“God bless you!” I say it often … and mean it. It’s not meant to be a mantra or a cute way to finish a conversation. I have a genuine desire for the other person to know the blessing of God. But what exactly is that?
When I was a new Christian I interpreted ‘blessing’ and being ‘blessed’ as being happy and joyful. I also thought it might mean being in a state where no pain existed and all concerns were lifted, such as coming into a financial windfall where all your wants were met. In fact, one version of the Bible uses the term ‘happy’ instead of ‘blessed’.
In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus gives a summary of blessings, some of which seem rather upside down to what many of us might consider being ‘blessed’.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (verse 3); “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (verse 4); “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (verse 6); “blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (verse 10).
As I read this passage, called the Beatitudes, it can seem as if being blessed is smiling while someone pummels you for no reason, or that you are doing it tough in life by enduring sadness, mourning or being powerless.
I think of a story I once read that gives an amusing illustration of how we view the
concepts of trials and blessings. A father was talking about his son to a friend. With disappointment he shared how his son wouldn’t help work in the fields. The friend declared, “This is bad news!”
The father shrugged his shoulders. “Bad news, good news, who knows?” and went on to relate that, after much pushing,the son finally went out into the fields to work.
The friend declared “Good news!” The father shrugged, “Good news, bad news, who knows?” and mentioned that while in the fields his son got on their horse. The animal reared, throwing him to the ground and the son broke his leg.
The friend exclaimed, “What bad news!”The father shrugged, “Bad news, good news, who knows?” The father continued his tale. While his son was convalescing in much pain, military recruiters came through their village and took away the young men for military service but they left the son behind because of his injuries.
The friend smiled, “Good news!” The father shrugged and said, “Good news, bad news, who knows?” The story goes on, and you get the picture.
I was in Israel in 1995 on a study tour.We visited many places mentioned in the Bible and it was a fascinating and life-changing time for me. We went to the Mount of Beatitudes, where the Church of the Beatitudes is located on Lake Galilee, not far from Capernaum, where our tour leader/lecturer read to us from Matthew chapter 5.
The lecturer explained that a blessing was anything that drew you closer to God — it was a powerful insight for me.That was when I started to understand that even difficult circumstances, such as mourning, meekness, humility and persecution, could all be blessings, not because of how I felt about them but because of where they took me — nearer
to my God.