Stop Saying I’m Blessed??

I ran across this blog post recently when several facebook friends shared it. The post struck a chord with me, in part because in the church where I serve, we have a time each week in our worship service called “Blessings and Testimonies.” It’s basically an open mike, and anyone can share anything about how God has blessed them that week.

What we usually hear is a testimony of something good that happened—someone traveled safely, someone got a raise or a promotion or a good grade or a better car, someone was sick and got well, or someone met with success in this or that venture—all those things that are generally regarded as blessings. In other words, we set aside time in our Sunday service for people to say exactly what Scott Dannemiller calls “The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying.”

Like Mr. Dannemiller, I also wonder whether it’s a good idea to use the label blessing for such material good fortune. I think it sometimes reflects a distorted view of God that sees Him as “some sort of sky-bound, wish-granting fairy who spends his days randomly bestowing cars and cash upon his followers.” And, as Scott points out, what about the people God didn’t bless?  Were they unfaithful or unworthy? Is all this blessing talk a low-grade prosperity doctrine infection? Maybe.

But with respect, Scott’s proposed solution is way off-target. First, he says that to call such things blessings is a lie, that to give God the glory for everything I have is NOT the right thing to do. But is that biblical? James 1:17 says, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” Paul wrote to Timothy, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1Ti 6:17 NAU).

When I recently moved to a remote place outside the U.S., I needed to buy a small pickup. After several days of looking, I came across what can only be called a spectacular deal. If Mr. Dannemiller is right, I should not give God the glory for this good fortune. But the Bible says that if this is indeed good fortune, it is indeed from God—a blessing.

Mr. Dannemiller does seem to want to acknowledge God’s hand in these things, even if he doesn’t want to call them blessings. At the end of his post, he tells us that from now on, he’ll say “I’m grateful” rather than “I’m blessed.” I must admit this is a bit baffling to me. If it’s not a blessing, why am I grateful?

Confusing Blessing with Reward

This, I think, reveals the heart of the issue, which is this: what exactly do we mean when we say blessing? Is a blessing an occasion of God’s grace, an expression of unmerited favor? Or is a blessing God’s positive response to my faithfulness—God’s positive reinforcement, so to speak? If I say I am blessed, am I announcing God’s approval of who I am or what I’ve done, or am I simply saying I’ve had an experience of God’s goodness that I certainly don’t deserve?

If I notice that a blessing is just a specific experience of God’s grace, then the list of things I can count as blessings gets longer, not shorter. The most-blessed person is the one who best recognizes his undeserving nature. I think this is the point of the beatitudes. This approach allows me to perceive God’s blessing even in times of difficulty—when an accident occurs, or I don’t get the raise or the promotion or the good grade, or when someone gets sick and they don’t get well. By this approach, the Christian who lives on $10 per day and the one who earns millions can both say, “I am blessed.”

I look forward to hearing someone stand up in our Blessing time to tell us how God drew near to them in the midst of a catastrophe. That will be a sign of maturity. But I don’t think we’ll get there by denying that our everyday good fortunes are blessings from God.

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13 Replies to “Stop Saying I’m Blessed??”

  1. Doug, thank you for your insight. Good response to the article. I am always confused when people write articles such as Dannemiller.

  2. Hey Doug,

    Scott Dannemiller, here. I loved this piece! You may have captured it better than I did. “If I say I am blessed, am I announcing God’s approval of who I am or what I’ve done, or am I simply saying I’ve had an experience of God’s goodness that I certainly don’t deserve?” Indeed, all of creation is a blessing from God. The good and the bad. None of us are deserving of either. But thank you for encouraging us to find the blessing in what we tend to call “the bad.” Peace.

  3. Thank you, Scott, for your gracious reply, and thank you for getting a lot of people to think about how to adopt a more mature idea of God’s blessings.

  4. Hi Doug,

    I am grateful for circumstances turning out in a positive manner-whether they favor myself, family, friends, or acquaintances. The blessings God has bestowed on us are God’s love for all his children (for creating all of us), the promise of salvation for following the teachings of Christ, our own ability to love one another, and the forgiveness of our sins. (This is God’s goodness.) Material things are not blessings. They are however considered good fortune-sometimes by luck and mostly hard work.

    Have a terrific week filled with thoughts of God’s goodness:),

    JD Booth (Miss Hydrangea Bloom)

  5. JD,
    My thanks for the reblog on misshydrangeabloom.

    I would agree if you were to say that the things you mentioned are God’s BEST blessings. But I don’t agree when you categorically say that “Material things are not blessings.” In my view, ANY experience of God’s goodness can be called a blessing. and this includes the enjoyment of the material goods that are part of God’s provision in the created order. In fact, God’s “creating all of us” is a material thing. When it comes to humanity, it is extremely difficult to locate the boundary between material things and spiritual things.

    Of course in the fallen world in which we live, not all material things are blessings and we are not very good at discerning which are and which aren’t. But when God provides the material things necessary for life and for following Christ, that’s a blessing. When God deprives his children of material things in order to provide something better, that’s a blessing as well. We don’t amplify the value of God’s best blessings by denying the blessedness of his lesser ones.

    1. Doug,

      God made us in his image: therefore we are not material things. We are God’s children and have souls. You commented “When it comes to humanity, it is extremely difficult to locate the boundary between material things and spiritual things.” I would ask you “When your house is on fire, what do you leave with first?” Do you grab the most expensive item in the house or do you leave with your wife and children? The ability to love is one of God’s blessings he grants to his children. We are not material things to be bought and sold-or owned. All of humanity has grappled with such poor mistakes of enslaving human beings in history. We have souls and are made in God’s image.

      Things to think about, (Peace be with you)

      JD

    2. Human beings are not material things? Are flesh and blood not material things? It seems that once again, we have a problem of definitions. You seem to be using the term ‘material things’ to refer to economic goods, things that can be bought or sold or owned. I’m using the term to refer simply to things composed of physical matter and energy, which human beings certainly are.

      The fact that we are made in God’s image doesn’t mean that we are not material beings — that our physicality isn’t real — at least not in any orthodox or biblical Christian frame of reference. Jesus, who IS the image of God, is the INCARNATE Son of God, who died a very physical death. THE CENTRAL doctrine of the Christian faith is the historic BODILY resurrection of Jesus. God himself, in the person of the Son of God, is both a spiritual and a material being, a participant in the material creation of God.

      The idea that only spiritual things are good, and that material things are either not real or bad or at least not good, is NOT a Christian idea. This view comes from ancient Greek philosophy, which came to its full expression in the gnostic religions of 2nd and 3rd centuries. Much of the New Testament is written to REFUTE early expressions of gnosticism. The material world was created by God and declared by God to be good — a blessing. And as the text I quoted in the post declares, “God richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.” One of the main blessings mentioned in the Bible is material prosperity in the promised land.

      When I say that the boundary between material things and spiritual things is not clear, I don’t mean that it’s hard to distinguish between the value of human beings and the value of material wealth. Instead, what I mean is that my spiritual nature and my physical or material nature are both essential to my humanity, and it can be difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. The classic example of this is the question of the distinction between my mind and my brain. They are not exactly the same thing, but you can’t really have one without the other. My body is a material blessing, the house — to use one of the biblical metaphors — of my spirit and soul.

      Finally, I want to return to the point of the discussion, which is whether it’s legitimate to say I’m blessed when I experience material good fortune. To answer that, I need to answer two more-basic questions: (1) Is the thing received actually good? and (2) Is it from God? Since the Bible says that all good things come from God, a positive answer to the first question is a positive answer to the second. If I receive something good (and that is often hard to determine), then I am blessed.

      The real problem is NOT whether material goods are blessings or not. The real problem lies in whether I attribute my blessings to merit or to grace. Does God bless me because I deserve it or just because he’s good and it’s in his nature to bless his people? The Bible’s answer is the latter. So when God blessed me by providing me with a good vehicle that helps me to serve him, it’s not because I did something to deserve it — I don’t deserve it. He was good to me because he is that sort of person, and each experience of his goodness, from the gift of salvation to the gift of a comfy chair, is rightly regarded as a blessing.

      1. Doug,

        The word of God has been translated and interpreted so many times it is difficult to even determine where to start when people discuss biblical metaphors. Thank you for sharing your interpretations of blessings. It certainly has contributed to my knowledge of different perspectives. I agree with you that one can look at “blessings” from your vantage point as merit or grace. However, I will continue to believe and practice that drawing closer to my relationship with Christ involves my love and support for all God’s children. We are blessed to know God’s love and receive the promise of salvation. I still cannot overcome that a comfortable chair is a blessing from God. Why is my neighbor not “blessed” with the same chair when his back hurts? At some point, the distribution and denial of “blessings” sounds like a game show that God plays. I don’t think God chooses to favor one beloved child over another. His blessings are spiritual in nature-not in the material. I think we could discuss this analogy for quite some time and refer each other to biblical passages and metaphors.

        Thank you for a great discussion,

        JD

      2. See Ecclesiastes 3:1-9, 7:1-5. Not all comfy chairs are blessings, and sometimes an uncomforted hurting back is a blessing (See also James 1:2ff.). I guess our main problem in determining whether some particular thing is a blessing or not may be that it’s nearly impossible to tell whether any particular thing is good.
        Just one more try: Is a hug a spiritual thing or a material thing? The answer is yes. Among human beings, spiritual things come in material wrappers.

  6. Hi Doug,

    Great analogy on the “spiritual things come in material wrappers.” To me we accept the “Holy Spirit” (HS) as Christians. The HS works through us to deliver God’s love and spiritual blessings to others. A man who volunteers to build a home for a family who is in great financial need, is a man who has the HS flowing through his heart and soul. One could argue that the result of his spiritual blessing is physical because the result is a house. However if the man was not filled with the HS then the spiritual blessing would not have enacted him to help his fellow man. (God’s love for all his children)

    Have a terrific week,

    JD

  7. Hey Doug,
    Very clarifying discussion, thanks. Your comments about the material/spiritual and our being created in God’s image reminded me of a passage in Chapter 15 “The Divine Image of Man” of Martin Lloyd-Jones’ Great Doctrines of the Bible.

    Glad to hear that your work at IBC is going well. We’re missing you but holding down the fort back here in Nashvegas. Keep on keeping on.

    Perry

  8. I saw the original article posted on Facebook also. I agreed with some of Dannemiller’s points in the article, but had some of the same reservations as you while reading it. Anyways, I really enjoyed reading your opinion on this, Doug. The last section about blessing v reward had a lot of good points in it and some of the same opinions I had while reading the original article. Thanks for sharing!

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