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.