By Dwight Sandoz
The Bible gives clear instruction about developing a thankful heart. We find the words give and thanks used together 73 times in the Bible and 25 times in the New Testament. The repetition of this command gives clear instruction about the attitude believers should cultivate in their personal lives and walk with Christ. The Apostle Paul gave some final instructions in his benediction to the church in Thessalonica,
16 Rejoice always,
17 pray without ceasing,
18 in everything give thanks;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thess.5:16-18)
These three admonitions guide both actions and attitudes of the heart. Believers should make rejoicing a heart discipline. The world looks for bad news and finds reasons to be discouraged and downhearted, but believers look for reasons to rejoice. Every time life brings circumstances where rejoicing becomes a challenge, believers respond in fervent prayer. Pray, really pray, and make it a continuous part of life. Finally give thanks in everything because “this is the will of God.” Does that mean to give thanks during COVID-19, in record cold, unpleasant circumstances, or personal disappointment? The Bible repeatedly gives the command to give thanks in every situation.
I learned a song during my early years in church that reminds believers to look to the Lord with a thankful heart, “Count Your Blessings.” The singing often paused in the chorus with the phrase, “Count your many blessings, name them one by one.” It almost seemed that the pause gave time to reflect about the blessings God had given with ability to recall His goodness. Then the song picked up with the line with a joyful tempo, “Count your many blessings see what God has done.” Counting blessings helps the heart to become thankful and consider all the good that God has done. Johnson Oatman, Jr. (2016) wrote this and many hymns out of his trusted relationship with God. His father was a good singer, but Johnson did not share the musical gift of his father. “At the age of 36, he discovered he had a hidden talent and could write hymns. He wrote songs almost daily, with an average of 200 songs a year and over 5,000 hymns” (Matthews 2016). This Methodist minister gave a valuable instruction on keeping a thankful heart through the gift God gave him and the songs that he wrote.
God has provided multiple reasons for giving thanks for Nadine and me so far this year. The first was an uninvited guest who took up residence in our barn. A large gray striped cat showed up soon after Christmas. I enjoy animals, but cats find their place lower on the list of animals I enjoy. Dogs, horses, even cows have a higher ranking than cats, however we needed a cat. Our barn has a high level of attraction for unwanted guest of mice. The difficulty of controlling the mice that searched for a permanent residence in our barn persisted as a continued challenge. The hay, livestock, and dogfood seemed to have a magnetic pull on the mice, and they continued to appear. We utilized every known type of trap, rodent bait, and deterrent, reducing the population for a short time, but they quickly returned. The shock of mice scurrying across a horse stall or running up the wall by the feed bin proved too much for Nadine. She finally said, “I can’t go into the barn.”
We tried to rehome cats to the haymow of the barn, but the family dogs scared them off or they just left on their own accord. The other deterrents all failed, then came the unexpected gift from the Lord, of a gray striped cat that loves to be petted and has taken up residence in the loft. The neighbors didn’t claim her, and she appears to have claimed us or at least our barn. Our granddaughter, Priscilla and I named her Cat-rina because she was a cat and needed a girl’s name. The Lord sent Catrina to us and we are thankful. The cat food she eats costs little compared to the benefit of a barn free from mice. I have never seen her chase a mouse or carry a mouse, but somehow her presence made the barn an unwelcome home for mice. I have not seen a mouse in weeks when before that was a daily occurrence. Nadine can now walk into the barn without the shock of a mouse darting past and frightening her. We give thanks to God for Catrina.
Got granted us another great blessing just this month with a car new to us. Our Buick Lucerne served us so incredibly well; it has 474,860 miles on it, and we have done little except routine maintenance. God made the Lucerne like the sandals of the children of Israel in the wilderness where they did not wear out; however, it was beginning to show the wear of nearly a half million miles (Deut. 29:5). I first began driving the car with 6,000 miles on it and it remained a faithful vehicle used for our family and the work of the Lord. The car God gave to us has just over 100,000 miles which makes it nearly new to us. We thank the Lord for His provision in this journey.
We began a training called Church Dynamics last year that provides a series of church leadership resources to help rural churches refocus. A recent highlight occurred during a Church Dynamics class addressing the topic of spiritual fervency. An older lady held a baby for a couple who lead youth ministry in a church that attended, allowing her mom and dad to participate in the meeting. During a break she explained, “This baby has a reflux problem, and she needs prayer.” We prayed for the four-month-old little girl asking the senior pastor to lead, anointing with oil and praying according to scripture as others gathered around the couple and the baby (James 5:14-15). We received word several days later that the baby and mom slept all night for the first time. She could eat without discomfort and the Great Physician had indeed healed this precious child. We feel such gratitude for the hand of the Lord working in the lives of His people.
Believers find encouragement and comfort when following biblical instruction and choosing to spend time counting each blessing. Much of the culture surrounding our society focuses on the problems, believers must focus on the goodness of the Lord and His blessings. Find reasons to rejoice, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks. Healthy faith takes note of these key habits, gives opportunity for cultivating these disciplines, and teaches others to “count your blessings and name them one by one,” finding joy and surprises in all the good God has done.
 Johnson Oatman Jr. wrote this song early in his time of writing gospel songs and eventually wrote approximately 200 songs a year for a total of nearly 5,000 songs. Oatman served as a Methodist minister but observers noted that he did not have strong preaching skills and served in fill in ministry positions.