To start the new year, one of things my church is doing is having each of us pull a star from a basket with a word on it and asking us to adopt it as our “word of the year” on which to meditate, study, reflect, etc. (the first one I pulled didn’t have a word on it – I chose not to read too much into that). The next one I pulled had the word “Blessings” on it. Two things came quickly came to mind: First, the old hymn/Sunday School song “Count Your Blessings” (more on that in a moment), and second, a theme that has run through the teachings of my church and in the different scripture and books I’ve read over the last year or two – that we are “blessed in order that we may BE a blessing to others”. I’m going to focus this entry (and my year) on this second thought, but first let me deal with that old hymn so many of us are familiar with, because I think many of us are misusing the idea of God’s blessings.
With apologies to the late Johnson Oatman, Jr., who published this hymn in 1897, these (in my opinion) are theologically questionable and even possibly dangrous lyrics:
When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God has done.
Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.
When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings—money cannot buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.
So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.
Before I go further, let me state clearly that I see nothing wrong with looking at and being thankful for how we have been blessed. The Bible promises blessings to God’s people, starting with Abraham in Genesis 12, so I’m not out to ban the practice of blessing sightings. My concern, and this hymn highlights it, is what we choose to do with the recognition of those blessings. Are we using blessings to comfort ourselves midst “billows” and “discouragements”? Are we using them to counter-balance the “cross” we are “called to bear”? Do you look at others who have lots of gold and “stuff” and find instead your “wealth” in heavenly blessings? And perhaps worst, are we stuffing full our blessings blanket so we have “help and comfort” to our “journey’s end”?
Again, there is scriptural support and practical application for these views of “blessing”, but if we stop there, we miss what I believe is the MORE important purpose of blessings, and it is, unfortunately, nowhere to be found in these lyrics.
God’s blessing through Abraham are indeed ours. This is confirmed in both the old and new testaments:
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
But what is this blessing that we receive, and for what purpose do we receive it? The easy Evangelical answer is “salvation”. I could veer off into a paragraph or ten here about what it is many of us believe we are “saved” FOR and/or “saved” FROM by the Abrahamic blessing, but perhaps I will save that for another article. Instead, I want to draw out several other scriptures and focus less on how WE have received blessings and instead focus on how we are to BE a blessing TO OTHERS because of the blessing(s) we have received.
First a continuation of the passage form Genesis 12, where we too often stop and “count our blessings”:
I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
12 For there shall be a sowing of peace; the vine shall yield its fruit, the ground shall give its produce, and the skies shall give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things. 13 Just as you have been a cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so I will save you and you shall be a blessing. Do not be afraid, but let your hands be strong.
“Let your hands be strong”. In this, I see a very literal, temporal calling of God to us that we would be a substantial, earthly blessing to others. Furthermore, the beneficiaries of this blessing are not limited to those who are of the “house of Judah”. The blessing, according to the initial Abrahamic blessing is that “all the families of the earth shall be blessed”. Sounds pretty inclusive to me. I can already hear some of you saying “Sure, all the families of the earth will be blessed IF they respond in faith to God’s grace through faith.” Allow me to use a highly theological word: Hogwash. If that is the notion you have of God’s blessing for the world, I’ll pass, thanks. Might some of those I bless (as a result of God’s blessings to me) come to a “saving faith” through those blessings? Perhaps. Should that, however, be my sole purpose for bestowing blessing? If so, I think I am in for a lifetime of disappointment and disillusion.
Doesn’t it instead make far more sense and lead toward a better and kinder earthly existence for all if I understand that I am, indeed, blessed, and my response to that blessing is to bless others – period? I sense some of my Christian friends cringing at the idea of “earthly existence” and was, in fact, recently challenged on the notion that we have a responsibility to an “earthly Kingdom”. Rather than elaborate on that here, I will instead direct the concerned reader to the Lord’s Prayer:
10 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
and to some of my earlier blogs:
That’s enough for now. I pray God’s richest BLESSINGS for you this week, and I also pray that you find some of those blessings have come through me and those who claim the blessings of Abraham.