As a child growing up in the rural church, I remember singing the old hymn “Count Your Blessings,” written by Johnson Oatman Jr. in 1897. The words of the song urged us to “Count your blessings, name them one by one; And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”
At the Mt. View Baptist Church, we sang that song all throughout the year, and not just at Thanksgiving. Inadvertently, this taught me that giving thanks is an ongoing daily discipline, not limited to a holiday season. In fact, I Thessalonians 5:18 encourages us to “Give thanks in all circumstances.” Thanksgiving is a time of the year set aside for us to re-charge our gratitude by literally counting our blessings, a time to take an inventory of our resources, relationships, and opportunities.
I have discovered that thankfulness is not necessarily a default disposition, but a perspective on life that must be cultivated. In my college days, Grady Nutt encouraged us to develop “an attitude of gratitude.” William Faulkner describes such gratitude as “a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.” So this week, in a deeper sort of way, as a spiritual exercise, I will count and name my blessings.
The practice of counting our blessings has many benefits. First, counting our blessings enables us to treasure our blessings. Sometimes we take blessings for granted and we overlook them. Taking a personal inventory of your blessings brings your blessings into your conscious awareness, sort of like discovering a forgotten garment hidden in the closet, and returning it to the active rotation of your wardrobe.
Second, counting our blessings reminds us to use our blessings wisely. Our blessings are our real earthly treasures, and we are called to be good stewards or managers of these assets, carefully investing them in ways that help us to fulfill our God-given mission.
Third, counting our blessings encourages us to share our blessings generously. Most blessings were not intended to flow into our lives, but to flow through our lives into the lives of others. We are not human reservoirs created to preserve our blessings; we are designed to be human conduits, channels through which God’s blessings flow into the lives of others, especially those in need.
This year, take an inventory of your blessings, and let that census inspire you toward sensible stewardship, cheerful generosity, and faithful living.
May our feasts and our festivities remind us of our blessings and encourage us to live our days serving, sharing, and growing. Let the counting begin! (Barry Howard serves as Senior Pastor at the First Baptist Church of Pensacola, Florida.)