The International Mission Board’s The Commission magazine ceased publication years ago. But an article in one issue changed my life forever. It was so tiny, I’m confident that the person who dropped it in had no idea how powerful it was and no inkling of how God would use it.
It was a small news item which I clipped out and have used in sermon after sermon ever since.
I don’t know the date of it, but here is the article verbatim:
Volunteer learns to sing old song in a new way.
Pastor Jack Hinton from New Bern, N.C., was leading music for a worship service held in a leper colony on the island of Tobago. There was time for one more selection. He asked for a request, and a woman who had been facing away from the pulpit turned around.
“I saw the most hideous face I had ever seen,” Jack says. “The woman’s nose and ears were entirely gone. Most of her lips had rotted away.
“She lifted a fingerless hand in the air and asked, ‘Can we sing Count Your Many Blessings’?”
Overcome with emotion, Jack left the service. He was followed by a team member who said, “Jack, I guess you’ll never be able to sing that song again.”
“Yes, I will,” Jack replied, “but I’ll never sing it the same way again.”
That’s the story.
I photocopied the page and filed it. I told the story to friends, preached it in sermons, and promptly forgot Pastor Jack’s last name or where I had filed the page.
Some years later, after I had told the story in Newport News, Va., a man came up.
“That pastor you spoke about is my uncle, Jack Hinton,” the man said. “He’s retired now. I’ve heard him tell that story.”
He assured me I’d gotten it right.
Funny thing. Reading the story as it first appeared, I realize I embellish it a tad now, and it generally takes three to four minutes to tell. (Trait of a good storyteller – make it come alive; don’t just tell a story, but put people there!)
I was called into the ministry in 1961 and started pastoring in November of 1962. I must have used a jillion stories and illustrations over these decades. But this one was the best.
This is the finest story I ever read or used in a sermon.
Anyone can rejoice when life is good, the kids are well-behaved, the news from the doctor is great, the company is thriving, your job is secure and your team is winning.
But let’s see you count your blessings when you are at the bottom of life’s pit. This leprous woman in Tobago had nothing but who she was on the inside. Far from having her beauty, she didn’t even have her face. Far from having her nails done, she had no fingers.
And still she could sing.
Can you sing, “Count Your Many Blessings”?
If not, there is a leprous woman in the Caribbean who would like to know why.
This story and the last three verses of Habakkuk chapter 3 go together as though God in heaven intended it from the first.
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, and there be no fruit on the vines. Though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food; though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet, I will exult in the Lord. I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength. He has made my feet like hinds’ feet; He causes me to walk upon my high places.”
(I always like to point out that “hinds” are sure-footed mountain goats. A “high place” is anywhere in life that’s scary, where if you fall, it could be disastrous.)
If, at the end of my earthly life, they ask, “What was your best message?” this is the answer:
That story and that text.
It’s as good as they come.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe McKeever, joemckeever.com, pastored six Southern Baptist churches in a 42-year career. He writes a column on “My Favorite Deacon” for each issue of Lifeway’s Deacon Magazine.)