The Mississippi Baptist Foundation  |  est. 1943  |  Psalm 24:1
 
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COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS

     Johnson Oatman, Jr. was born in April 1856 near Medford, NJ. His father, Johnson, Sr. was a prominent businessman who also was an excellent singer. As a young boy, Oatman Jr. enjoyed sitting by his father in church as his dad sang hymns of the Christian faith. In his twenties, young Oatman was ordained as a Methodist Episcopal minister and preached regularly to congregations large and small. He did not, however, inherit his father’s gift of singing. Nonetheless, at the age of 36 Oatman discovered a special God-given talent…he could write songs. Johnson became a prolific songwriter and for the next 5 decades he wrote 4 or 5 gospel songs per week. Initially, he didn’t want any money for his songs. At the insistence of his publisher, Oatman finally agreed to accept $1.00 per song.

    Oatman’s hymn entitled “No, Not One” offers encouragement through the lyrics “There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus, No, not one! No, not one!” and “There’s not an hour that he is not near us, No, not one! No, not one!” The words to another of Oatman’s popular hymns express the conviction that the difficulties of this world are not permanent for Christians. Oatman wrote “I’m pressing on the upward way, new heights I’m gaining every day; Still praying as I onward bound, Lord plant my feet on higher ground. Lord, lift me up and let me stand, by faith on heaven’s tableland; A higher plane than I have found, Lord plant my feet on higher ground.”

     The 3rd verse of “Higher Ground” captures the desire of all followers of Jesus with the words “I want to live above the world, though Satan’s darts at me are hurled; For faith has caught the joyful sound, the song of saints on higher ground.” When Satan hurls his darts at me, I often recall the psalmist’s plea to “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands.  Serve the LORD with gladness. Come before his presence with praise/joyful songs…Enter into his gates with thanksgiving and into his courts with praise. Be thankful unto him and bless his name” (100:1-2, 4), I hear the “joyful noise” as the song of saints who know that all of the challenges of this earth are faith-building experiences that enable us to press toward higher ground found well above the fray of disappointments, hurts, discouragements and heartaches offered up by the present world in which we live. Why? Because “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…” (and) “…if God is for us who can ever be against us?” (Romans 8:28 & 31).

     The first stanza to Oatman’s most popular song serves as a reminder…“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 you many blessings, see what God has done; Count your blessings, name them one by one; Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.”

     This past weekend marked the last of six wedding celebrations for my three children within the last twenty-one months. The number of weddings came courtesy of COVID-19. The pandemic altered our plans and calendars several times so we simply had three “little weddings” with each COVID ceremony being followed at least a year later by “big wedding.” From the first “I Dos” that were shared in May 2020 until the last ceremony on the most recent Saturday (Feb. 2022), we not only planned, prepared, and prayed for everything related to having six ceremonies. During this same time period, members of my family and extended family also were involved in a number of other significant and challenging health-related experiences including 13 surgeries, multiple hospital stays, months of in-patient and out-patient rehabilitation, the death of my younger sister, other experiences of sorrow and nearly twenty cases of the coronavirus which affected those with the virus and those who were “in contact” with these ailing individuals.

     Perhaps like my family, you and your family may have had moments in recent months that you prefer to keep in the rearview mirror. And, while none of these experiences are trivial and inconsequential, I’m reminded of Paul’s admonishment to the church at Thessalonica to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in every situation for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 5:16-18). While heeding these inspired words written initially to first-century Christians can be difficult, Paul’s encouragement remains relevant to believers in 2022. Therefore, I will continue to count my blessings every day while recognizing that both the quantity and quality of the blessings that have been received from the Lord over the past 24 months tip the scale far away from any difficulties, disappointments, inconveniences, and interruptions that have been encountered.

     Looking ahead, my heartfelt prayer is that you will “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:15-17).

 

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for the blessings of life. Though I fail you daily, you continue to reach down and pick me up. You dust me off and wrap your loving arms around me as you forgive me. Then, you heap up more blessings upon me and for all of these many blessings I am thankful. Amen.

                                                                                                                                Daniel

 

P.S. As my wife and I were driving back to Mississippi from North Carolina on Sunday, we received a text from our daughter which included the words “Praise the Lord we’re finally done with all of these weddings!”