Psalm 103 and Thanksgiving
As we come to the Thanksgiving holiday, we Christians have many blessings for which to be thankful. In our house, we go around the Thanksgiving table and each person gives reasons to be thankful over the past year. We enumerate the tangible goodness of God to each other.
I am always amazed that in the midst of health problems, relationship difficulties, professional setbacks, patriotic disappointments we can always number the blessings of being Children of God. In fact, our blessings are probably too many to number.
Over the years, I’ve heard some in the Church say that popular music from the American Songbook has an unseemly focus on instant gratification which leads to a shallow and trivial worldview. Well, I am sure that is true for some of the songs. But just because a song has to do with the here and now doesn’t mean it’s shallow. We have evidence from the Great Biblical Songbook that our Lord is concerned with the here and now of a Christian’s life, and that joy and the divine graces of life are to be embraced and recounted in thanksgiving.
That is the way it should be David tells us in Psalm 103 (2), “Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” David’s universal list-song of blessings from Yahweh contains at least 17 reasons to thank God for His kindness. Psalm 103 is a psalm of spiritual and temporal blessings from our heavenly Father. David’s song is suited for all ages, appropriate for all persons, applicable to all conditions, and adaptable for all nations.
In 1897, Johnson Oatman and Edwin Excell wrote something of a modernized version of Psalm 103 when they collaborated on the gospel song “Count Your Blessings,” which was sung at every evangelistic service during the Welsh Revival in the early 20th century. The upbeat song has remained in the Church’s hymnal for well over a century.
In case you’ve forgotten what that song sounds like, here is a version recorded a few years ago by the group known as the Mike Curb Congregation.
(song: “Count Your Blessings One by One” performed by Mike Curb Congregation)
Turning now to the American Songbook, in the sweltering summer of 1952 the chronic insomniac Irving Berlin was writing the songs for his new winter musical White Christmas. Berlin was exhausted because of lack of sleep and complained in self-pity to his doctor. The medical advice given to the great composer: “Why don’t you count your blessings, Irving, instead of sheep?” In l954, when the movie was finally released Eddie Fisher recorded the Berlin song “Count Your Blessings” and it became a Billboard hit, peaking at #5.
(song: “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” performed by Eddie Fisher)
The life, death and resurrection of Jesus grant his children joy, blessing and graces in this life. “Taste and see that the LORD is good” is more than just a spiritual metaphor. It is a call to enjoy the good things of life. And our American culture has set aside a day to remember those blessings.
So, this Thanksgiving holiday, wherever you are – in faraway or nearby places – count your blessings. Those of us at “Singing in the Shower” count you as one of our blessings, and wish you a blessed Thanksgiving.
This is Bob Case for “Singing in the Shower: The American Songbook and the Church.”