If you’re polite, you’ll say “God bless you” when someone sneezes.
If you’re from the Southern latitudes of the United States you’ll bless people’s souls as they’re in the process of embarrassing themselves.
If you’re an outgoing Christian you might end a conversation saying, “Have a blessed day”.
If you attend a church service near you, you’ll likely hear the word “blessed” about 27 times, with a particular concentration as the offering plate is about to be passed.
We use the word “bless” in a wide variety of settings with quite a larger range of meaning. Despite the common usage, if you’re like me you struggle to articulate the biblical meaning of the word.
As we begin this quest to understand the biblical concept of blessing, it’s worth noting that the Bible begins and ends with God blessing his children. Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created mankind. Once created the very next thing God did was to bless the people he created. Then in Revelation 22:14 God blesses his children who maintain their faith throughout their lives.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” ~ Genesis 1:28
Blessing is not a cultural embellishment of socially defined politeness. Human life begins with a blessing from Creator God.
We all understand that blessing is a good thing. (If you have time to kill, search for #blessed on Twitter and you’ll find a wide variety of blessings.) I suspect most people hear the word blessing and substitute thoughts such as: ‘Good luck’, ‘Live long and prosper’, ‘be happy’, and ‘be successful’. In fact, in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5), one of the most familiar blessing passages in the Bible, quite a few Bible translations replace the usual opening of each line “Blessed are…” with “Happy are…”.
While happiness,health and prosperity are common elements of blessing, God has something much greater in mind when he blesses us.
I started contemplating the concept of blessing after reading a chapter in Harold Shank’s book Listening to His Heartbeat. As he provides his definition, Shank first cites Westermann’s What Does the Old Testament Say About God,
“Blessing is a quiet, continuous, flowing and unnoticed working of God which cannot be captured in moments or dates.”
Shank himself provides this summary (113),
Blessing is a theological way of describing all the provision, all the good, all the grace, all the mercy, all the love, all that God does for humanity. Blessing is being valued, worthwhile, and accepted.
Later Shank compares blessing and oxygen as he suggests that “Blessing is to the soul what air is to the body. Without blessing and air, life comes to a halt.” (114)
I don’t feel that I have any profound observations to add to these definitions. I guess I’d summarise this concept by emphasising that when God blesses his people he communicates to us that his heart’s desire is for us to experience his goodness. Not necessarily as we define goodness, but on his terms.
Theologically, when we say “God bless you” we say something like “may you experience and appreciate the presence and goodness of God in your life.” This perspective moves the focus of the blessing away from material accumulation to relationship with God.
In Genesis 1 God creates man and woman and immediately, as they wake and grow in awareness of the surroundings. As they breathe, see colors and shapes, feel temperatures and textures. As they’re filled with wonder, and just before they can contemplate fear, God blesses them. God tells them that from the depths of his heart he longs for them to experience and appreciate his presence and goodness, his love and his grace.
He blessed them… and his heart longs just as strongly for you.
I find that Laura Story’s song Blessings powerfully redirects our understanding of the concept away from “stuff” and toward God’s heart. In this video she speaks of some of her personal background to the song before performing it. I pray it will uplift you today.