There are many blessings given throughout the Bible in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. One of my favorite blessings is found in Psalm 20:1-5:
May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings.
May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.
May the Lord grant all your requests.
A blessing, according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, is “the act or words of one that blesses,” or “a thing conducive to happiness or welfare.” In an article titled, “What Does It Really Mean to Be #Blessed?” by Vaneetha Rendall Risner, freelance writer and a regular contributor to Desiring God (she blogs at danceintherain.com), she writes the following:
Feeling blessed is in vogue.
A quick look at Facebook and Twitter shows how many people today feel #blessed. In our social-media world, saying you’re blessed can be a way of boasting while trying to sound humble.
College scholarship? #Blessed. Unexpected raise? #Blessed. Wonderful family? #Blessed.
As Christians we use that term too, of course. We pray God will bless our family. We attribute our undeserved gifts to “God’s blessings.” We talk about ministries being blessed. But what does it really mean? How should we understand the blessing of God?
The Good Life
For believers, is the blessed life synonymous with the successful life? Is it the Christian version of the good life? A loving marriage, obedient children, a vibrant ministry, a healthy body, a successful career, trusted friends, financial abundance — if these are the characteristics of a blessed life, then having all of them should translate into an extraordinarily blessed life.
But does it? If someone had all those things, would they be extraordinarily blessed?
Rather than turning to God, they might feel self-sufficient and proud. Perhaps a bit smug and self-righteous. After all, their hard work would be yielding good fruit.
Moreover, they wouldn’t need to cry out to God for deliverance; everything would already be perfect. They wouldn’t need to trust God; they could trust in themselves. They wouldn’t need God to fill them; they would already be satisfied.
God’s Richest Blessings
My desire for God is greatly fueled by my need. And it is in the areas of loss where I feel my need most intensely. Unmet desires keep me on my knees. Deepen my prayer life. Make me ransack the Bible for God’s promises.
Earthly blessings are temporary; they can all be taken away. Job’s blessings all disappeared in one fateful day. I, too, had a comfortable life that was stripped away within a span of weeks. My marriage dissolved. My children rebelled. My health spiraled downward. My family fell apart. My dreams were shattered.
And yet, in the midst of those painful events, I experienced God’s richest blessings. A stronger faith than I had experienced before. A deeper love than I had ever known. A more intimate walk than I could explain. My trials grounded my faith in ways that prosperity and abundance never could.
While my trials were not blessings in themselves, they were channels for them. As Laura Story asks in her song, “Blessings,” “What if your blessings come through rain drops? What if trials of this life—the rain, the storms, the hardest nights—are your mercies in disguise?”
This revolutionary idea of blessing is also firmly established in Scripture.
The Common Thread
One translation of the New Testament (ESV) has 112 references with the words bless, blessing, or blessed, none of which connect blessing to material prosperity. Consider these passages:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit. . . . Blessed are those who mourn. . . . Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake . . . Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:3–4,10–11)
“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28)
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial.” (James 1:12)
There is no hint of material prosperity or perfect circumstances in any New Testament reference. On the contrary, blessing is typically connected with either poverty and trial or the spiritual benefits of being joined by faith to Jesus.
According to the Key Word Study Bible, “The Greek word translated blessed in these passages is makarioi which means to be fully satisfied. It refers to those receiving God’s favor, regardless of the circumstances” (emphasis added).
What is blessing, then? Scripture shows that blessing is anything God gives that makes us fully satisfied in him. Anything that draws us closer to Jesus. Anything that helps us relinquish the temporal and hold on more tightly to the eternal. And often it is the struggles and trials, the aching disappointments and the unfulfilled longings that best enable us to do that.
Pain and loss transform us. While they sometimes unravel us, they can also push us to a deeper life with God than we ever thought possible. They make us rest in God alone. Not what we can do or achieve for him. And not what he can do or achieve for us.
In pain and loss, we long for Presence. We long to know that God is for us and with us and in us. Great families, financial wealth, and good health are all wonderful gifts we can thank God for, but they are not his greatest blessings. They may make us delight, not in God, but in his gifts.
God’s greatest blessing always rests in God himself. When we have that, we are truly #blessed. (Quote source here.)
This next article on the subject of blessings is titled, “The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying,” by Scott Dannemiller, writer, blogger, worship leader and former missionary with the Presbyterian Church. He writes the blog The Accidental Missionary, where this post first appeared. Here is that post:
I was on the phone with a good friend the other day. After covering important topics, like disparaging each other’s mothers and retelling semi-factual tales from our college days, our conversation turned to the mundane.
“So, how’s work going?” he asked.
For those of you who don’t know, I make money by teaching leadership skills and helping people learn to get along in corporate America. My wife says it’s all a clever disguise so I can get up in front of large groups and tell stories.
I plead the fifth.
I answered my buddy’s question with,
“Definitely feeling blessed. Last year was the best year yet for my business. And it looks like this year will be just as busy.”
The words rolled off my tongue without a second thought. Like reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or placing my usual lunch order at McDonald’s.
But it was a lie.
Now, before you start taking up a collection for the “Feed the Dannemillers” fund, allow me to explain. Based on last year’s quest to go twelve months without buying anything, you may have the impression that our family is subsisting on Ramen noodles and free chips and salsa at the local Mexican restaurant. Not to worry, we are not in dire straits.
Last year was the best year yet for my business.
Things are looking busy in 2014 [the year this post was originally published].
But that is not a blessing.
I’ve noticed a trend among Christians, myself included, and it troubles me. Our rote response to material windfalls is to call ourselves blessed. Like the “amen” at the end of a prayer.
“This new car is such a blessing.”
“Finally closed on the house. Feeling blessed.”
“Just got back from a mission trip. Realizing how blessed we are here in this country.”
On the surface, the phrase seems harmless. Faithful even. Why wouldn’t I want to give God the glory for everything I have? Isn’t that the right thing to do?
As I reflected on my “feeling blessed” comment, two thoughts came to mind. I realize I’m splitting hairs here, creating an argument over semantics. But bear with me, because I believe it is critically important. It’s one of those things we can’t see because it’s so culturally engrained that it has become normal.
But it has to stop. And here’s why.
First, when I say that my material fortune is the result of God’s blessing, it reduces The Almighty to some sort of sky-bound, wish-granting fairy who spends his days randomly bestowing cars and cash upon his followers. I can’t help but draw parallels to how I handed out M&M’s to my own kids when they followed my directions and chose to poop in the toilet rather than in their pants. Sure, God wants us to continually seek His will, and it’s for our own good. But positive reinforcement?
God is not a behavioral psychologist.
Second, and more importantly, calling myself blessed because of material good fortune is just plain wrong. For starters, it can be offensive to the hundreds of millions of Christians in the world who live on less than $10 per day. You read that right. Hundreds of millions who receive a single-digit dollar “blessing” per day.
During our year in Guatemala, Gabby and I witnessed first-hand the damage done by the theology of prosperity, where faithful people scraping by to feed their families were simply told they must not be faithful enough. If they were, God would pull them out of their nightmare. Just try harder, and God will show favor.
The problem? Nowhere in scripture are we promised worldly ease in return for our pledge of faith. In fact, the most devout saints from the Bible usually died penniless, receiving a one-way ticket to prison or death by torture.
I’ll take door number three, please.
If we’re looking for the definition of blessing, Jesus spells it out clearly (Matthew 5: 1-12).
1 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him,
2 And He began to teach them, saying:
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
I have a sneaking suspicion verses 12a, 12b, and 12c were omitted from the text. That’s where the disciples responded by saying:
12a Waitest thou for one second, Lord. What about “blessed art thou comfortable,” or 12b “blessed art thou which havest good jobs, a modest house in the suburbs, and a yearly vacation to the Florida Gulf Coast?”
12c And Jesus said unto them, “Apologies, my brothers, but those did not maketh the cut.”
So there it is. Written in red. Plain as day. Even still, we ignore it all when we hijack the word “blessed” to make it fit neatly into our modern American ideals, creating a cosmic lottery where every sincere prayer buys us another scratch-off ticket. In the process, we stand the risk of alienating those we are hoping to bring to the faith.
And we have to stop playing that game.
The truth is, I have no idea why I was born where I was or why I have the opportunity I have. It’s beyond comprehension. But I certainly don’t believe God has chosen me above others because of the veracity of my prayers or the depth of my faith. Still, if I take advantage of the opportunities set before me, a comfortable life may come my way. It’s not guaranteed. But if it does happen, I don’t believe Jesus will call me blessed.
He will call me “burdened.”
He will ask,
“What will you do with it?”
“Will you use it for yourself?”
“Will you use it to help?”
“Will you hold it close for comfort?”
“Will you share it?”
So many hard choices. So few easy answers.
So my prayer today is that I understand my true blessing. It’s not my house. Or my job. Or my standard of living.
My blessing is this. I know a God who gives hope to the hopeless. I know a God who loves the unlovable. I know a God who comforts the sorrowful. And I know a God who has planted this same power within me. Within all of us.
And for this blessing, may our response always be,
“Use me.” (Quote source here.)
The first article above mentioned a song titled “Blessings” (YouTube video below) by Laura Story, singer/songwriter and senior worship leader at Perimeter Church in Atlanta, that became a massive #1 hit and a Grammy Award-winning song after it came out in 2011 (source here). Information on the background of this song is available at this link. On her biography page (at laurastorymusic.com) she states:
“We have this picture all the way through the Scriptures of all these great leaders in this process of surrendering everything. What the Lord is asking them is not, ‘You need to hold on tighter. You need to manage this better.’ What the Lord asks us is to surrender,” she offers, “It’s about learning to live with open hands, learning to live life in this constant state of saying, ‘Lord, my life is Yours. My time is Yours. My resources are Yours. All of this is Yours. Do what You will’”….
“We never get to a point where we can do life apart from complete and total daily dependence on Jesus,” Story admits. “The irony is the less control we have, the more peace we have and the more, I would even say, success and joy we find. It’s a contrary picture to what the world tells us, but it’s gaining through letting go”…. (Quote source and complete biography is available at this link.)
Gaining through letting go . . . . I’ll end this blog post on the subject of blessings with the blessing found in the picture at the beginning of this post from Numbers 6:24-26: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you . . .
[And may] the Lord . . .
Turn his face toward you . . .
And give you peace . . . .
YouTube Video: “Blessings” by Laura Story: