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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Laying Aside Weights – Counting: Every Blessed Thing

 

This is part of series.

Hebrews 12:1-2  Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

None of us would probably ever think of counting blessings as a weight to be laid aside.  It just doesn’t sound right, does it?  And yet, I think that sometimes we can get so caught up with keeping track of everything that God has done for us that we can become overburdened with the sheer weight of it all.  Real life tells us that there can be “too much of a good thing”.

David the king wrote, Many, O LORD my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.  Psalms 40:5

Journaling and recording blessings has become a modern fad.  I don’t mean to imply that these things in and of themselves are bad, but some of the types of journaling and record keeping are either new age, mystical or trivial in nature. 

The book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp has probably been very instrumental in promoting the introspective, contemplative Christianity aspect of counting personal blessings in a sort of religious and “self-affirming” way (even though it claims to glorify God).  Thankfully, some very on-target reviewers on Amazon.com have dealt with the problems in this mystical Christian book and explained quite well what is wrong with it.  Some of the reviews here [see the review by ForeverHis] and here [see the reviews by Mtn. Girl of Colorado and Sunny Shell] and here [see review by Ruby Slippers] are very helpful and insightful. (Some of the other reviews may or may not be helpful.  Please use biblical discernment!)

Another useful item explaining some of the problems with the book One Thousand Gifts was in the Lighthouse Trails newsletter, which you can read here.

One of the main faults of the book, according to the various reviews I’ve read, is Ann Voskamp’s preoccupation with self-focus in her alleged relationship with Christ.  As the writers at Lighthouse Trails point out, appealing to the senses – what we see, feel, hear, etc. – is sensual and appeals to the flesh – the carnal man. 

Romans 8:6  For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

In trying to keep track of every little blessing we find or imagine God has given us, we can easily become totally preoccupied with ourselves and our flesh – our sensations and how we perceive God is blessing us.  In trying to see “God in everything” (Voskamp’s views appear to be panentheism) we can easily become fixated on the creation (things and concepts) rather than on the Creator and His Son, Jesus Christ.  In other words, heavy focus on “my blessings” can result in idolatry and selfishness.  This is, quite simply, sin.

But, in addition to that, this kind of self-compelled, imaginary necessity to be perpetually grateful can become a burden too heavy to bear – a weight that will keep us from running the race with patience.  Trying to enumerate every little blessing and write it down is an overwhelming task.  It is the sort of religious self-punishment or abasement that monastics lay upon themselves thinking that they will get God’s approval or an “intimate relationship” with Him by doing things rather than through simple faith in Jesus Christ.

1 Timothy 2:5  For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

Hebrews 11:6  But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

Not long ago a friend suggested to me that I should keep a journal of answered prayer so that I could go back over it later to be encouraged.  I thought at the time that it was a good idea and I got out a blank book  and laid it where I thought I would remember to use it.  After awhile I came to myself, so to speak, and realized that I was not going to do that, no matter how good it seemed.  Keeping a journal for myself has never worked, though I’ve tried several times over the years.  For me, writing is a gift, not to myself, but to others.  I keep a very skeletal record of the days’ activities in a date book, and I keep a Bible study journal part of the time; but to write out my thoughts or thanksgivings in a journal just does not appeal to me.  I know I won’t take the time to do it, so why make the commitment to myself?

I am not saying that it is necessarily wrong to keep a journal, or a prayer journal, or a blessings journal.  They can serve a useful purpose to some people.  But, I do so want to warn you that it can consume too much of your life!  It can become a burden that is simply not worth the trouble.  And, it is not commanded in scripture.  As the verse in Psalms clearly says, the thoughts of God toward us are more than can be numbered!

What would your husband or your father or your mother or even your children think, if every time they did the smallest thing for you, you ran and wrote it down in a book – and might I say, probably forgot to mention it directly to them?  Don’t you think they would rather have a heartfelt “Thank you” spoken directly to them?  Do you think OK – honestly, I wonder if Mrs. Voskamp really was dumping her own special OCD on an unsuspecting audience and encouraging “us” to join her in it in order to make it seem right and good for her to do it. Just a passing thought from a former sufferer of religious scrupulosity speaking here! :-)maybe they would rather have the time you spent writing down every little thing instead spent on them or communicating with them directly?  Maybe they would even get annoyed with your neurotic compulsion to record every detail of their kindness to you. 

Do you think it’s possible that the Lord also doesn’t really want you beating yourself into recording every little blessing, real or imagined, that you receive from Him?  Do you think that just maybe, He would rather have a simple and heartfelt “Thank you” said to Him directly, and then have you go on about His business?  I believe that it is not God’s will for us to burden ourselves with a “requirement” that causes us pointless stress or makes us self-focused.

The Apostle John ended his book with this amazing statement, And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.  John 21:25  If the acts Jesus did, presumably in the 3 years of his ministry, could not all be written down, how do we imagine that we are going to record every single thing He does for us on a day to day basis without becoming burned out in the process?

You see, this is the crux of the matter.  Whenever we invent something that is not commanded in scripture and lay it upon ourselves or others as a requirement of being “spiritual”, we are making a burden that can and will drive us away from Christ rather than to Him.  Something that might bring some joy and encouragement in moderation, when run to extremes can and will cause discouragement and weariness.

Galatians 6:8-10  For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.

Colossians 2:8-10  Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.  For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:

Man’s traditions do not lead to peace and completeness in Christ.  They lead to weariness and bondage.  And, that is what can easily happen when we compel ourselves to count every little blessing.

We have the freedom in Christ not to record every blessing.  We have the freedom to thank Him personally and then keep on moving, leaving the burden of recording and counting with Him – if He keeps records of such things. :-)  So, if you enjoy keeping a prayer journal, or an answered prayer journal, or just a journal – that is your choice and is fine.  But, it is completely possible to live a thankful life and acknowledge the blessings of God without writing down every single one!  What do you think the Christians did for hundreds of years when paper and ink were not common commodities and they couldn’t keep journals?  Quite simply, they forgot, or they remembered only the significant things.  I think we can safely say that those that walked with God thanked Him and moved on.  And, the Lord didn’t count that as sin!  How could He?  That’s the natural course of human life in this weak flesh.

Is it wrong to remember blessings?  No, but the thing can be overdone or done for wrong motives.  And we are told …to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.  Acts 20:35  When we are spending a lot of time remembering all the things we have received from God, we are likely to forget to give – which is a greater blessing!  Even worse, we are likely to forget the words of our Lord Jesus when we are focusing so much on ourselves.

What’s more, we read in Hebrews 13:15,  By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.  This means that God wants to HEAR our thanks to His name!  The sacrifice of praise is not writing in a journal or on a list, it is speaking with our lips!  This is something to really think on in the face of the writing trend.  And, by the way, when we speak His praise, others are going to sometimes hear it as well and receive a blessing – remember giving is more blessed that receiving.

If you are feeling overwhelmed with keeping a journal, a prayer journal, a blessing journal or list maybe it is time to lay it aside and instead focus on the Giver of the blessings Himself.  Maybe it is time to stop examining your own “attitude of gratitude” in every situation and just say “Thank you, Lord” out loud to God Himself whenever you are blessed.  Perhaps it is time to use your voice to make known His wondrous works rather than obsessing about writing down every blessed thing.

Psalms 26:6-7  I will wash mine hands in innocency: so will I compass thine altar, O LORD: That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all thy wondrous works.

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After thought – if you would like to keep a written record of some of your blessings without the burden of writing a journal, I might recommend a “Blessings Jar”.  You – and your family, and even friends – can write your blessings on slips of paper and place them in a jar.  At the end of the year – or really whenever you want to – you can read all the blessings and see the things the Lord has done and/or prayers He’s answered.  Maybe you could even add verses of scripture that are an especial blessing to you over the year.  But don’t forget to talk of His blessings too! :-)  Psalms 145:21  My mouth shall speak the praise of the LORD: and let all flesh bless his holy name for ever and ever.

3 comments:

  1. This was a really interesting perspective. I totally agree that counting our blessings shouldn't become a type of bondage or legality, or a matter of self-focus... However, the Psalmist saw fit record many many blessings and his thankfulness to the Lord in the Word, as did many other writers of the Scriptures. So I guess we must be careful to not make writing down our blessings sound like a negative thing. :)

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    1. Which was not my intention and I hope I made that clear. If someone wants to keep a record of blessings or a journal, that is fine, but I'm afraid that there are people being influenced by New Age and monastic ideologies to think that it is something that proves one is "spiritual" or that it somehow makes us more holy or godly. The "One Thousand Gifts" book is one source of wrong thinking on this, and I have also heard Christian women tell others, "You should (or need) to keep a prayer journal;" as if it were a requirement of "the godly women." My main point is that we are not obligated to do so because it is not a specific biblical command. It is also something to remember that the Psalmists wrote their praises at a time when writing materials were not available to all believers.

      I started to recommend the blessing jar idea at the end of this post, and perhaps I should because I see it as a less stressful way to keep a record. But, I wasn't sure if it might seem like a contradiction to some ladies who may really be in bondage to this fad.

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    2. Very true that it's not and should never be an obligation. :) And these things that are fads can really get out of hand, can't they. We personally have a blessings jar, which we just add a note to whenever we think of it - it's not a ritual or obligation... We use it because in general we live in a VERY ungrateful culture and world, and we feel it's important to emphasise the importance of thankfulness (keeping in mind that one of the sins that caused God to destroy Sodom & Gomorrah was the sin of unthankfulness). We also have a blessings jar so when we're feeling downheartened or like things are going wrong too much etc, we can open the jar and be reminded of all the many blessings. And some of the blessings written on notes in our jar are not the slightest bit self-focused - like being thankful for the Word of God, being thankful for Bible study times, etc. :) It does my heart good to notice that the children are more thankful as a result of the reminders we see in our blessings jar. :)

      Thanks for the post, Mary - it's a reminder not to be self-focused in our thankfulness, and a reminder not to let this become a type of bondage rather than a blessing. x

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