This is longer than a usual post, since it was a message in the Sunday meeting. I offer it to stir up some good-speaking in a mean era.
I love weddings. So I have had a good time presiding over quite a few of them in the recent past. I keep trying to convince the couple and the crowd, too, that the high point of the wedding comes after the bride and groom have exchanged their vows and rings and I say a prayer of blessing. This is the point we have all been waiting for, not the kiss. This moment of prayer is why the bride and groom came from their respective camps and made a processional through the town and up the aisle to the altar before God, to get the blessing, as pronounced by his duly-assigned representative, me. It would make more sense for everyone to clap after the prayer, not as the couple is introduced. It would make more sense to stand for the prayer of blessing, not when the bride appears at the door.
I am not making much headway with my reforms. I think that is because few people know how to be blessed anymore. We’ve lost consciousness of blessings, and that is not a good thing. So I want to talk about it. Before I am done, I hope you will know what a blessing is, to some degree, know how to receive the blessing and the blessings that God would like to give you, and, most of all, know how to bless someone else.
What is a blessing?
Literally, a blessing is “good-speaking.” In Greek: eulogy – like saying a few nice words at a funeral. In Latin: benediction – like the pastor says at the end of the meeting “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and give you his peace.” A blessing is the act of speaking goodness into being, naming goodness as present or calling it out, covering something with goodness. Like my father-in-law always prays before the meal: “Bless us O Lord as we take of Thy bounty. Help us and keep us in Thy way. Bless portions of this food to our bodies and us to thy service.”
When I bless the marriage, I am, in a sense, transmitting God’s power to seal the couples’ love with goodness, to grace it. I am being used by God to sanctify the union. Like when my father-in-law blesses the food, officially receiving the Creator’s powerful, good work and, in a sense, setting the food apart as having a special meaning, as the gift of God it is.
Many people kind of blow by such actions (even at our own wedding!), because they think they are a little weird. We don’t have much skill in handling spiritual things. I think a lot of people shy away from spiritual things because the whole idea of something being blessed or of some words conveying some kind of power can get way out of hand.
In many ancient religions people would recognize a place where a good thing happened and assume that such a place had good power. Soon people would go there for a blessing. I visited such a place called Chimayo a couple of years ago in New Mexico. There is a chapel built on the very site where in around 1813 a farmer named Don Bernardo Abeita had a vision while working in his field one day. The vision told him to dig beneath his plow where he would find earth with great healing powers. The farmer did as he was commanded and discovered a cross and pieces of cloth belonging to two long-ago-martyred priests. Ever since, pilgrims have come to the site to get a bit of this holy dirt in hope that it will cure them as nothing else can. Special dirt, special words in a special place will convey the goodness.
I suppose God could convey healing through dirt, but I doubt the actual dirt has much intrinsic power. Because one of the many great revelations to Israel that came after God chose to dwell among them as his own people was that God is not an impersonal force, God loves us and relates like a parent to us. So she bestows her favor as she chooses in relation to those she loves.
- God’s first blessing can be found in Genesis 1:27-28. It shows how we can bless someone by speaking to them. It says: God blessed [humankind] and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.’ ” To bless someone is a creative act. God is speaking goodness into being. Be fruitful. Be activated. Work well.
- We bless someone when we speak well of them. When Jesus first revealed himself to the world in his baptism, as he came up out of water, taking on the form of a person who needed to be baptized, they heard a voice saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” To bless someone is an affirming, praising act. God is naming and calling out the goodness in Jesus. You are my pleasing Son, whom I love.
- You also bless someone when you speak well over them. The prophet Ezekiel was speaking for God when he looked into the future and saw a better one. He spoke this blessing for God over the whole nation: “There will be showers of blessing…, the people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them” (Ezekiel 34). It is like God is wrapping up their future and putting a wax seal on it. Setting the whole nation apart for goodness. You will be free. You will be alive with love and fruitfulness.
These days in this country, it is very popular to reduce the blessing of God down to a commodity you can get by saying the right words. A few weeks ago, Creflo Dollar, the pastor of the 23,000-person World Changers Church International south of Atlanta said, “The blessing of God is the ability to have success in every area of your life. When God’s blessing rests on you, it will transform your ‘average’ existence into a life of overflow. He teaches that we who are created in the image of God so we are little gods, since Gods do not give birth to other kinds of species any more than dogs do. So what we speak into being will occur, so we best speak into being the blessings of God.”
It is a compelling twist for people surrounded by what all the recording stars call the “blessing” of their wealth and what the the politicians call the “blessings” of democracy – everyone wants to get some of this American blessing! Meanwhile, Jesus looks suspiciously poor and unsuccessful. Meanwhile, when Jesus talks to the poor he says: How blessed are you who are poor, who hunger now, who weep now,…because great is your reward in heaven.
I definitely think we need to learn how to bless people. We are moved to participate in God’s creative activity by the Spirit of God who moves in us. But we dare not forget that it is God’s Spirit moving and whatever blessing we give is by God’s grace, not just a matter of dialing something up, as if we were qualified to commandeer God’s goodness. God speaks to us and names us and surrounds us. When God blesses us, he is speaking good – that good comes to us, it is called out of us, it creates and environment in which we can thrive.
Try it. People need a blessing.
I have never known anyone who found it easy to receive an authentic blessing from God. I remember one of my spiritual directors, tentatively but tenderly holding my shoulder as he prayed a blessing on me once. “May Rod know he is loved, beyond the lacks he feels, beyond the hurts he carries. May you reveal your tender love to him. In the name of Jesus, you are Rod the beloved of God.” Warmth flooded my body! My usual defenses began to melt and I sensed I was receiving that truth: I am the beloved of God! But almost immediately, it seemed, something in me kicked in and I was doubting what was going on. I inexplicably started to resist it.
It probably takes a half an hour a day, for who knows how long – maybe years for some of us — to listen long enough to God’s blessing: “You are my beloved child. I am pleased with you,” before we actual receive that message. To be blessed is not fast food – you can’t drive up to the window, demand your blessing, get it, and then drive through to your next success. It is a discipline of being transformed. God is takes a broken, bent up, corrupted creation and, according to its own design, brings it back to goodness, blesses it. It is like what Gwen and I and many friends have been doing with 4617 Woodland. We have been pouring ourselves and our riches into the new house where Circle Counseling will live – we are “blessing” that ruined building and transforming it. It takes time and effort. God wants to rehab us by blessing us with her presence and her wealth.
But even when we are good at it receiving this, there is so often the voice of contradiction that tells us we are cursed. God speaks well of us, or someone else does, and we say inside, “If you only knew.” I’ve got news for you – we know. You cannot hide how messed up you are. God knows very well and we know most of it too — we can see how banged up you are and we are going to speak well of you anyway.
How to bless someone else.
So you know something of what a blessing is: to speak well, to and of and over people. And you are at work to receive that blessing from God. Here’s the final thing and the point I wanted to get to: how does one bless others?
When I was a little kid I was taught an old song about blessing others. It was written in 1924, so it was about as old when it got to me as early Beatles songs are to Sadie Petersen. I’ve always remembered it — so let’s teach Sadie some good songs, too! It is called “Make Me a Blessing.” I couldn’t remember all the words, so I looked it up. If you know it, sing it with me:
Out on the highways and byways of life, Many are the weary and sad;
Carry the sunshine where darkness is rife, Making the sorrowing glad.
Make me a blessing, make me a blessing; Out of my life may Jesus shine.
Make me a blessing, O Saviour I pray, Make me a blessing to someone today.
That might sound a tad sentimental to most of us, since it is apparently part of this generation’s birthright to be responsible for no one but themselves and to be alienated about their chosen alienation. But the song shows the essential discipline for how to bless someone: you want to do it and you ask God to do it through you.
It happens just like I have been talking about, just like God does it and how God does it to us.
First, to bless someone, speak well to them
There is some power in our words. They can create or destroy. You may have heard what James said to the first believers: James 3:9-10 “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. …This should not be.” We need to determine to say good things to people.
“You are a good friend. You are a good person. Your hair is beautiful. You are God’s child. You are a gifted leader. You just spoke well to me. I love what you are trying to do here.” These are easy blessings. But they still take discipline.
One reason they take determination might be because you question your motives, or you listen when others question you. “Am I being dishonest about my true feelings? Won’t I be living a lie? I’m really mad – what if I just let that go? I’m bored – if I’m nice, will they stay around? I’m unsatisfied – I don’t want them to give up trying.” Blessing people is not for the shallow or the spiritually faint of heart. It takes heart muscles. It might take suffering to speak good to another person.
Second to bless someone, speak well of them
You call out the best in others, you strengthen what is good when you name it and bless it by setting it apart as notable, noble, holy. Proverbs 25:11 days, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” At the end of Proverbs the family is blessing mom: Proverbs 31:28-9 “Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: [he says] ‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.’”
I don’t think anyone can get enough affirmation. We are on the edge of the cliff of curses ready to fall off into self-loathing, which we think is very realistic. When you speak well of me, in my hearing, I am blessed. When it gets back to me that you have spoken well of me when I cannot hear, it is like you are providing me a solid place to stand. It is person -building. It opens us up to our original goodness and reconnects us to the goodness of God.
Here’s few blessings from me (Who could use a blessing from you?): Courtney has been an amazing addition to the office. Paul went to such lengths to make sure we were ready for drywall last week he got sick. Everyone, over ten people, who I asked to lead us during Holy Week said yes. You amazed me by coming up with more than our budgeted income so we can give a substantial amount for tsunami victims. Trevor Day has been a faithful cell leader for nearly four years. Dan Kayser has worked overtime to get plans for our new building done. It is really quite fun to bless. But it is not easy.
Blessing is not easy because we usually ask ourselves, “Am I being dishonest about these people to present just one side? Shouldn’t we get a balanced view?” No we don’t need a balanced view. Leave the news to Dan Rather. I don’t think anyone should be treated objectively at all. We can’t be “balanced.” We are to be loved. Jesus is so unbalanced he says: bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you (Luke 6). Peter teaches blessing as a discipline we practice: Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing (1 Peter 3:9). It will definitely take some effort. If we don’t make the effort we will probably lapse into cutting others down to build ourselves up – the most useless way to self-bless there is.
Finally, you bless someone by speaking well over them
This is kind of the “graduate school” of blessing. Isaac, son of Abraham, father of Jacob and Esau in the Old Testament beginnings of Israel, bestows his blessing on his heir in a very formal, irrevocable act of transmission of his power. “May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed” (Gen. 27).
People need to know they are blessed, that God is with them, that they are getting something spiritual and good. It is hard to receive these things. So if you stand in the place to give it, do it.
Yes, it does seem theatrical – the movies regularly make fun of people who do it. It does seem arrogant – but whenever you think, “Who am I to say this?” just say what you believe God wants to say, because all blessings flow from God. Maybe it seems a little grandiose? – but the blessing of God is grand, to feel surrounded by grace, endued with power is grand. We are grand. Why should we submit to what curses us? The blessing lifts it off and shields us from the power that would reduce us back to dirt. It is a very powerful weapon for good.
That’s why I wanted to encourage you to learn it, receive it and use it. Bless someone. Bless as many as you can. Will there always be results? No – for some the reception of the curse is deep. But quite often yes, quite visibly. Talk about that in your cell this week – name a time when you felt blessed by someone. It was probably a lovely moment, very worth sharing.