Here's a Spiritual Spinach column that I wrote for Friday's Fremont Tribune. I know it's a little long for a blog, but I hope you like it.
To read more Spiritual Spinach columns, just visit www.fremonttribune.com and type the words, "Spiritual Spinach," into the little, white, rectangular search box at the top of the home page, then click on the magnifying glass icon and that should take you to a listing of them.
Ever hear of Johnson Oatman Jr.?
Nope, neither had I - until I looked up an old-time gospel song.
The song is called "Count Your Blessings."
Maybe you know the chorus, which goes like this:
"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."
The lyrics are pretty nice, too. Some talk about doubts flying off when we count our blessings. Others talk about angels attending us and rewards in heaven.
I read that Oatman published this song in 1897.
Wow. I didn't know the song was that old, but I noticed that the chorus kept filtering through my brain when I was struggling with some discouragement recently.
Actually, the discouragement puzzled me. I have much for which to be thankful, but I think we all can get bummed out sometimes.
It could be because life didn't quite turn out like we expected.
We thought we'd be married and have a child or a house by now.
Or we figured that after years of hard work, we surely would have gotten that promotion.
Or we would be more financially stable and would have accomplished more by this time in our lives.
Maybe this is when we need a little encouragement from the Scriptures.
Remember this verse: "Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart"? (Psalm 37:4)
Or how about this one: "And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not"? (Galatians 6:9)
Another translation of the Bible says we'll reap a harvest if we don't give up.
The Bible has many stories of people who faced big obstacles and became discouraged, then took the God-given courage they had and accomplished amazing things.
One of my favorite "rebound" Bible stories is found in 1 Samuel, chapter 30. This Old Testament account involves a man named David.
Many of us know that a shepherd boy, named David, killed a giant called Goliath.
But the acclaim that David later received after that victory aroused the jealousy of King Saul, who sent David fleeing for his life.
Other men - those in distress or in debt or the discontented - joined David, who became their leader.
What a group.
Now, many things will happen, but at one point David and his men go off to do battle, leaving their wives and children behind in a place called Ziklag.
The Amalekites then attack and burn Ziklag and capture the women and children. David and his men come back, find Ziklag destroyed, and cry until they don't have any strength left.
And as if things aren't bad enough, David's men start talking about stoning him to death.
Here's the part of the story that I love.
In verse six it says: "But David found strength in the Lord his God."
Then David does something that I think is really smart.
He asks God what to do.
"Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?" David asks.
And God answers. He lets David know that he'll succeed in the rescue.
So David and his men head out. They find a slave abandoned by one of the Amalekites. The slave takes them to the bad guys' camp. David fights them from dusk until evening the next day and recovers everything the Amalekites have taken.
Verse 19 of chapter 30 says: "Nothing was missing: young or old, boy or girl, plunder or anything else they had taken. David brought everything back."
I think we can learn a couple of things from this story.
First, when he was disheartened, David found his strength in God.
How did he do that? He probably prayed. He might have stopped to remember all the times that God had helped him before. Maybe he did a little singing.
Next, David sought God's counsel.
It's important to ask God what to do when we're facing those difficult times and tough decisions. I also believe we need to seek him for direction when considering whether to take a new path in life.
"Lord, should I stay at this job or seek another?"
"Should I look into buying a house or wait?"
"Should I go back to college? Lord, please show me what you want me to do."
With God's guidance and support, David won his battle. And so can we, when we lean on the one who loves us and sees the future that we can only imagine.
We need to trust God and remember verses like: "For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord of hosts, plans to prosper and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11)
And I think sometimes we need to take Oatman's advice and count our blessings. Years ago, when I was very disheartened, I made a list of 50 things for which I had to be thankful. I wrote down even the little things and posted that list on my refrigerator, making sure to look at it each day.
I don't know what happened to that list, but I think it might be time to make a new one.
I think Oatman would be pleased.