What Does it Mean to be ‘Blessed’?

file000364857492Do you consider yourself to be “blessed” and, if so, why? Or have you worked hard for the good things that you have and, thus, you have blessed yourself with your efforts?

Say, what exactly is “blessing” anyways and who can give it?

I like asking questions! Answering them gets more tricky…

I’d imagine the majority of people, Christian or not, would probably say they have been blessed with good things in their life. A select few might even consider bad things to be part of their blessing (if they overcome them, James 1:12). I’m one of those odd fellows.

Recently a friend forwarded to me an article written by a former Presbyterian missionary on the subject of blessing. Well, the article was more like a blog and the subject was more of a “rant” against using the phrase “I’m blessed.” Here’s a snippit from Scott Dannemiller’s post:

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?

No.

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.

Dannemiller then makes two points that have some validity but are a bit short-sighted. First, He wrote that giving God credit for material blessing is like relegating God to a “fairy wish-giver” who rewards based on merit like a father who gives M&M’s to his son when they follow instructions. “God is not a behavioral psychologist,” he says.

God is not Santa Claus, this is true, but He is a loving Father who sometimes chooses to bless His children with material things. This is also truth. But of course our focus in life should never be to seek out material possessions. Jesus, in His Sermon on the Mount said, ““Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21).”

The second point Dannemiller makes is that saying that you’ve been materially blessed by God makes those who lack such material possession seem like they are being punished or, worse, loved less than you are. “It can be offensive to the hundreds of millions of Christians in the world who live on less than $10 per day,” he states. As an example he pointed to a missionary experience in which villagers in Guatemala were told that their poverty was a result of their lack of faith in God.

“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.”

He’s right about that! Most saints of the early Church died penniless. Jesus told his disciples before He died, “In this world you will have trouble,” and, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first (John 15:18).” The very cause of following Jesus Christ involves a cross to bear and humility in suffering. The reward is eternal life with God and hope in this present life of deliverance from affliction, the peace of Christ in conflict and grace for daily living. (Basically the answer to humanity’s ongoing problem!)

John with Pastor JeanDannemiller has seen third-world poverty as a missionary and I think a lot of his emotion comes from the things he experienced. I should know! Try preaching to a church in rural Haiti and talking about “blessing” when most people listening live in metal and bamboo shacks without windows or flooring. That was tough on me back in 2011. Yet I wanted the people to see that God can bless them in SO many ways that don’t involve concrete floors and locking doors!

“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.”

Since I had this conversation, my new response is simply, “I’m grateful.”

There you go! Gratitude or thankfulness to God who blesses. Being grateful is a proper response to receiving what you do not deserve.

 

Western Issues

Another question that came to mind when reading Dannemiller’s article was, “How should Christians view blessing in a society that rewards us for work that we do?” In other words, didn’t I earn the things I have and, equally, can I lose them if I don’t do the right things? After all, American culture (as well as those of other first-world nations) tells us that we reap what we sow and if we sow hard work we will reap reward.

As I was explaining to my friend, on a very basic level, everything we have is not deserved, including life itself. Our very existence is a grace of God. Everything else is extra grace. In Adam all man sinned (Rom 5:12-18). So from the Garden of Eden to today people are born in sin. Even worse than being born sinners, perhaps, we continue to commit acts of sin. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).” So we by nature do not deserve anything but wrath.

Blessing? That’s all grace! Some might say, “I work hard and receive my blessing because of my effort.” I say your job… nay, your very ability to work is from God! So without God’s enabling you cannot work to receive anything. Who gets the credit for what you have via your work? Should it not be God?

There I go with the questions again!

I could go on and on and on on this subject but I’d probably just bore you, and that would be no blessing at all! The bottom line is this: If you believe you have been blessed by God, I think it is fine to go ahead and say that you’ve been blessed. For you probably have! As James said, “Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning (James 1:17).”

Above all be thankful for every day, every hour and every minute of your life. Whether you have a lot or a little, you have more than you deserve. And I believe that if you see your life in that perspective, you just might have a greater capacity to be grateful. And you will be better able to appreciate the grace of God in Christ.

 

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