When I subbed at the elementary school last week, I sat with one student in a small reading group while they read a story aloud to each other. The story began with a land that had good crops and everyone had enough to eat. The emperor wanted to be prepared in case if a famine happened so he began collecting a portion of the people’s crops. He took a large portion at each harvest, leaving them barely enough to live on.
After several years of bountiful crops, a famine did happen. The first year, the crops were poor, but the emperor still collected the majority of their crops for the storehouse. By the end of the third year, the people were very hungry and began to say to themselves, “Why isn’t the emperor opening up his storehouse?” But he continued to hoard the stores of rice for something worse. He grew even more selfish, throwing lavish banquets for his own staff and friends, but not giving the people what they needed.
One day while several elephants brought the rice to his palace for yet another feast, a young girl noticed a hole in one of the baskets and a few grains of rice began dribbling out. She ran over and picked up the grains on the ground and caught the others as they fell out through the hole.
When they got to the palace, she returned the rice to the emperor. He wanted to reward her by allowing her to keep the small handful of rice she had collected. Being wise beyond her years, she said, “No. I would like one grain of rice”. Then she asked that the emperor would double that each day for a month. He thought she was just a foolish child so he agreed.
Of course, you know the end of the story. By the 31st day of the month, she had amassed all of the grains in the emperor’s storehouse and began distributing it to her people. Forgiving the emperor for his selfish ways, she allowed him the amount he needed to live each day.
In many ways God’s blessings are like that. On days when we feel discouraged and burdened down by life’s cares we are like the starving peasants. But when we begin to look around us and to count our blessings, we only need to find one thing, even if t is as small as a grain of rice, to praise the Lord for. That one praise will begin to lift our sagging spirits and the next day we might find 2 things, then 4 and so on. As we begin praising the Lord our hearts eventually overflow with joy to the point where we cannot contain it anymore – even in the midst of spiritual and emotional famine conditions!
One national missionary in Southeast Asia was imprisoned for his faith. The living conditions were squalid and dark with no windows in the cell. The other prisoners taunted him constantly challenging him to renounce his faith. Even the guards had fun at his expense, taking him outside several times each week, putting a hood over his head and placing a gun to his temple. Each time he refused to give up his faith, even though he felt rejected and abandoned by God. Each time, he heard them pull the trigger. Then they removed the hood and laughed at the stark terror on his face.
His faith grew weaker each day until he was consumed by doubts. He had no more words to pray, no blessings that he could see to be thankful for. So he sat there and honestly told the Lord about his doubts and fears, even though he had always been taught that it was a sin to doubt. After he prayed, his hope was renewed because he felt that God had heard him.
The next day he was removed to a cell with a window where he witnessed a breath-taking sunset. He focused on that one blessing as it filled his heart and encouraged him that God was still in control . The next time the guards took him for a mock execution, they removed the hood only to find the man’s face relaxed and peaceful rather than full of torment.
Something as simple as a sunset can be a blessing from God to encourage our hearts and fill us with the strength we need to carry on through difficult circumstances. And as we carry on, we build on that one blessing with more answers to prayer and more little blessings until our hearts are full to overflowing!