Counting Our Blessings; Praising Our God
September 16, 2018
At a certain point in his life, the great 1950s American composer and songwriter Mr. Irving Berlin could not sleep. His songs brought him fame - songs like “White Christmas,” “God Bless America,” and “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better).” But along with the fame came stress and insomnia.
Mr. Berlin complained to his doctor about his sleepless nights. And his doctor gave him some interesting advice. He told him to try counting his blessings. Mr. Berlin took the advice, and I guess it worked so well for him because he ended up writing a nice little song about it for Christmas. At just eleven lines long, it goes like this:
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
So if you’re worried and you can’t sleep
Count your blessings instead of sheep
And you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings
Mr. Irving’s work is called “Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep).” And if you want to have a listen to it, I highly recommend a 2005 rendition of it by jazz artist Diana Krall.
We are going through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and today we enter into the body of the letter. And the first thing that Paul does is remarkable. He counts our blessings. And he praises our God.
This is amazing for two reasons. The first reason is this: Paul did it in one breath. When we read verses 3 through 14 in English, we see two paragraphs and several sentences. But when we read verses 3 through 14 in the original Greek, we don’t see several sentences. We see just one. One majestic sentence of words upon words upon words of declaration that stretches from one end of eternity to the other. One majestic sentence bursting with gospel truth and joyful exaltation. At well over 200 words in length, this sentence is both figuratively and quite literally one of the most breathtaking sentences in all of Scripture.
But there is another reason why these words of Paul are amazing. The reason is this: Paul wrote this in suffering. Paul wrote this letter while he was in prison. He was bound in chains. He faced imminent death. And his whole life of service to the Lord was filled with suffering. Paul received lashings and beatings. He went through dangers and hardships and toils. He was often miserable in hunger and thirst and cold and exposure. And yes, according to 2 Corinthians 6:5 and 11:27, he too endured many a sleepless night.
In the eyes of the world, Paul was not a blessed man. In the eyes of people who walk by sight, Paul did not have a blessed life.
And yet, here in the beginning of the body of his letter to the Ephesians, in his opening words to the church of Christ, Paul did a wonderful thing. He counted his spiritual blessings. And he praised his Triune God.
Christian life is not easy. There are many trials and temptations. We worry and we get stressed. We face persecution. And above all, if Christ does not return in our lifetime, we die. You could say it like this. When we live, we cannot go to sleep when we want to. When we die, we have to go to sleep when we do not want to.
Brothers and sisters, in all the days when you cannot go to sleep, and in the day when you have to go to sleep, may you count all the spiritual blessings that you have in Christ. And may you praise God.
When you are sad or depressed because of how your life has turned out, count the fact that God the Father has blessed you. When you feel alone or uncertain in this world, count the fact that you are in Christ and united with him.
When you doubt your salvation, count the fact that you were predestined and chosen to be saved before the foundation of the world. When you are not sure where you stand before God, count the fact that you have been adopted into God’s family.
When you fall into guilt or despair over your sins, count the fact that you have been forgiven and that Jesus redeemed you and bought you with his blood. When you suppose that God’s love for your is lukewarm and in moderation, count the fact that in reality God’s grace is rich and lavish.
When you feel like your life has no meaning or when you weep because of persecution, count the fact that Jesus is the center of everything and that God the Father has planned to unite all things in him. When you are afraid that you are not going to make it, count the fact that you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of your inheritance until you acquire possession of it.
Brothers and sisters, on the days when you cannot sleep and on the day when you must sleep, count your blessings. But don’t count as the non-believing world counts. Instead, count how God has blessed you in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.
Brothers and sisters, on the days when you cannot sleep and on the day when you must sleep, praise your God. Speak well of his faithfulness. Boast about his excellencies. Give tribute to his majesty. Declare who he is and what he has done for you. Open your mouth. Sing to God. Pray to God. Talk to God. We have so many reasons to praise our God. Our lives should feel like Paul’s majestic 200-plus word sentence.
Brothers and sisters, let us not do the opposite. The opposite of counting our blessings and praising our God is counting our problems and complaining before our God. We are so good at this, but let us flip the script. Let us not be like the Israel of old, who shortly after being rescued by God’s mighty hand from slavery in Egypt, complained to God in the wilderness about the manna and wanted to go back to cucumbers and leeks and onions and garlic. It is foolish and absurd to count our problems and complain before our God after all that he is and all that he has done for us. It is a grand failure at looking at the big picture. It is like crashing a party that belongs to Jesus. We have election and adoption and redemption and forgiveness and the riches of God’s grace and the mystery of God’s will and union with Christ and inheritance and hope and truth and the promise and guarantee of the Holy Spirit! Are we really going to be mildly irritated at Starbucks or honk at the car that cuts us off or gossip about a church member or let our stresses at work negatively affect our marriages or be selfishly depressed or angry at God? What is wrong with us? Brothers and sisters, let us keep those sentences short. Or let us delete them and replace them with new kinds of sentences. Long sentences. Long sentences where we count our spiritual blessings in Christ and praise our God.
This is going to take some practice. But it will be worth it. Youth and college students, take note of your conversational life, and perhaps you can come out with better relationships and love for God. Young adults, take note of how you react to problems and sufferings, and perhaps you can come out with greater wisdom and love for God. Married couples, take note of how you really view your spouse, and perhaps you can come out with greater joy of salvation and love for God. Highland Church, take note of how we count our spiritual blessings in Christ and praise our God. We have a long way to go. But it will be worth it.
At the very end of the book of Genesis, at the very end of Joseph’s life, Joseph said to his family, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Joseph was about to die. He was going to be buried in Egypt. But Joseph counted his spiritual blessings in Christ. He actually did count sheep. And it was easy. All he had to do was count to one - one young sheep, one perfect lamb that would be slain. Joseph counted his spiritual blessings in Christ. And his heart was full of praise to God. So he made his children and grandchildren promise him that when it was time they would carry his bones from Egypt and bury him in the Promised Land. And Joseph died in faith.
Brothers and sisters, Lord willing, you will live a long life and you will have children and grandchildren. And Lord willing, if Jesus does not comes back in your lifetime, you will go to sleep face to face before you family. May you go to sleep counting your blessings. May your family see you go to sleep counting how God the Father has blessed you in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. May you die in faith, praising your God. That would be awesome. That would be to the praise of His glory.
May you go to sleep counting your blessings and praising your God until God takes your breath away. And know that when he takes your breath away, he will hold it for you until the Day of the Lord. On that day, God will resurrect you in his power and glory. And when Jesus Christ comes back, you will have your breath back. You will see Christ Jesus face to face. And you will open your mouth. And out of your mouth will come words upon words upon words - an eternal declaration of gospel truth and joyful exaltation that will have no end.