Counting Your Blessings
The Lord said to Moses: Consecrate to me all the firstborn; whatever is the first to open the womb among the Israelites, of human beings and animals, is mine.
The Festival of Unleavened Bread1
Moses said to the people, “Remember this day on which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, because the Lord brought you out from there by strength of hand; no leavened bread shall be eaten. Today, in the month of Abib, you are going out. When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which he swore to your ancestors to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall keep this observance in this month. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a festival to the Lord. Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen in your possession, and no leaven shall be seen among you in all your territory. You shall tell your child on that day, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ It shall serve for you as a sign on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead, so that the teaching of the Lord may be on your lips; for with a strong hand the Lord brought you out of Egypt. You shall keep this ordinance at its proper time from year to year.
Jesus Curses the Fig Tree2
In the morning, when he returned to the city, he was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. When the disciples saw it, they were amazed, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” Jesus answered them, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done. Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.”
As a young boy, I was taught by several adults that we should take time to remember the good things in our life and be thankful for them. We typically did this around Thanksgiving and Christmas, in keeping with the sentiment of those holiday seasons. So essentially, I was thinking about things to be thankful for once or twice a year. As I began to grow in my faith, I began to do this more and more often, until, one year in my early 20’s I found myself actually telling God, “thank you”, in prayer, on a daily basis. It had moved from being a reinforced idea outside of me to a personal habit I owned.
As a pastor, I began encouraging others to share what they were thankful for, and often experienced the typical expressions of gratitude for good weather, safe travels, and time spent with friends or family. It was good practice in my faith communities and I felt like I was faithfully passing on the gratitude habit that had been taught to me. However, I had a sense that I there was more I should be growing in myself and passing on.
Somewhere around 2010 I began changing my question from “What am I thankful for?” to “Where have I seen God at work?”. It was a subtle change… seemingly insignificant at first. Yet asking it on a regular basis made two important changes in my life and ministry.
- Focusing on noting instances of God at work as opposed to things or experiences I had, brought me to look for things that blessed me above and beyond my status quo. How did this help? Instead of prayers that thank God for what I have received, it encouraged me to thank God for the things He was doing in the lives of those around me as well, and to recognize that, while I may feel comfortably blessed, God still had work to do in my life as well.
It encouraged myself and others around to not only tell God “thank you” in prayer, but to share the testimony of His work around us with others. It helped us move from simply being grateful people to becoming grateful witnesses.
When God led the Hebrews out of Egypt, He did not simply tell them to be grateful, He gave them a very specific ritual to help them remember. I believe He did this because He knew our human tendency to forget those works of God in our lives, and after we forget, the unfaithfulness that follows. Remembering and sharing God’s faithfulness kills our doubt, the same way Jesus’s curse killed the unfruitful fig tree.
Where have you seen God at work in your life this week?