Blessing: kneeling before another with gifts.
A heavenly father who blesses
Imagine seeing a very small girl sitting by the side of a road on a cold and windy day. The girl is not adequately dressed for the weather, and as it begins to rain her clothes get soaked and she starts shivering. Her face is dirty and she is very hungry and lost. Then, just at the point when you think there is no hope for her at all, you see a strong man walk up to the small child. He kneels down so that his eyes are level with the young girls. He then gets a handkerchief out and wipes away her tears as he tells her not to be frightened and not to worry. The man then takes off his coat and puts it around her shoulders. He takes a flask of hot drink from his pocket, along with a sandwich, and gives it to the girl. He then picks her up and carries her back to the family she had strayed from when she became lost. In this little story we see a clear picture of what blessing is all about: receiving from another.
In the Bible ‘blessing’ speaks of stooping before another person and presenting them with gifts and in Genesis we see that the first person who does this is God. He breathed life into man and placed him in a beautiful world – a place where man could know God and benefit from the provision and love of a heavenly Father: God blessed man.
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."
This world is our Father’s world and was created for our benefit and as a place where we could meet with God and grow in friendship with the One who is the giver of all good gifts. Due to sin this world is now separated from God, yet God still reaches out to the lost in an amazing work of blessing, reconciliation and restoration. Another point to note before moving on is that blessing is always related to covenant-relationship. A covenant is a deep binding agreement between parties who give themselves and not just their abilities for the benefit of those they enter into covenant with. God, in love, grace and mercy, gives Himself to rescuing and restoring fallen man; our response is to give ourselves to Him.
God takes the initiative
Throughout scripture we see that God always takes the initiative in blessing - which speaks of receiving from God’s heart. For example, in Genesis we see that it was God who took the initiative and walked into the Garden of Eden to instigate communication with Adam and Eve after they had fallen into sin: His heart reached out to them.
But the Lord God called to the man, "Where are you?"
God wants us all to receive blessing from Him because this is the way we were created to live – as those called to receive from a loving parent (Gen 1:27-8) and share what they have received with others.
Through God’s grace (Eph 2:8-10), mercy (Neh 9:31) and loving-kindness He took the initiative in seeking to lead us (2 Cor 2:14) out of what we have become by way of sin and separation and into who we are really called to be as His sons and daughters (Rom 8:15, Gal 4:6). In all of this we see that blessing involves the presence and heart of One who calls us home: out of what the world has become and into the environment we were always meant to live in.
Throughout scripture we see this picture of ‘coming out’ and ‘coming home’, whether in Abraham being called out of the pagan ziggurat city of Ur (Gen 12), or the people of Israel being brought out of Egyptian bondage (Ex 5:1) and into a place of blessing in God’s providential care. Our heavenly Father is the One who lifted David from the mud and mire (Ps 40:2) and reasoned with wayward Israel (Isaiah 1:16-18) in order to help her let go of waywardness, pain and suffering and come into a place of blessing. God is here to help us and blessing is about receiving from the One who has drawn close and stooped low to lift us out of darkness and condemnation into blessing through Jesus (Rom 5:1, 8:1).
From Genesis to words of blessing in Numbers
In Genesis we have the book of beginnings, and in Exodus we read of redemption from slavery as a heavenly Father brings His people out of the illegitimate ruler-ship of Pharaoh. Then, in Leviticus, we read of atonement, sacrifice and holiness all coming from the hand of God and ultimately pointing to Christ. The camera then moves on from Leviticus into Numbers where we pause to look at blessing yet again. The Hebrew word for ‘Numbers’ is ‘Be-midbar’ and means “In the wilderness,” which in Hebraic understanding was the ‘place of hearing’ where distraction was removed and man was called to focus on the One who said, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Deut 8:3). The name, ‘Numbers’ comes from the numbering of Israel in a census that was taken.
As we walk through Numbers we come to Numbers 6:24-7 where we read of Aaron, the High Priest, speaking these words from God to Israel: -
“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace."' "So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them."
When God said He would put His name on the Israelites and bless them He is saying that He would bring the full blessing of his presence to bear upon His people as He helped them to grow into maturity, like a Father helping a son or daughter. For Israel and for all believers this growth is not to come about through intellectual knowledge alone but through engaging with the One who stooped low to lift us up. God wants us to receive and has done everything necessary to make this possible; our part is to respond.
God’s love is not quenched by our failure, yet our sin and failure can prevent us from receiving His love which is always present. That’s why our world is in a mess, because we often choose to live our own way; yet there is still hope. When Israel was in rebellion God still continued to reach out in His cosmic work of redemption in order to bless people. Because of this agape-love and desire to bless we can read of Naaman, a Syrian army chief being healed by God (2 Kings 5:14, Lk 4:27) and of the inhabitants of the pagan city Nineveh being brought to repentance: a turning away from old ways to embrace the grace of God (Jonah 3:7ff). Elsewhere in Isaiah we see God reasoning with those He had every right to destroy, (Isaiah 1) and in the gospels we see Jesus painting stories that revealed what God was really like to those who had lost sight of God or imposed their own version of God on others. God loves us and whenever we turn back to Him we find that He is already there.
God blesses through His empowering presence
As a young seven-year-old African-American girl, Ruby, was taken to a mixed race school - the first of its kind in the USA. Crowds of people who were opposed to this type of school lined the pathway to her school and were held back by police as they hurled insults at parents and children. Inside the school, psychologists waited to talk to any child that might be frightened or traumatised by the angry crowd. Think of how the children must have felt.
One day Ruby was seen to stop briefly and say something under her breath. When she got into school the counsellors asked Ruby what the matter was and what she had been saying. Ruby replied that she asked God to forgive the people who were shouting because they didn’t know what they were doing; in doing this we see a girl who lived in blessing. Ruby had her heavenly Father looking after her and the Great Shepherd walking with her by His Spirit. In Ruby we see a young girl who was being blessed despite all that went on around her.
In Genesis 16:8 we read of an abused slave-girl called Hagar who, due to Abraham’s lies to an Egyptian King, ended up in Abraham’s household. At times Hagar was ill-treated and on one occasion ran off into the desert as a lonely, pregnant and abused girl. Think about how she must have felt. Yet all was not lost as the angel of the Lord entered her realm of pain and stooped low in order to lift her up – in order to bless her.
“And he said, "Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?" "I'm running away from my mistress Sarai," she answered. Then the angel of the Lord told her, "Go back to your mistress and submit to her." The angel added, "I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count." The angel of the Lord also said to her: "You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard of your misery.”
‘Ishmael’ means ‘God hears’ and every time Hagar called her son, she would have been reminded of God’s care and promises to her child. Those around her may have regarded her as a ‘nobody’ or a tool to be used for personal gain; yet Hagar was somebody. She was somebody known and noticed by the God who sees nothing in His universe as trivial or insignificant.
Blessing speaks of God’s protective care and His willingness to reach out to all who turn to Him
“But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries In a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
Open to receiving from God
“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”
In Psalm 1:1-3 we read that the fruit of blessing (those who are already receiving) is the ability to continue to grow into maturity (Ps 1:3), discern what is right (Ps 1:1) and walk along the right path with Him, no matter what we may be going through (Gal 5:25). In God we are brought back to our true self in Him as the pain of sin and suffering is removed and thought patterns are transformed
As Christians, it is through the salvation-creating work of Jesus (John 10:10) and His sacrificial giving (John 3:16-17) that we are able to walk in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit (Zech 4:6, Acts 1:8) and grow to maturity whereby we receive more of what God has already prepared for us. In obeying God, we are able to receive the blessing that is already present for us because of His love. Our obedience does not earn blessing, but enables us to receive what is already present due to God’s loving-kindness. For example, If I am asked to turn up at a house to receive a meal that has been provided for me, my action does not earn the meal, but enables me to receive what was already present.
The blessing mentioned in Matthew 5
God created us to receive blessing, yet we need to have the right attitude of heart if we are going to receive all that is already ours through Christ (2 Cor 5:17) because it is a right attitude that opens the door to blessing.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.”
In Jesus’ day there were many who knew about the rules and regulations of oppressive religious systems and an empire that lived ‘Pax Romana’ to the detriment of many of its citizens. Many experienced first-hand what it meant to have heavy taxes imposed on them and understand what hunger, sickness, malnutrition, isolation, loneliness and demonic possession was all about. They also knew what it was like to be judged by their history and their ethnicity and many would have known what it to feel like ‘a nobody’. But in Jesus and in the power of His kingdom, they found something very different: someone who, whilst being totally against sin, was totally for the sinner.
In Jesus they found a rule and reign that was based on love without compromise to holiness and holiness without compromise to love. In Jesus they found a Kingdom that crossed social and cultural barriers and possessed a heart that stood with those who were hurting, suffering and downtrodden; a heart that did not write off those who had made mistakes or got it wrong.
In Jesus, they found a King and a Kingdom that did not stand with them out of a sense of duty or obligation, or for what it could extract from them, for this King already owned every molecule and atom in the universe. Instead they found a King in servant-rags and a Kingdom that exercised breath-taking grace, mercy, compassion and love without compromise to holiness.
Through Jesus, struggling, burdened and sometimes wayward men and women came to realise that the Law was not a harsh-taskmaster inflicting heavy burdens; instead it revealed heart of the law-giver. In Jesus they saw the Lawmaker standing in the place of the lawbreaker and, ultimately, paying the price for everything they had done wrong. And during His ministry, whilst on a journey to their place of punishment, Jesus told them amazing stories about a heavenly Father who ran out to the prodigal (Luke 15:20), who revealed what God’s rule and reign was like in likening it to someone going out at the very hottest part of the day (Matt 20:1-8) to support, provide for, nourish and encourage the less-fortunate.
God breaks down barriers, lives out the good news He preaches and gives power for others to live the very same way when they turn to Him in repentance and faith. God brings the marginalised back into the family, restores the rights of the down-trodden and outrageously forgives those that others have learned to hate with a passion and encourages us to do likewise. Yet He is still holy. He is so holy that comparing a match with the noon-day sun does not adequately illustrate the difference between our concept of perfection and His concept of life as it should be lived.
At the cross we then see how this holiness and love is combined without weakening the other and how a place of crucifixion, degradation and insult becomes the very place where we find hope, forgiveness and reconciliation. In Jesus’ life, death and resurrection we find the answer to the question, “how is it that God can bless us so much?”
Blessing is all about covenant relationship; about God stooping low and coming alongside fallen man. Blessing is like a man who takes a day off to work to help a struggling friend, yet is also so much more than this. Blessing is like a bank manager who writes off someone’s mortgage and then goes and helps them repair their dilapidated house, yet so much more than this. Blessing is not just the voice that says “I will help you”, it is also the hands that lift up the down-trodden. Yet it is also so much more than this. It is the judge who pays the fine and then lets the accused move in to his house in order to help him put his life right. Blessing is God giving Himself and that is nothing that I can do to earn this blessing in my own strength. The only thing I can do is acknowledge my bankruptcy and receive His love, grace and mercy as I align my heart with His and see the world from His perspective.
As already mentioned, the word blessing is always related to covenant and the covenant is always good. The Good Shepherd is Jesus (John 10:11) and in His life we see the power, authority and expression of the covenant at its deepest, it’s most vulnerable and its most powerful: in His relationship with His father.
Jesus said, blessed are the poor in spirit and blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who are aware of their spiritual poverty and who have come to the end of themselves. Blessed are those who recognise that, in the light of eternity, they have no power or ability to defend themselves in their own strength, yet can still call out to the Lord. Such a person receives blessing and can continue to receive because they understand grace and share this grace – His grace with others.
Jesus said, blessed are those who mourn and hunger and thirst for righteousness with this mourning being of the sort that pierces the heart like an arrow or the mourning of the death of a loved one. Blessed are those who feel for people who struggle and feel for the broken misshapen world they live in and desire from the very bottom of their hearts to the ways of God birthed into all life. This sort of person has genuine faith in action, for they are continually aware of God’s concern for humanity and that God is a God who helps and gives them all they need to help others by the presence and support of the Holy Spirit.
In Jesus there is a promise to those who receive, and think and live according to His teaching: They will be filled. They will be filled because they are open to the kingdom; they desire the kingdom and seek to put God first. They are those who do not use the breath God has given or the life He has provided to pull down others, or wrongly judge them or moan about them. Instead they live by God’s word and feel from the heart and are filled with the Holy Spirit as they walk with all manner of people from all manner of life offering themselves and not just advice.
Jesus also said that those who are merciful and pure in heart will obtain mercy and see God. Mercy speaks of not receiving what we do deserve and of active love and compassion to those we might have every right to call to account.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
“To try to discover the meaning of the commandments through study and reading without actually living in accordance with them is like mistaking the shadow of something for its reality. It is only by participating in the truth that you can share in the meaning of truth.”
The Philokalia, compiled by Nikodimos and Makarios p 216.
Called to follow the example of Christ
In 1 Peter 2:21 we read that we are to follow the example of Christ, yet the picture contained in these words is not of someone moving in their own strength. We see this from the word ‘example’ that Peter uses. The Greek word is ‘hupogrammos’ and it is a word that comes from the way children were taught in primary education and, to me, speaks of blessing.
In primary education, young children were given a wax tablet to practice writing on. The teacher would draw parallel lines in the wax to keep the student’s writing straight and would also write a word within the two lines. He would then hold the stylus with the child and trace it over the words. In this picture we have a powerful image of how God holds his hand over our lives and guides and empowers us in right paths.
We are not on our own and being like Jesus speaks of intimacy with the Father and the reliance on the leading of the Holy Spirit. In Him and Him alone I can become all that I have been called to be as a child of God. All this is because of God’s grace – because God stooped low to raise me up; because God blesses me. As Paul said to the Philippian church, the blessings we receive are according to God’s riches (Phil 3:19) and not our own achievements. Therefore, no matter what we have been able to do for God, blessing is always because of His grace and mercy.
My actions enable me to receive what is already present: the heart of God
At the risk of sounding repetitive, let’s remember that when God asks us to do something, our action does not earn blessing but enable us to receive what is already present because of His love. Our heavenly Father is the giver of all blessing; the One who heals our lives and restores us back to our true self in Him (Psalm 23:3).
“He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.”
God is our Father and knows everything that has happened to us in life – whether good or bad. He knows exactly what our lives should really be like and seeks to restore us to our true self in Him. We were made for blessing and therefore the first thing we need to do is open our lives to receive from Him.
“It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”
1 Corinthians 1:30-31