When I was a child, we used to sing the old chorus:
Count your blessings, name them one by one
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done
In 1954 Irving Berlin wrote a more modern version of the song for Bing Crosby, in which unfortunately God was left out:
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.
I think about a nursery and I picture curly heads
And one by one I count them as they slumber in their beds.
If you’re worried and you can’t sleep
Just count your blessings instead of sheep
And you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings.
But the fact is that every blessing comes from God. As Eugene Peterson puts it in his paraphrase of the opening two verses of Psalm 103:
O my soul, bless God. From head to toe, I’ll bless his holy name. O my soul, bless God, don’t forget a single blessing.
But after yet another of the Covid pandemic, some might well wonder what blessing have there been? For many people this last year has been marked by death, illness, loss, pain, restriction, and stress. Without wanting to minimise the suffering, I want this week to encourage you to play the ‘Pollyanna game’ and focus on the positives. Certainly this is what I sought to do in a recent letter to friends. As you look back over the past, do so through the lens of Psalm 103 with its call to “bless the Lord” and “not to forget all his benefits”. As we count our blessings, we will be surprised “what the Lord has done”.
Certainly as Caroline and I look back, we discover that God has blessed in many ways:
- The vaccinations. We have now had three each. What a difference they have made to our lives! Although we still have to wear masks when we go out, we are no longer prisoners in our homes.
- God’s creation. 200 yards from our home is an entrance to one of Chelmsford’s many parks which abound with flowers, shrubs and trees. In a way which was not true before the pandemic, we have really enjoyed walking in our local park.
- Zoom and Zoom equivalents. How we would have coped without Zoom? Even now my fellowship group and the Cathedral’s Breakfast with the Bible continue to meet by Zoom; while a Cambridge University society, to which we both belong, mixes face to face meeting with Zoom meetings.
- True, last Christmas was surreal when there were just two of us eating our Christmas dinner, and then for over three months we continued to eat without others. Yet we could speak to one another by phone – and see one another on Face Time. Both in lockdown and since we have been blessed by the love and support of our children and grandchildren.
- Friends near and far – often expressed by an email, but sometimes expressed by a phone call or an unexpected letter written with pen and ink.
- Recently Caroline enjoyed Spider Woman, Lady Hale’s autobiography, while Paul was taken with Cries for a Lost Homeland: Reflections on Jesus’ Sayings from the Cross by Guli Francis-Dehqani, the new Bishop of Chelmsford.
- Sunday worship. In lockdown we found on-line worship difficult, not least when celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Even now churches are open, singing through a mask is not the best of experiences. Yet, we are grateful to God for the encouragement and strength that corporate worship has given us.
If after reading this blog you still feel depressed, then let me encourage you then to read Psalm 103 as a whole. Hopefully that might help you count your spiritual blessings. In the words of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the Victorian prince of preachers:
As in the lofty Alps some peaks rise above all others, so among even the inspired psalms there are heights of song which overtop the rest. This 103rd psalms has ever seemed to us to be the Monte Rosa of the divine chain of mountains of praise, glowing with a rosier light than any of the rest. It is as the apple tree among the trees of the wood, and the golden fruit has a flavour such as no fruit ever bears unless ripened in the full sunshine of mercy.
Wow! We might not use such flowery language today, but it is a wonderful psalm – and could be just the tonic you need!