By Dennis Rainey
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy Name! Psalm 103:1
But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise.
Do you remember learning how to count? You know … 1, 2, 3 … Nope, I don’t recall, either. Well, this Thanksgiving I have an assignment for you and your family. You and your family need to count to five in a unique way …
I’ll explain in a bit, but first I want to share with you about a real-life encounter with God and an experience of Him I will never forget. In a bittersweet moment, God personally taught me a very important way to count.
Almost two years ago Barbara and I missed the “Love Like You Mean It” Marriage Cruise hosted by FamilyLife. For eight straight years we had helped host this Valentine’s week “Love Boat” and enjoyed a time of great ministry with 3,500 of our closest friends. But not that year …
Instead our assignment was overseeing (babysitting doesn’t seem to capture the concept) six grandsons, ages 4 to 18 … for eight days! Selah. (A Hebrew term for “pause and think on these things.”) All that so our daughter Ashley and husband Michael could get away for their ninth “Love Like You Mean It” cruise in a row.
It was a memorable week for Mimi and Papa, but those stories have to wait for another time.
As we drove the 90 miles back home after quite a week with the guys, I began thinking about what lay ahead … after 27+ years we were recording our final two weeks of the FamilyLife Today radio program. As I reflected on the mountains of memories that had piled up in the studio, I began to feel a bit melancholy and sad … hosting a daily radio program was about to be in the rearview mirror.
The rest of the ride was quiet.
As we headed home I decided to stop at the FamilyLife offices to get our mail.
Another spiritual milestone
I was totally unprepared for a profound encounter. I walked inside and down a hall lined with spiritual milestones that marked over four decades of God’s provisions and work through FamilyLife. I was not expecting God to show up and provide another spiritual milestone in my path as I made my way to the mailroom.
It was Sunday afternoon. The hallway’s silence was about to be pierced with a message.
I can only explain what happened by saying the Holy Spirit reminded me of a song.
All of a sudden … I started singing the chorus of a song I had not sung in over 50 years, “Count Your Blessings”:
Count your blessings, name them one by one:
Count your blessings, see what God hath done;
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your many blessings, see what God has done.
Bob Lepine, cohost of FamilyLife Today, would tell you, “Dennis is not fluent in musical lyrics, past or present.”
But Bob wasn’t there. So my solo continued as I gathered our mail and walked back down the hall, glancing at the wall, humming and singing (I could only remember the chorus) all the way back to the car where I shared with Barbara what happened.
Arriving home I immediately snagged a Baptist hymnal and went on a search to find the hymn and read all the stanzas. There it was … number 231, written in 1897 by Johnson Oatman, Jr., from the tune “Blessings,” by Edwin O. Excell, 1897.
I doubt Oatman and Excell had any idea their hymn would encourage a spiritual pilgrim over 120 years later.
“This is how I’m going to celebrate”
I began to get choked up as I read the first stanza … and as I write these words again, there’s a lump in my throat … perhaps these words are meaningful in your life and family today. Read them slowly and thoughtfully.
When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
As I read these words, remembering the tune from my childhood, it hit me … This is how I’m going to celebrate my last two weeks of hosting the broadcast.
So I did … I hummed, whistled and sang the chorus and the various stanza’s at least a hundred times over the next 14 days … I love the second stanza because it’s loaded with great theology on how to live when tough times come cascading down …
Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the Cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will be singing as the days go by.
Over those two weeks I was repeatedly asked by listeners, “Are you sad?” and, “Has it been hard?” I’d share the story of my encounter with God … and I’d sing a little of the hymn to them.
I mentioned the hymn doesn’t charge us with counting our losses or with “naming our disappointments one by one.” That’s the song the devil of hell wants you to sing over and over. No, this sacred hymn calls us out of the messiness of life and upward, to “count your blessings, name them one by one … and remember what God has done.”
Our real treasure
Over 27 years, 6,200 broadcasts and 40 million words (heard in dozens of countries) is a lot to count!
As we thought back over these broadcasts, the hymn’s third stanza reminded Barbara and me where our real treasure could be found…
When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings, money cannot buy
Your rewards in heaven, nor your home on high.
I’m now crying again at the privilege of sharing my love for the Savior with so many … only Almighty God knows who listened and benefitted.
I am reminded of one of my favorite stories from a radio listener—a woman in the military who daily drove home on a steep road with no guard rails and over a mountain pass while listening to the broadcast. On this particular day her ride home was to be her last. She had lost all hope for her life and marriage and planned to drive off the road and plummet into a canyon. Death was certain.
But as God would have it, that day our broadcast was on suicide, and after listening she decided she’d wait until tomorrow. The next day came and she listened to part two of the three-part series on suicide. She drove home and never took her life. Every day from then on she gained life from the living God we introduced … on her way home.
So many stories of lives transformed by Jesus Christ.
An unforgettable phone call
For 14 days I sang and I kept sharing the message of the hymn. On my last day of recording, another interruption came … a phone call I will never forget from a pair of friends.
Ken Tada called to ask me to go fly fishing with him. I told him I couldn’t make it that year, and then I asked if he’d pass along a message from Barbara to his wife, Joni Eareckson Tada. (Most know Joni, a committed Christ follower and I’m told the longest surviving quadriplegic in America. As a teenager she dove into water that was only four feet deep and severed her spinal cord, leaving her to live the next 50+ years in a wheelchair. Joni and Ken became friends with Barbara and me when they were guests on FamilyLife Today. Both are an incredible inspiration to millions.)
Back to the story … I had run into Joni at Billy Graham’s memorial service earlier where Joni said to me, “Please tell Barbara that I admire her so … she is the most persevering person I know!” Coming from anyone that would be an incredible compliment, but coming from Joni … well to say the least it encouraged Barbara in a profound way and in 2018 was one of the top five things for which Barbara was thankful. I asked Ken to pass that message on to Joni.
Ken said, “Hold it! Joni is right here…we are celebrating her 35th and final radiation treatment for her cancer. This will be timely for Joni to hear.” So, he put Joni on speaker phone and Barbara jumped on the call and shared how Joni’s words had been used in a particularly difficult time in our lives. Then together we celebrated and gave thanks for Joni’s final radiation treatment that day.
What happened next is so typical of Joni … she asked about me, saying, “What is it like to be ending as host of the radio show?” I shared with her the story of how God had intercepted me and gave me a song to sing. Now, you’d have to know Joni because she has an angelic voice and loves singing the great hymns … so I pulled out my hymnal and shared the first stanza of “Count Your Many Blessings.” Joni became very quiet, then said, “I must find that song and memorize it.”
I continued reading the second and third stanzas of the song. Then Ken said, “This is the reason I called you … not for the fishing trip, but for you to give Joni this song right now!”
And with that I told Joni, “The last stanza of the song is going to be very powerful to you because of all you’ve been through in your life … may I share it?” Of course, they both said.
As you, our friends, read this fourth stanza from a 120-year-old hymn, think how the words of this song sounded to this dear couple who have faced epic physical challenges, enduring and surviving cancer twice, and so much more. Read it carefully…
So, amid the conflict, whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.
Joni repeated, “I’m going to find this hymn and memorize every stanza. This is exactly what I needed at this moment.”
How about you? I have a sneaking suspicion God may ask us all to sing this song … you better get ready and practice now!
One of my action points has been to count my blessings and begin writing a few of them in my Psalter (note the picture at right). Perhaps the assignment below will give you a jump start on naming and collecting your blessings.
Still counting and singing,
Dennis and Barbara
P.S. You didn’t think I’d forget your Thanksgiving assignment did you?
It was created by Barbara for our family, and it’s one we have done for over 30 years straight. This tradition has created a collection of blessings, God’s work in each member of our family … a Rainey family heirloom. Barbara has shared this idea with millions over the years on our radio broadcast.
Before serving the Thanksgiving meal, give each person a 5 by 7 notecard and a pencil, and ask them to “Count Their Many Blessings in 2020” by writing on the card the five most important blessings (or things in each person’s life he is thankful to God for). It can be an answer to prayer, an important provision, a person, God’s favor, safety from COVID-19, etc.
Then after the meal is over, go around your dinner table and ask each person to share the first blessing in 2020 they wrote down. Then go around the circle four more times and give thanks to God for His many blessings … and don’t forget to count them!
Keep the cards as a record of God’s blessings in a very tough year … then do it again next year.
I’m still singing the hymn … hope you are too.
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