Monster!

A heart that is full of grace and goodness wi

thin will bear a great many strokes, and never make any noise, but if an empty heart is struck it will make a noise.

Context is everything.  New context infuses new life into the old, the familiar. Hanging an old rose acrylic on new wall in our new house was the painting’s revival. It’s part of the rational for dating one’s spouse, too. Spiffed up and conversing over bruschetta in the restaurant’s dim lights transforms my daily Jim into my date James.  Also a resurrection of sorts.

 So with a familiar text, reread in its unfamiliar context.

Here’s the familiar text:

No temptation has seized you except that which is common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape that you may be able to endure it. 

Now here’s the context to which Paul addressed his encouragement:   

9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.  11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.  12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.  13 No temptation has seized you, except which is common to man…

You may have known 1 Corinthians 10:13 by heart. But did you know the context?

Without the context it,  I had mostly attached “no temptation” to others’ temptation to sexual immorality or my own temptation to gluttony, or generically to theft or lying.  With context, I now see a much more pernicious and tempting temptation: the GRUMBLE MONSTER!  He is AKA: complaining, bellyaching, whining, fault-finding, murmuring or griping.  One and the same. To the Israelites wandering through the wilderness it was a crime punished with, well, um, destruction.

Yikes.

 Do everything without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…Philippians 2:14-15

In the walls of my secular workplace, I’m convinced that there is no other single attribute, or rather, lack thereof, that could distinguish me as a light-of-the-world, child-of-God.  The absence of complaining, not to mention the presence of thanks and praise, in the face of increased work demands, more rigorous performance reviews, and challenging co-workers shines.  Conversely, there is no more direct route to the underside of a basket than griping with the group.

As it is with a vessel that is full of liquor, if you strike it it will make no great noise, but if it is empty then it makes a great noise; so it is with the heart, a heart that is full of grace and goodness within will bear a great many strokes, and never make any noise, but if an empty heart is struck it will make a noise.  When  some men and women are complaining so much, and always whining, it is a sign that there is an emptiness in their hearts.  If their hearts were filled with grace, they would not make such a noise. * 

Are you a noisy, empty vessel? Does your “great noise” betray an empty heart?  Or when you feel wronged, when you are struck, do you make noise?  Do you bad talk your boss, squawk about your spouse, whine about your workplace demands (domestic or outside) demands?  We must be watchful, lest we disgrace our Father’s name.

Take heart: God promises a way out!

Tempted and tried, we can cling to God’s promised deliverance: no more than we can handle or a way out. In his 1658 treatise on “Temptation,” John Owen urges us to consider: 1)  The faithfulness of the Father, 2) the grace of the Son and 3) the power and efficacy of the Holy Ghost.  And all these are engaged for the preservation of such persons from the hour of temptation.  

God who is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made; including the promise to preserve us in the hour of temptation.  His very nature is faithfulness. The Father who remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself. 

Christ the Son whose whose grace is sufficient. Who himself has suffered when tempted, is able to help those who are being tempted.  It’s the marvelous grace that kept watch over our lips and transformed the grumpy thoughts into grateful thoughts.

Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts impacted my understanding of gratitude. Far from being encapsulated in an isolated thank you note, gratitude it is a discipline to be nurtured, cultivated.  It’s a way of seeing. Writing an actual list of a thousand gifts, was to her the nail driving out another nail.  It was her way to apply Erasmus’ wisdom to a discontented spirit. One habit is overcome by another habit.

It is painfully hard to resist complaining.  From puckered baby faces spitting out orange mush, to elders bewailing achy bones, complaining is endemic to our kind. But it needn’t destroy us!

With patient practice, and the efficacy of the Spirit’s power, thanksgiving kills grumbling.  The Spirit strengthens us with power in our inner being where Christ dwells by faith. Not a spirit of fear, but power, love and self-control.

God promised to his help when we’re tempted (old promise), including temptation to grumble (new context). Patiently pressing on, in faithfulness of the Father, the grace of the Son and the power of the Spirit assure victory in the face of temptation.

Game on!  Go on out and get that Grumble Monster!

*Rare Jewel Of Christian Contentment, Jeremiah Burroughs, p. 29