Dogs, Blessings and Burdens


by Tom Wacaster

While perusing the internet I came across the following observation about dogs: “Dogs take each moment at a time and enjoy it; they don’t hold grudges; they are everyone’s best friend. Dogs savor the simple things in life--a walk in the neighborhood, a pat on the head, a quiet moment in nature.”

Of course there are exceptions to every rule, and many observations come as a result of an individual’s own limited personal experience. Our next door neighbor just recently acquired two new dogs. One is what I call a ‘yapper,’ the other a ‘snarler.” While they both bark at me when I am in my back yard, the ‘yapper’ appears to have a bark worse than his bite, wagging his tail all the time he is barking. The ‘snarler’ on the other hand, not only barks - he shows his teeth and his hair stands up on the back of his neck. Both are pretty good indications that I best not reach my hand over the fence to pet him. Be that as it may, most domesticated dogs fit into the mold described at the beginning of this article .  That’s why they are called “domesticated”!

It is not my aim in this week’s column to write about dogs, though I think I could come up with some heart-warming stories about dogs in general, and specific dogs I have owned over the years. Referring back to the quote provided, why is it that a “dog’s life” conjures up a mental picture of peace and serenity?  Do you remember that old Television series, “The Life of Riley”? He was fond of talking about living a dog’s life; though the situations he often found himself in were anything but the life of ease that Mr. Riley sought.

One of the most popular songs in our hymnal was written by Johnson Oatman, Jr.  Mr. Oatman was one of the most prolific gospel song writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He was born near Medford, New Jersey, on April 21, 1856. As a child he became acquainted with spiritual hymns through the singing talents of his father. At the age of nineteen Oatman joined the Methodist Church and several years later was granted a license to preach in local Methodist congregations. Though he wrote over 5,000 hymn texts, Oatman was busily engaged throughout his life in a mercantile business and later as an administrator for a large insurance company in New Jersey. He wrote several songs that have appeared in almost every hymnal our brethren have produced, including “Higher Ground” and “No Not One.” His most popular song, “Count Your Blessings” is the focus of this article.  The song has been translated into various languages, and is among the most favorite of spiritual songs ever published. The brethren in Syktyvkar, Russia love to sing the song, and though I cannot understand the words in Russian, the tune is easily recognizable.  The tune has a joyful upbeat, and the words convey a message about God’s care for His children:

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.

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.

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.

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.

Chorus: 
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 second stanza is of particular interest. Counting one’s blessings helps bear the burdens we face from time to time. It is unfortunate that so many in our world are of such a sour disposition that they allow the burdens in life to blind them to the very blessings they have at their fingertips. Rather than view their burdens as blessings in disguise, their myopic vision can see only the burden they might face at any given moment. The one talent man in Matthew 25 was of just such a disposition. He viewed the blessing (the one talent) as a burden, failed to use it, and ended up being lost because of it.  Parents who have the ability to bear children should consider that a great and wonderful blessing. But too often the very children they are blessed to bring into this world are looked upon as a burden; something they must now tolerate and raise.

When it comes to opportunities to gather together for Bible Study and worship, some immature members of the Lord’s body have allowed two wonderful opportunities to be turned into burdens. They struggle to make it to Bible class and worship services. Getting up, getting the family ready, and getting to class on time is a frantic rush and an inconvenience on their schedule. In this land of unparalleled freedoms, we should consider it a great blessing to be able to assemble without fear of reprisal from governmental authorities. Sadly, some view such as nothing more than a burden that interrupts their own personal life style. They have turned a blessing into a burden.

As I close this article let me assure you that I am not suggesting that the church has gone to the dogs. But it seems to me if we follow the advice in that wonderful hymn by Johnson Oatman, those things said about dogs might find some application in the life of every child of God. With a little editing the message conveyed is quite sobering, and certainly truthful:

“The child of God takes each moment at a time and enjoys it; they don’t hold grudges; they are everyone’s best friend. Christians savor the simple things in life--a walk in the neighborhood, a pat on the head, a quiet moment in nature.”

So you see, there are some things to be learned from dogs, burdens and blessings!