Rebecca and I went back to Arizona for the Thanksgiving holiday recently. While we were there, we made a point of stopping in Phoenix for worship on Sunday (I preached for the Monte Vista Church of Christ for five years). All of our friends asked us how we were doing in the Memphis area -- a question we repeatedly answered with a smile, saying, “We’re really blessed! The kids are healthy and happy, we love our new house, and the Mid-South is beautiful!”
We’re really blessed...
While it’s certainly not wrong to feel incredibly blessed by God when life is going well (healthy, happy, money in the bank, etc.) the repeated use of that phrase got me thinking about what it really means to be blessed. One writer made a similar observation:
“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... 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… 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” (“The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying”, Scott Dannemiller, theaccidentalmissionary.wordpress.com, February 20, 2014).
Maybe we’re using “faulty beatitudes” to come up with our defintion of what it means to be blessed. Jesus Himself offers a very different picture of blessings in Matthew 5:1-12, countering notions of materialism and world-oriented treasures with persecution, deprivation, grief, endurance, suffering, and spiritual victory. The reward is in heaven, not here. The greatest blessings are not measured in dollars or square feet or offices with a nice view. If anything, Jesus suggests that poverty might, in fact, be the norm for many of His followers. Other passages in the Bible confirm this. We could call them the “other beatitudes”:
Revelation 1:3, “Blessed is he who reads and heeds”
Revelation 14:13, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord”
Revelation 16:15, “Blessed is he who stays awake” (as in spiritual readiness)
Revelation 19:9, “Blessed are those invited to the marriage supper of the Lord”
Revelation 20:6, “Blessed is the one who has a part in the first resurrection”
Revelation 22:14, “Blessed are those who wash their robes” (the pursuit of holiness)
It is often deprivation, not material wealth and prosperity, that brings about our deepest blessings. God reminded His people through Moses that their many struggles in the wilderness were meant to bring out the best in them spiritually (Deuteronomy 8:2-3). How better to illustrate the truth that “man shall not live by bread alone” than by showing the Israelites that they literally could not live without God?!
So the next time someone asks me how life is going, I’ll try to answer with different terminology: “I’m feeling burdened, and it’s a good thing”, “I’m tasked with tremendous work, and I love it”, “I’m grateful for all my obstacles and the opportunities they bring”, “I’m sure blessed, and it has nothing to do with the treasures of this life.”