Count Your Many Blessings – Mar. 24, 2019

Daniel Defoe first published his novel ‘The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner’ on April 25, 1719. It is a beloved and often printed book, radio program, several movies and was made into a play.

Robinson Crusoe loves the sea. Against his parent’s wishes, he plans to travel to new worlds on the ocean. His first trip ends in a shipwreck and he is rescued. His second trip ends when his ship is over-taken by pirates, but he escapes. 

On his third voyage, Crusoe joins an expedition headed to Africa to bring back slaves. After a storm runs the ship aground, he is left stranded alone on a desert island. After he composes himself, he makes several trips out to the damaged ship for supplies before it breaks apart and sinks in the rough tide.

One of the things he collects from the Ship is a Bible. After he reads it, he decides to take account of his situation. He believes God is angry with him and he feels more cursed than blessed. So, he decided to make a list of everything he has and everything he is lacking.

He writes, “I have a knife, a tobacco pipe and a little tobacco in a box.” He later adds, “I have a little food, a dog and two cats, some tools, a gun, ammunition and a Bible. On the island I have fresh water and fruit. And there are animals here for me to hunt.”

On the back of the paper he writes, “I have only a few extra clothes but I do not need them because it is warm. I have no home but I can create a shelter. I have some money but it is useless here. I am alone but I have companionship. I am in despair but I have hope. I have very little but I have enough to get by. Before long he begins to recognize, for every negative, there is also a positive, in fact, there are more positives than negatives.

Then, after taking the inventory, Crusoe realizes he really is blessed. By counting his blessings and curses, he comes to the place where he thanks God and plans to make the best out of a bad situation. Crusoe has found a way to look on the bright side and see possibility.

And even though he is stranded on the island for 28 years and 19 months, he finds companionship with a man he calls ‘Friday’ and is eventually rescued. What he learns is that God is good. And, that if we are not careful, we might miss his blessings in disguise!

So, what does it mean to be blessed? The internet describes being blessed as; having good luck, financial prosperity, good health or receiving special rewards. People often say they are blessed when, everything is going well and they are free from troubles or worry. But, is that what it means to be blessed?

You might recall, when the angel appeared before Mary, the future mother of Jesus, he said, “You are highly favored Mary, you are blessed. The Lord is with you.” In her case, that certainly did not mean a problem-free life. Her blessings often felt like curses.

And on the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and the persecuted.” What kind of blessings are those?

Most of us like to believe in the narrowest of the Old Testament blessings. We like to read and believe in the Prayer of Jabez – if we just say and do the right things we will prosper in a worldly way. That is, in fact, one definition of a blessing.

To be honest, to bless or to be blessed has many different definitions in the Bible. In the Greek, when we give God praise, honor and blessings, the word is translated ‘to bend the knees’, worship or adore him. So to bless is an act of giving honor to God or another.

In Judaism, giving the blessing is expected before and after the meal, no food should ever be eaten until it is blessed by thanking God.

In the Hebrew translation being blest means we are to be happy or content in all situations. In this version, blessings and curses are closely related. Laura Story describes this well in her song, “Blessings”, listen to the lyrics,

“We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea,
And long that we’d have faith to believe

‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights – are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life – are Your mercies in disguise”

Finally, in another but not the last definition of a blessing, also in the Greek and Hebrew, the word blessed is translated ‘eulogy’ which means to speak well of another.    It is what we do at funerals but hopefully, also during life, which is more important.

To bless someone is to recognize their value and worth. We see this most prominently in the life of Isaac and his sons, Jacob and Esau. At a certain age, boys went to their father to receive his blessing.

As you might recall, Esau was the first born and Jacob disguised himself and went to his blind father to steal his brother’s blessing. Afterwards, Esau approached his father, only to find Jacob had already received his blessing.

Frustrated, Esau cried out, “Bless me — me too, father. Jacob took my birthright and my blessing. Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me? Do you have only one blessing?” Esau wept aloud, “Bless me too, father!”

Untimely, for Jacob, the stolen blessing was more like an anchor around his waist than a blessing on his forehead. Truth be told, there is often a struggle in the blessings we receive. Yet a blessing is always meant to be a sign of hope.

James 1:17 reads, “Every good and perfect gift comes from above.”

Not surprisingly, many blessings carry a spiritual component – it is something not always seen at the moment the words are spoken. It has a far in the future or long-term road to fulfillment. 

In the Bible, God raised Esther up to become the Queen of Persia. But her blessing also allowed her to bless others, when her uncle told her, “You may have obtained royalty for such a time as this.” She was to help the Jews who were to be killed. (Esther 4:14)

Likewise, Joseph was sold by his brothers and taken into captivity to Egypt, only to later save his family during the great famine in the land. In Genesis 50:19-21 he said, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.”

Finally, in Genesis 12:2-3 Abram was blessed by God, when he said, “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you”. But God didn’t stop there, he said, “And so you then shall be a blessing and all of the people of the earth will be blessed through you.”

Most people look right by the blessings in life. We see the struggles but forget the longer term ways in which things ‘just work out well for us’. We ask, “Hey God, what have you done for me lately?” As if, we deserve to be blessed and to have an easy life. But God didn’t save us to spoil us, he has a greater plan.

Psalm 67:1-2 reads, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us—so that Your ways may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations.”

In other words, we are blessed to be a blessing to others. Like dominoes, one life affects the next. The problem is, if we do not recognize all the blessings we have been given, it is awful hard to pass them on. Why is it that so many people feel like they have been cheated and so few feel that they have been blessed? Maybe we just weren’t paying attention.

This story is called ‘A Dad’s Blessing’, listen…

A young man was getting ready to graduate from college. For many months, he had been admiring a beautiful sports car in a dealer’s showroom, and knowing his father could ‘well afford it’, he told him that was what he wanted. As graduation day approached, the young man awaited signs that his father had purchased the car. Finally, on the morning of his graduation, his father called him into his private study. His father told him how proud he was to have such a fine son, and told him how much he loved him.

Then the father handed his son a beautifully wrapped gift box. Curious, but somewhat disappointed, the young man opened the box and found a lovely, leather bound Bible, with the young man’s name stamped in gold. Furious, he raised his voice to his father and said, “With all your money, you only gave me a Bible?”

Then, he stormed out of the house, leaving the Bible in the package it came in, on his father’s desk. Many years passed and the young man was very successful in business. He had a beautiful home and a wonderful family. His heart began to soften and knowing his father was getting older, he thought he should go visit him. He had not seen him since his graduation day.

But before he could make the trip, he received a phone call telling him his father had passed away. Then he was told he would need to come back home and help with the final arrangements, since his father left everything to him.

When he arrived at his father’s house, a sudden sadness and regret filled his heart. He began searching through his father’s important papers. That is when he saw the Bible, still in the box, just as he had left it years ago. With tears in his eyes, he carefully picked up the Bible and began turning the pages. And as he did, a key dropped from the back of the Bible. It had a tag with the dealer’s name, the same dealer who displayed the sports car he desired. On the tag was the date of his graduation and it was marked with the words, PAID IN FULL. All those years passed, and he had missed the intended blessing.

The truth is, we were put on this earth by God, as part of a bigger plan. To be loved and to love; to be honored and to honor others; and to be blessed and to pass on that blessing to others.

The hymn “Count Your Blessings” was written by Johnson Oatman, Jr. was a Methodist Episcopal Lay Preacher and a businessman who worked for an insurance company in New Jersey. Oatman realized that all too often, in America, we take for granted all of the God given blessings and comforts we enjoy.

He wrote, “We revert into an attitude of self-satisfaction, expecting that peace and bliss will always follow us. During those times we should, with sincerity of heart, stop and count our blessings!” He wrote over 5,000 hymns but “Count your Blessings” is the one he is most remembered for.

After reflection on that song, Rev. Woodrow Kroll wrote, “Concentrate on counting your blessings and you’ll have little time to count anything else.”

Deuteronomy 28:1-6 reads, “If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God: you will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.”

You Will Be blessed and You Will Be a blessing to others.

So, what are your gifts and blessings and how do you share them? The truth is, we first know our gifts and blessings when others tell us what they see in us. So, tell someone where you see Jesus working in their lives – point out their gifts and let them know where there are blest.

Then, let us all use our gifts to be a blessing to others,…that is your assignment this week.

Amen.