February 28, 2019 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
I’m sure you have seen this hashtag in social media. Perhaps you have even used it. I’m not here to shame anyone for using this hashtag. I want to raise awareness and caution about the use of the word “blessed.”
New York Times columnist, Jessica Bennett, observes, “Blessed has reached such heights of overuse that tracking it has become a virtual sport.” She goes on to lament, “The overuse of the word has all but stripped it of its meaning.” Let’s consider some uses of the word “blessed.”
“Happy Birthday! So fun doing life with you! #Blessed”
“Thankful for a happy boy tonight #blessed”
“Officially a College freshman. What an awesome welcome! #blessed”
“Do I deserve a wife this hot? No. No I do not. #blessed”
“Cozy. #Saturday #blessed”
“#family #love #neededthis #disneyland #fun #blessed #thankful”
“More early birthday celebrating! #family #blessed”
“Strawberries are half-priced at Trader Joe’s. I feel so blessed.”
Seems innocuous, right? People use the word “blessed” to express thanksgiving or excitement or surprise. Some of these examples might sound like a “humble brag.” Bennett reacts to the use of “blessed” in a more cynical manner, “There’s nothing quite like invoking holiness as a way to brag about your life. But calling something ‘blessed’ has become the go-to term for those who want to boast about an accomplishment while pretending to be humble, fish for a compliment, acknowledge a success (without sounding too conceited), or purposely elicit envy.”
The caution I raise is related to how the Bible uses the word “blessed.” All the examples above use the word blessed in a context of things going well, according to an American, western standard. Look at that list again. Would an African use the word “blessed” like this? A Haitian? A Chinese peasant?
When God “blesses” his people, does he bless in accordance with American, western standards of success, comfort, and pleasure?
Jesus gives a different list of standards of blessing in his Sermon on the Mount.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
“Blessed are those who mourn.”
“Blessed are the meek.”
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”
“Blessed are the merciful.”
“Blessed are the pure in heart.”
“Blessed are the peacemakers.”
“Blessed are those who are persecuted.”
This list is quite antithetical to American standards of success and comfort. Jesus uses the word “blessed” to describe those who are happy and favored in the sight of God. Material wealth? Nope. Physical health? Nope. Comfort? Nope.
Jesus commends spiritual qualities that highlight our inadequacies and exalt God’s sufficiency. A person is blessed when she enjoys fellowship with God through Christ. That blessing can be enjoyed no matter what circumstances you find yourself. That blessing can be enjoyed by every tongue and tribe and nation.
Words are powerful and formative. When we start using words, like “blessed,” in contexts to express thanksgiving over successes, comforts, and pleasures (at best) or to brag (at worst), we divorce the word from its intended meaning from Scripture. This shapes our hearts and minds. We begin to long for, strive for, a “blessed” life that does not conform to biblical standards, but worldly standards. Then we are susceptible to disappointment when we don’t feel “blessed,” while God says that “in Christ” we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing.
Like I said at the beginning, I’m not here to shame anyone. I want us to seek the “blessed” life. Just not the Americanized understanding of “blessing.” Let’s celebrate and enjoy the “blessed” life found in Christ.