Summary: There’s a secret to being contented and thankful. Do you know what it is?
(During the Song Service, we sang “Blessed Assurance,” “Tell Me The Story,” and “Near the Cross” = and I prefaced their singing by noting that they were all written by Fanny Crosby)
OPEN: In Budapest, a Jewish man went to his rabbi and complained, "Life is unbearable for my family & I. There are nine of us living in one room. What can I do?"
The rabbi thought about it for a moment and answered, "Take your goat into the room with you."
The man was incredulous, but the rabbi insisted: "Do as I say and come back in a week."
A week later the man came back looking even more distraught than before. "We cannot stand it," he told the rabbi. "The goat is filthy."
The rabbi then told him, "Go home and let the goat out. Come back in a week."
A week later, the man returned all excited and he exclaimed, "Life is beautiful. We enjoy every minute of our lives now. There’s no goat – just the nine of us."
APPLY: When people consider how to be content in this life, there are times they think like that. They think: It could be worse. Like the poem I once read:
From the day of your birth
‘Til you ride in a hearse
There is nothing that’s happened
That couldn’t be worse.
Now there’s some value in considering that no matter what you face – it could get worse. And, if that helps you to learn to appreciate what you have, that’s great. Appreciation for what you have is one of the keys to experiencing the peace of God.
Paul writes in Philippians 4:8-9 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable— if anything is excellent or praiseworthy— think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me— put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
SO - there is great value in focusing on your blessings. But I was a little surprised this week (as I was studying for this sermon) to discover that this mental exercise (of recalling and counting my blessings) was not the primary cause of Paul’s contentedness.
I. And, indeed, it would have been difficult for a man like Paul to be content just because he counted his blessings.
Later in that same book, when talking about imposters who were trying to discredit his ministry, he wrote:
“Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.
Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,
I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.
I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” 11:23-28
Now, I really like the song “Count Your Many Blessings.” It’s beautiful and inspiring and teaches us exactly what we should do as Christians to attain God’s joy… but I have a suspicion that, if I was experiencing things like Paul wrote about – things like:
* being beaten up
* being whipped by people who hated me
* having stones thrown at me
* And being thrown into a prison cell awaiting an unknown fate...
I have a suspicion that that song (or any other song) would not bring me a great deal of comfort. I wouldn’t feel much like singing. And yet, that’s exactly what Paul did one time: We’re told that while he was preaching in the city of Philippi - Paul, and his friend Silas were
* falsely arrested,
* fastened in stocks
* and left to rot into the a dismal dungeon cell
Acts 16:25 tells us that about midnight while they were prisoners: “Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.”
Now, THAT kind of response (to THAT kind of situation) defies the imagination. It literally makes no sense. I can’t even begin to imagine how Paul & Silas could have been singing and rejoicing in the midst of that kind of hardship and injustice. AND YET, that’s precisely what they did… and more significantly, that’s what Paul wrote to the Philippian Christians telling them they should do: