The word “temptation” often means a solicitation to sin (as in James 1:13 where God cannot be tempted to evil), but this verse can also be speaking about enduring a particular trial or time of adversity. God brings difficulties and sometimes tragedies into our lives to refine us. His goal is not to destroy us, but for us to grow in Christlikeness through the difficulty. It is a comfort that although my personal suffering seems, at the moment, to be unique to me, it is in fact common to endure suffering as part of God’s plan of sanctification. I am drawn to many examples in Scripture where individuals faced problems similar to or much worse than I am facing to find instruction and encouragement.
Jeremiah Burroughs notes that our difficulties or afflictions are not unique when he poses this hypothetical objection: “You will say, ‘Yes, but you do not know what our afflictions are,’ yet I know what your mercies are and I know they are so great that I am sure there can be no afflictions into his world as great as the mercies you have. If it were only this mercy, that you have this day of grace and salvation continued to you it is a greater mercy than any affliction. Set any affliction beside this mercy and see which would weigh heaviest; this mercy is certainly greater than any affliction.
Burroughs points out two passages of Scripture to encourage us in our afflictions:
Job 2:8-9 “‘What?’ said Job, when his wife would have him curse God and die, which was a degree beyond murmuring. Why, he said, ‘Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh…shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil [calamity or adversity]?’ You see, Job helped himself against all murmuring thoughts against the ways of God with this consideration: that he had received so much good from the Lord. What, though we receive evil, yet do we not receive good as well as evil? Let us set one against thither–that is the way we should go.
Ecclesiastes 7:14 “Here you may see what course is to be taken when the heart rises to murmuring: ‘In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him.’ When you are in prosperity, then indeed every man can be joyful, but what if afflictions befall you, what then? The consider—consider what? That ‘God hath set the one over against the other.’ You have a great deal of afflictions, and you have had a great deal of prosperity, you have many troubles, and you have had many mercies; make one column of mercies and one column of afflictions, and write one against the other and see if God has not filled one column as full as the other. You look altogether upon your afflictions, but look upon your mercies also.”
What better way to dispel a complaining and murmuring attitude than to count the many blessings that God showers on us each day. Sing, hum, or whistle this popular song and we will realize how blessed we are!
Count Your Blessings
by Johnson Oatman, Jr. *
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 hath done.
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 hath done.
Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, ev’ry doubt will fly,
And you will be singing as the days go by. [Refrain]
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 reward in heaven, nor your home on high. [Refrain]
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. [Refrain]
* Johnson Oatman, Jr. (1856-1922) was age forty-one in 1897 when he wrote what has been regarded as his most popular gospel song. Composer E.O. Excell, set “Count Your Blessings” to music. Of this popular gospel song evangelist Gypsy Smith once said, “Men sing it, boys whistle it, and women rock their babies to sleep to the tune.”
Another of his equally singable gospel songs, “Higher Ground,” begins with this stanza:
I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining ev’ry day;
Still praying as I onward bound,
“Lord plant my feet on higher ground.”
Oatman was never a great singer. He was never a great preacher insofar as pulpit messages were concerned. But he found his talent and made great contributions to the faith. For through his sermons in song he has preached to millions that he could never have reached from the pulpit. He wrote an average of two hundred gospel songs a year for more than a quarter of a century. His total output passed the 5,000 mark. And, when publishers insisted, for business reasons, that he set a price on his work, Oatman stipulated his terms: he would accept one dollar per song. His messages still reach multitudes through such gospel songs as “Count Your Blessings.”
Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646) in his book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment,
points out that the sin of discontent is further aggravated by the sin of murmuring against our circumstances (actually against God who is the author of our circumstances) especially when we have been blessed by Him with such abundant mercies. Murmuring aggravates, amplifies, compounds our sin of discontent.
“Because it is very hard to work upon a murmuring spirit, there are many aggravations which we must consider for the further setting out of the greatness of this sin.
“To murmur when we enjoy an abundance of mercy; the greater and the more abundant the mercy we enjoy, the greater and the viler is the sin of murmuring. For example, when God had newly delivered the [Israelites] out of the house of bondage, for them to murmur because they lacked some few things they desired, Oh, the sin against God after such a great mercy, is a great aggravation, and the most abominable thing (Exodus 15:22-24ff).
“Has God given to you the contentment of your hearts? Take heed of being the cause of any grief to your brethren. Do not think that because God has been gracious to you, that therefore he has given you liberty to bring your brethren into bondage by your murmuring. Nothing is more grievous to the heart of God than the abuse of mercy, as, for example, if any way that is hard and rigid should be taken towards our brethren, and those especially whom God has made such special instruments of good to us; if now, when we have our turns served, we let God and his people and servants who helped to save us shift for themselves as well as they can. This is great aggravation of our sin, to sin against the mercies of God.
“For men and women to be discontented in the midst of mercies, in enjoyment of an abundance of mercies, aggravates the sin of discontent and murmuring. To be discontented when we are in the midst of God’s mercies, when we are not able to count the mercies of God, still to be discontented because we have not got all we would have, this is greater evil.”