I don’t think that means what you think it means…

In the last post I wrote about overcoming the comparison trap.  I said that when we understand that in God’s eyes we are blessed, we will be freed from temptation to compare ourselves with others.

But there was one problem with that post.

I never actually defined what it means to be “blessed”.

And the idea of being “blessed” is kind of abstract. We throw around the term in a variety of ways. We say things like:

“I feel blessed…”

“Bless you…”

“What a blessing that is…”

“I pray that God would bless…”

But what are we thinking when we speak of being blessed? What should we be thinking when we think of Christian blessings?

The truth is, “being blessed” likely doesn’t mean what you (and I) think it means.

In the BibleIsaac_Blessing_Jacob_-_Govert_Flinck

God blesses people when he gives them some kind of physical or spiritual gifts (Gen. 1:22; 24:35; Job 42:12; Ps. 45:2; 104:24, 35). A person blesses God when he shows God gratitude (Ps. 103:1, 2; 145:1, 2). A person blesses himself  when he rejoices in God’s goodness to him (Deut. 29:19; Ps. 49:18). And one person blesses another person when he expresses good wishes or prays to God for the welfare of the other person (Gen. 24:60; 31:55; 1 Sam. 2:20). [1]

So far this sounds like what we’d expect.

But in the New testament things get a little more interesting. The most common Greek word for “blessed” is makarios (see The Beatitudes). This word means “happy”.

But this is not the  Pharrell Williams kind of happy (nothing against the song). Being “blessed” is not based on a feeling. Rather makarios (“being blessed”) is based on a person’s status from the point of view of others. [2] In other words a person is “blessed” when they are favored by someone else. And it is the knowledge of that favor which brings about the person’s happiness.

This is the key to understanding being “blessed” in the Christian worldview. 

Being blessed is not something that comes from inside of us. Nor is it based on anything we do or have in and of ourselves. To be blessed is to be favored by someone else. When Jesus calls people “blessed” (again, see The Beatitudes) he is telling them they are favored by the greatest someone else— God himself.

This is the good news: through Jesus Christ any person can receive the favor of God!

Having the favor of God trumps all other favor. It’s the favor that levels the playing field. It is not about what a person has been given in relation to someone else. One gift from God is not better than another. The only thing that matters is that a person has the favor of God. For the favor of God is the blessing, not just the manifestations of that favor.

This is hard for us in the United States. We often equate being “blessed” with our allotment of physical goods — money, beauty, health, or other material things.

But God’s primary concern is not our financial and material well-being. The example of Paul in Phil 4:12-13 shows us that much.  Sometimes God blesses us with material resources and sometimes he doesn’t. So then, what is the big deal about God’s favor?

What good is God’s favor in our world?

Romans 8:31-35 answers that question well:

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Despite who we are or what we have done. Despite our social-economic condition or family’s colored past. Despite our failures, or sins. Despite our insecurities or weakness.

If we have the favor of God,  we are free from all condemnation. We have a new social status. We are members of a new family. We have a new inheritance waiting for us. We have been made into a new creation. We have been forgiven. We have the Spirit of God within us, and are able to draw on his security and strength.

To have the favor of God is to know, despite our external circumstances, that God is always for us. That He is always working things out for our good according to his purpose. That our story is (because of our relationship to God) always significant.

To have the favor of God is to know that the perfect, unconditional, eternal, incomprehensible love of God displayed through Jesus Christ is yours forever.

And the more we understand what that means we will understand what it means to be “blessed”.

 

 

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[1] Easton, M. G. (1893). Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.

[2] Carson, D. A. (1984). Matthew. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 8: Matthew, Mark, Luke (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (131). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

 

 

 

Five Practices that Lead to Happiness

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I hear what you’re saying.  You want to succeed in life, you want to feel significant and you want to be happy. But often you feel tired, unsure, and a little depressed. You want to know how to break that cycle without spending massive amounts of money for motivation that won’t last, or investing massive amounts of time for change that won’t stick. You want life to be different but you’re not sure what to do. You’re not looking for a quick fix but neither do you want to start something that will feel like a burden for the rest of your life.

Here is my humble attempt to help with five practices that, when I choose to apply them, help lead me to happiness.

Celebrate– For me I’m currently celebrating that I have been created by God, and that God never stops pursuing me. I’m celebrating that this God of infinite knowledge and power wants to be with me, to teach me, to lead me, and to care for me.  I’m celebrating that He has given me a wonderful wife and the best kids ever. I am celebrating that He has given me a job where I get to use my gifts and talents.  And I am celebrating that I have friends and extended family that really love me. Starting my day with celebration changes everything.

Create– I am learning more and more that I am made to create. When I create I am reflecting God, my Creator. Therefore to create is an act of worship.  The creations can be small- a blog post, a lesson plan, or lyrics to a song.  The size and scope does not matter. What does matter is only that I am using my gifts, skills, or imagination to make something. Anything. When I create I feel significant, and when I feel significant, I feel happy.

Connect– There is almost nothing more valuable than taking time to connect with others. To be honest, this is often the hardest one for me. To pursue others truly, like God pursues me, takes real work and involves constantly fighting my fear of rejection. But God is continually reminding me that we are made for relationships. People want to be connected with.  And happiness comes when I take the initiative to pursue people, even just one person each day.

Challenge-I don’t know about you, but it’s easy for my mind to dwell on negative thoughts, and there are great consequences for this. My negative thoughts lead to negative attitudes which in turn lead to negative practices. It has been said many times before, but it is so true: change starts with the thoughts in our head. I need to take time each day to challenge (and defeat) these thoughts. Scripture calls us to renew our minds (Romans 12:2), so I challenge my negative thoughts by spending time with God and letting Him fill my mind with His Word.  I also like to find time to be inspired by others. Just the other day I read a quote by the legendary motivational speaker Zig Ziglar: “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”  I need motivation every day, because I need to daily challenge my negative thoughts, negative attitudes, and negative practices. When I do, I am happy.

Be Consistent – Ok so I lied. Connecting with others is not the hardest practice for me– consistency is. Practicing the same things over and over again is incredibly difficult for me. There is a massive part of me that hates (with a capital “H”) routine. But I am learning that some routines are good.  When I get up early each morning to spend time with God, exercise, and shower before my kids wake up, I am happier. Each morning that I choose to reorder my world in a small way by taking the time to make my bed, I am happier. Consistency is hard, but it is also the most essential because it fosters the continual enjoyment of the fruits of the other practices, so it too leads me to happiness.

Celebrate, Create, Connect, Challenge and Consistency. I pray that these practices would lead you to a little more happiness each day.

What other practices have helped you find happiness?