Count Your Blessings

Living in a retirement community, we frequently see neighbors with bruised heads and faces. So we pray for each other to be careful not to fall. Last Sunday evening, when walking my dog, I reached for a tissue while continuing to walk. I stumbled over something in the road and fell. It wasn’t a hard fall, but I hit my left eyebrow on the curb. The small scratch on my eyebrow gushed. My relatively new iPhone screen was cracked but it still worked to call our front desk staff for a ride back to my apartment. I am grateful for so many things: my phone working, our staffs’ care, having only a little scratch, the ER staff’s, and my friend’s help to get to the ER. She also kept my anxious dog with her and her dog (his best friend). I’m even thankful for ice to reduce the swelling. It’s been an excellent opportunity to give God the praise he deserves. As Christians, we are able to use minor and more significant trials to recognize God’s grace and witness for Him. Because we have the indwelling Holy Spirit, we don’t grieve over our troubles but seek to see the hand of God and our blessedness, to walk with him, and witness for Christ. Jesus alone can give us his peace when our circumstances or worlds are shaken. God graciously gives his witness to the unbelieving world by his patience and satisfying people with food and (some) happiness.

Life Doesn’t Just “Happen.”

In Acts 13, we find Paul and Barnabas on the island of Cyprus witnessing. But they were forced to leave Antioch, so they went to Iconium to continue their ministry. In Iconium, many Jews and Greeks believed, but there was much opposition. “But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles. When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country, and there they continued to preach the gospel.” (Acts 14:4-7) Lystra was populated mainly by Gentiles and had no synagogue. After the healing of a lame man, the people started to worship Paul and Barnabas. But the Holy Spirit gave Paul knowledge of what was happening in the invisible, spiritual realm. They realized the gravity of the situation when the local priest began to offer a deific sacrifice to them. “But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of [the sacrifice], they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, ‘Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.’” (Acts 14:13-17) “Since the Lystrans were polytheists, it was necessary to begin with the basic message that God is the Creator of all that exists…Paul tells these Gentiles who had no knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures that their regular harvests, the food they eat every day, and the gladness they experience in the ordinary activities of life are all a witness from God of his existence, wisdom, and goodness. They should not think that these things’ just happen’ or that they are the work of some local deities, for they are from the one true God ‘who made the heaven and the earth.’” (1) God has always been gracious and gives witness to the unbelieving world through his patience and by satisfying people with food and happiness. We, who are in Christ, walk in God’s ways, with his witness in us, utterly blessed in our hearts, to witness for Christ. Sometimes we begin with the blessing of God’s common grace.

God’s Blessed Common Grace For All People

“Scripture explicitly declares [God’s] divine government to be universal. It is really the execution of His eternal purpose, embracing all HIs works from the beginning, all that was or is or ever shall be. But while it is general, it also descends to particulars. The most significant things, that which is seemingly accidental, [and] the good deeds of men, as well as their evil deeds. To common grace men further owes all the natural blessings which he receives in the present life…[The] benevolent interest of God is revealed in His care for the creature’s welfare, and is suited to the nature and the circumstances of the creature. It naturally varies in degree according to the capacity of the objects to receive it. And while it is not restricted to believers, they only manifest a proper appreciation of its blessings, desire to use them in the service of their God, and thus enjoy them in a richer and fuller measure.” (2) Maybe one of God’s providential provisions for my witness was years teaching this hymn to children and teachers: “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…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 be 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, name them one by one; count your blessings, see what God hath done.” (“Count Your Blessings,” Johnson Oatman, 1897) 

God’s Witness of Himself

“The apostle [in Acts 14], to engage us to worship God, sets before us his beneficence, that we may have good thoughts of him in every thing wherein we have to do with him—may love him and delight in him, as one that does good, does good to us, does good to all, in giving rain from heaven and fruitful seasons…It is he that fills our hearts with food and gladness…Even those nations that had lost the knowledge of him, and worshipped other gods, yet he filled their houses, filled their mouths, filled their bellies with good things. The Gentiles that lived without God in the world, yet lived upon God, which Christ urges as a reason why we should do good to those that hate us, Matthew 5:44; Matthew 5:45. Those heathen had their hearts filled with food; this was their felicity and satisfaction, they desired no more; but these things will not fill the soul, nor will those that know how to value their own souls be satisfied with them; but the apostles put themselves in as sharers in the divine beneficence.” (3) “Sublimity is not just for the ear, it is also for the eye…Even the pagan who rejects Christ can enjoy the sublimity of the poets and musicians and artists. But they can never worship God as He desires to be worshiped. The sublimity of a great painting can lift me only so far. God’s Word can lift me beyond that kind of sublimity into the very presence of God.” (4) I believe that I should and can use every query about my shiner to witness for God. Our theology should lead us to walk in God’s ways, with his witness in us, utterly blessed in our hearts, to witness for Christ. Shona Murray writes, “[Some] practical problems result from the failure to apply theology to our lives…Throughout medical school, I was constantly taught the theory of evolution. Not once, though, did I entertain it as a valid theory. Not once did I doubt that God had created the world. However, looking back, I can see that I did not fully apply that doctrine to my life. There was a block between what I believed in my head and what I did in some parts of my life.” (5) so let’s “Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise! Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you. All the earth worships you and sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name.'” (Psalms 66:1-4)

Related Scripture: Job 38:28-29; Psalms 36:6; 104:21; 145:9, 15, 16; 146:5-7; Jeremiah 31:25; Matthew 6:26; Luke 6:35-36.

Notes:

  1. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Acts 13-14, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  2. Berkoff, L., Systematic Theology, p. 176, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, Reprinted 1993.
  3. Henry, Matthew “Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible,” Acts 14:18, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/acts-14.html
  4. Tozer, A. W., “My Daily Pursuit Devotions for Every Day,” Psalm 96:1-2, Feb. 5, Bethany House Publishers, 2013.
  5. Murray, Shona and David, ReFRESH, p. 38, Crossway, 2017.

February 10, 2022

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