Counting Your Blessings In Tough Times

I keep having a recurring dream about the Congressional hearings with the Big 3 Automakers. I know. I need a hobby. But I imagine that the CEO of General Motors is addressing the Congressional panel.

GM Dude: “So that is how much money we have to get right away.”
Congressman: (HUGE Sigh)
  “I’m not sure we can do that deal.”
  (Looks up and rubs chin)
  “Let me go talk to my General Manager and see if he will go for this.”
  (Gets up and leaves the CEO shifting awkwardly)

Wouldn’t that be a moment of healing for all of us who sat in the chair while a car salesman went to “talk” to some wizard behind the curtain? I suspect my little dream will not come true. But I have been having another dream that has a little better chance to happen. A dream that we would learn to trust God as we face difficult times.

This is a tough Christmas season for many Americans. The economy is struggling, jobs are hard to find and most investments are in the device that swirls water and flushes. It would be easy to feel anxious, frustrated and depressed. But for Christians that would be a really sad response to a great opportunity. That opportunity is a chance to trust God and show those around us what that looks like.

When Joni was diagnosed with breast cancer I remember saying this sentence to each of our three sons. “If our faith doesn’t work at moments like this then it is of little value.” Our faith in God did work throughout that life storm. And I learned that God’s faithfulness and loving kindness will trump whatever circumstance I find myself in. That is the abundant life. Knowing that I can trust God and be content in my circumstance. Paul wrote some really encouraging words in his letter to the church at Philippi.

I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. (Philippians 4, NLT)

I am grateful for how Paul addressed this topic. He did not say I am “always content with whatever I have” in his letter. Paul wrote that he had “learned” to be content. It was a process for Saint Paul just as it is a process for Saint Dave. I can’t say that I have learned. I can say that I am learning. By the way, I doubt you will ever see Saint Dave as a church name.

Sunday a group of folks from our church went to share Christmas with a refugee family that had been relocated from the turmoil in Myanmar (Burma). They came to this country with nothing other than the clothes on their backs. We adopted this family to provide Christmas gifts and basic needs. We went to bless but we were blessed instead by their joy and gratitude. This family with almost nothing seemed happier than many Americans who have so much but think they deserve more. It is easy to lose perspective that even in hard times most Americans are incredibly blessed.

One of my Christmas movie memories is White Christmas with Bing Crosby. There is a song that applies for all of us as we approach a Christmas that may feel a little different from previous ones. When the character played by Rosemary Clooney frets and has trouble sleeping she is serenaded by Bing Crosby with this song.

When I’m worried and I can’t sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings

When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep counting my blessings

That is really excellent advice and pretty good theology. Even in adversity I have so many blessings I can count. Perhaps the following story is a bit indelicate but it always makes me smile. Ronald Reagan had a favorite joke that he told so often that the joke itself became a joke with staff members. The joke was told about twin boys who were six years old. Worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities — one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist — their parents took them to a psychiatrist.

First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears. “What’s the matter?” the psychiatrist asked, baffled. “Don’t you want to play with any of the toys?” “Yes,” the little boy bawled, “but if I did I’d only break them.”

Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his out look, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist. Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands. “What do you think you’re doing?” the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist. “With all this manure,” the little boy replied, beaming, “there must be a pony in here somewhere!”

“Reagan told the joke so often,” Meese said, chuckling, “that it got to be kind of a joke with the rest of us. Whenever something would go wrong, somebody on the staff would be sure to say, “There must be a pony in here somewhere.'”

Things may be a bit difficult this year but I am trusting God that there is a pony in there somewhere. You don’t get that kind of spiritual insight in John Piper’s articles! Paul finished his passage to the Philippians that I quoted above with another great insight. After he had learned to be content in whatever circumstance he wrapped up the lesson with these words.

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

Count your blessings. Receive God’s love today and ask Him to love others through you. Perhaps this Christmas will be one of the best ever if we can lean on those simple actions and we can really believe that we can do everything through Christ who gives us strength. Merry Christmas!