counting blessings, and what to do when there are too many

We sang, crowded in concentric circles around the basement with my mom pounding out the hymn on the piano. We sang the familiar song that has accompanied every Thanksgiving I can remember – even the Thanksgivings where I have been far from this little countryside gathering. It seems that counting blessings got into my bloodstream real early and has never left.

When we had little, we counted. When we had much, we counted. When we struggled, we counted. When we prevailed, we counted.

The blessings always seemed to outnumber our math, so we counted by song and we’re still counting.

I can’t put my finger on the emotion hanging in that long skinny room this past Thursday, but every year it seems to swell for the new little ones and the ones married in. The emotion is heavier than the scent of turkey and stuffing and Aunt Jane’s coconut pecan pie. The emotion of counting blessings is a heavy one.

I wonder if we count our blessings like someone counts a harvest… and we’re accountable for what happens after it’s been stored away.

Sometimes I find myself getting caught up in the counting, overwhelmed by what I’ve been given. I’m drawn into thanks and into joy as I reflect on these gifts – as I look on the storehouses of blessings that are bent to bursting. And as I get caught up, I get stuck.

I stop at counting and thanking.

This year, I’m feeling the Lord asking me to count my blessings so that I know exactly what I am giving back to Him. It is not enough to be thankful. It is not enough to get overwhelmed and weepy at the Lord’s provision. It is not enough.

Thanksgiving and joy are part of the journey into greater joy and greater thanksgiving as we count the blessings as they go out from our possession. In the same way that we count the blessings we’ve been given, we must also count the blessings as we give. Because we were never meant to hold fast to anything but Christ.

I have so many blessings to count, but having many blessings is never the problem. The problem is my hoarding what has been counted.

As I read through Kevin DeYoung‘s Hole in Our Holiness, I came to his reflection on this passage from Timothy 4 and specifically verse 15, “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.”

I thought of all the ways I make excuses for my slow progress on the holiness road and the excuses I allow others to make for me. I thought of the conversations in my head where I’ve said, “But you aren’t making hardly any money right now…” and “No one really expects you to give…” and “No one really knows your schedule, anyway…”

And I thought about how my beliefs about blessings sometimes stretch a great distance from my behavior with blessings.

Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

1 Timothy 4:11-16 ESV (emphasis mine)

Counting blessings is only the first of a two-part transfer. The second part is the way you transfer the blessings to others. This I must practice in a way that my progress is noticeable. I must make my behavior – my speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity – match my beliefs in a way that transfers blessings into the lives of others.

I’m not discounting the ways I have succeeded in blessing others – by God’s grace I hope it does happen. But, we have never arrived at a final destination on the holiness road, so we must keep journeying.

And when my pack gets full of blessings, I know I must transfer the joyful load so I may travel light.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

pensive doubting fearful heart

Have you ever met a dead man who knows you?

Well, John Newton and I haven’t exactly met. I guess I should be clear: we haven’t met at all. But he couldn’t have started out a hymn with a more appropriate assessment of my heart. Sometimes, I excuse my pensive, doubting, fearful heart condition by calling it humility or wisdom or an attempt at being “gentle as a dove.”

Maybe sometimes it is true that I am those things, but I know for certain I make more excuses than my heart deserves. As I am being transformed from one little degree of glory to the next, my heart sometimes stumbles over thought and doubt and fear. I get anxious and make human calculations, which nearly always add up to paralyzing human fear.

The combination of vulnerable words (pensive, doubting, fearful) is tricky because each serves a purpose in making us more like Christ. Our best thoughts and greatest questions and deepest fears are all satisfied in Him, but the result is the opposite of paralysis. The result is freedom.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

(2 Corinthians 3:17-18 ESV)

Today, my pensive, doubting, fearful heart is dancing from one degree of glory to the next, swaying to this song.

the weight of the bread | the need of a Pilot

The kitchen smells like dessert but the taste of communion bread still lingers in my mouth.

At the Desiring God conference last weekend, Kevin DeYoung encouraged us not to be timid with the bread when communion Sunday rolled around – to tear off a big chunk, just to feel the weight of it.

Unfortunately, my church passes a plate with pre-torn flatbread pieces so I had to imagine a weightier loaf. And I did imagine. Sitting up there in the balcony during the second service, I imagined the humanness of my Savior who walked on this earth. I imagined him lifting up the loaf of bread and motivating us to holiness as He declared it a symbol for His body.

As I imagined a weighty chunk of bread in my hand, I thought my Savior’s identity and how it shapes mine. DeYoung pointed out that, in Colossians 3, “God calls us chosen, holy, and beloved before He commands us to be eager about the process of becoming holy.”

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12-14 ESV)

God does not call us to become holy so that we will be chosen, holy, and beloved. No, we become holy – from one degree to the next – as we are motivated by the weight His grace towards us. We become holy as we dive deeper into the study of God and are stirred up to live in a new way. We become holy by the grace of God and with the power of God as we understand our helplessness without Him.

This song is a story of such helplessness that motivates me to holiness. It’s kind of like holding a weighty chunk of communion bread in my hand and then letting it dissolve on my tongue. His calling me chosen, holy, and beloved is just as real as that piece of bread dissolving in my still-becoming-holy mouth and as gracious as the Pilot who enters the storm to navigate the castaway safely to the shore.

I’m not becoming holy so that I can get to shore.
I am becoming holy because I love so dearly the One who pilots my helpless ship.

Jesus, Savior Pilot Me by The Bifrost Arts

Jesus, Savior, pilot me
Over life’s tempestuous sea;
Unknown waves before me roll,
Hiding rock and treacherous shoal.
Chart and compass come from Thee;
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.

Though the sea be smooth and bright,
Sparkling with the stars of night,
And my ship’s path be ablaze
With the light of halcyon days,
Still I know my need of Thee;
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.

As a mother stills her child,
Thou canst hush the ocean wild;
Boisterous waves obey Thy will,
When Thou sayest to them, “Be still!”
Wondrous Sovereign of the sea,
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.

When at last I near the shore,
And the fearful breakers roar
’Twixt me and the peaceful rest,
Then, while leaning on Thy breast,
May I hear Thee say to me,
“Fear not, I will pilot thee.”