What Does It Mean to be “Blessed”?

7:36am | Tokyo, Japan

I was about to add a post on my page about how blessed I feel to have such an amazing wife, but as I typed it, I felt myself stopped by the thought, “What does it really mean to be blessed?” While I consider myself blessed to have Yasmin, there are times when this blessing and I don’t get along. Does she cease to be a blessing when we fight? Of course not. This is why I wanted to share my thoughts on being blessed, hoping that we won’t be so unstable, so easily impressed by stories of blessings and so easily rocked when our circumstances don’t seem blessed at all.

We see the word blessed used a lot and we hear it in church often. A guy gets a new car and he calls himself blessed by God. A lady meets someone who matches her list of qualities and calls herself blessed because God knew her “heart’s desire”. Parents teach their children to be good so that God will bless them with the things they want. There are so many examples of God’s blessing around us. While most of these are well-meaning, many times, I find that what we refer to as the blessed life is simply a life where we get what we want. We see proof of this when we quickly equate receiving something we want with blessing and not getting it a lack of blessing. Very rarely, if ever, have I seen anyone say ‘I’m in my forties, I’m single, I’ve always wanted to get married, but for whatever reason it hasn’t happened, and I’m blessed because of it.” Very rare is a Nick Vujicic who can say he’s blessed by God to have no limbs. Some people don’t have a certain mobile phone and they already feel cursed. This guy has no limbs and he says God blessed him with his situation. I believe this is because he has a proper understanding of what it means to be blessed.

Being blessed by God doesn’t mean that some divine being has aligned the universe to give us our heart’s desires. Being blessed by God means that God Himself has aligned the Universe to bring us closer to Him. Here’s a great article from Desiring God that explains this idea. I especially like this part:

One translation of the New Testament (ESV) has 112 references with the words bless, blessing, or blessed, none of which connect blessing to material prosperity. Consider these passages:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . Blessed are those who mourn . . . . Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake . . . Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:3–11)

“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28)

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven. (Romans 4:7; quoting Psalm 32:1)

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial. (James 1:12)

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. . . . Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Revelation 14:1319:9)

There is no hint of material prosperity or perfect circumstances in any New Testament reference. On the contrary, blessing is typically connected with either poverty and trial or the spiritual benefits of being joined by faith to Jesus. 

According to the Key-Word Study Bible, “The Greek word translated blessed in these passages is makarioi which means to be fully satisfied. It refers to those receiving God’s favor, regardless of the circumstances” (emphasis added).

What is blessing, then? Scripture shows that blessing is anything God gives that makes us fully satisfied in him. Anything that draws us closer to Jesus. Anything that helps us relinquish the temporal and hold on more tightly to the eternal. And often it is the struggles and trials, the aching disappointments and the unfulfilled longings that best enable us to do that.

 

Our King-Sized-Bed-Sized Room


Two days ago, when arriving at our hotel room in Japan, upon opening the door, I said, “Yasmin! Our room is huge!” knowing that I had booked us in one of those business/travelers hotels with tiny rooms, which I said was so that she could “experience” it, even if my motives were more cheap. She walked-in excitedly, then started laughing when she saw how small our room actually was. She laughed as she said, “I really thought it was huge, that when I saw the place it looked even smaller!” We were both laughing as we struggled to find spots for our suitcases. It was really tight. We called it our “king-sized-bed-sized room” because the main part is practically as big as our bed at home. “Now this is a honeymoon suite!” I declared.

I have a feeling this is going to be a funny story we’ll remember forever, a story to remind us of how blessed we are, because we are closer to one another.

In this age where material things are the proof of success and the good life, where true spirituality has been lost to this combination of spiritual materialism and spiritual self-centeredness, which simply means my “spirituality must get me the life I want”, we must make it a point to deepen our soul and reject the idea that having is more important than being. To have things is nice. To be someone, to know who you are in Christ, is empowering. To have someone is nice. To be with someone is special. Yasmin and I have been enjoying our tiny room. (I’ll leave out the details.) We’re enjoying it even it isn’t the most luxurious thing, even if it is inconvenient, because we’re enjoying each other.

Someday, Yasmin and I will die, and one of us is going to leave the other to remember our king-sized-bed-sized room alone. Just the thought of that makes me very sad. I don’t even want to think about it. But I have a much greater blessing than Yasmin, and she has One much greater than me. I am blessed, not because of what I have, but because of who I am, a person loved by God. What an unshakable blessing it is to be loved by God. In all circumstances, richer or poorer, sick or healthy, even in death my blessing does not part with me.

This is what it means to be blessed: to be alive and so aware of God’s love, that every moment becomes a moment to share with Him, and a moment to share Him with the world, that others may live every moment with Him as well. That’s a lot of moments. That’s every moment. Everyone’s every moment with Him, what a beautiful thought.
#db

 

Tangible

It’s not enough for people to respect me.

I want to know, I need to know, in the deepest part of me, where there’s no one but God and myself, that in our partnership, we weren’t lazy nor dishonest with each other. I know that He’s faithful with His part. I need to focus on being faithful with mine. This is why I put a lot of emphasis on measured results, so that I never fall into the vanity of being honored by man and think that is proof of  a good life. It’s easy to impress a shallow judge. Man is a shallow judge. But by putting standards, even difficult standards, I push myself towards actual, fundamental, tangible results, that I may sleep content that I did everything in my power to be faithful to God as well.

When I am not meeting these standards, I feel the insecurity of dissonance. There is no peace in a lying heart, and my heart has, through the years, gone through many lies. Chief of which is that I am here to promote, protect, and pleasure me above all. It manifests clearly when I say things like, “I’m not so bad” or “I’m alright” or “I’m enjoying my ‘me’ time” or “I’m allowed to feel this way” or when I entertain other excuses. These are some of the conversations I have in my head when defending my small laziness and dishonesties, not thinking of the other lives deprived or hurt by me When I catch myself do this, I switch the question from “How do I feel today?” to “What is my measurable impact today?” and it changes my mental framework. Before I think about what I think I lack or need, I think about what I have given.

In Matthew 11, there’s a story where the John the Baptists sent his disciples to Jesus to ask if He’s the real deal. John was having doubts, probably due to his situation in prison. Jesus didn’t go on an offended, angry, defensive “You don’t believe in me!” speech. Instead, He said, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

Jesus simply said: Look at the results. The reply wasn’t “look at my posts”, “look what the media is saying about me”, “look at my likes and comments”. He said, “Look at the fundamental improvements in the lives of people I’ve touched. Look at my life’s message.” 

Jesus never argued His value to anyone. He let His results do the talking, and His results weren’t cute or vanity metrics. They were fundamental life improvements that transformed.

This is the example I seek to follow: to live such a good life that whenever there are doubters, I can simply say, “Look at the results. Look at my life’s message. I’m not perfect. There are a ton of mistakes. But look at the results.” To do this, I need to make sure that every day is spent generating results, not necessarily for monetary ends, but for life transforming impact. This is where discipline, diligence, and determination trumps intention, inspiration, and ideas. Too many people share a lot of inspiring crap but completely fail when they are asked, “So where are the actual, tangible, fundamental results?”

#db

 

The Universality of God’s Plan

I’ve been going through the book of Exodus, particularly the part of Israelites as they suffered under the Egyptians. Among the verses was a set that really struck me:

Exodus 2:23-25
23 During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.

God heard. God remembered. God saw. God knew. He saw what was happening to the Israelites yet, as we know from the story, He didn’t simply remove their pain and erase their suffering. In fact, more trials would come.

Why would a good and loving God, who is all powerful, not simply ease the load and pain of the people He claims to love?

I don’t really know but I have an idea. Though that idea is more a seed than a tenet. I believe it’s because of the universality of God’s plan to draw ALL people to Him. I used to read Exodus and simply think it was about God rescuing the good Israelites from the bad Egyptians. I see now that it’s God rescuing ALL of them from that which was enslaving them. God was freeing the Israelites from the human masters, the Egyptians, and He does, yet over and over, as we follow the journey of the Israelites into a nation, what He is really working on over and over, is freeing them from something deeper. If freeing the Israelites from pain and leading them to a better place was God’s main goal, why then did He allow them to wander in the wilderness for forty years? Because more than a better circumstance, He was working on their hearts, teaching them, showing them, to look to Him NOT the situation. In a similar way, the Egyptians were also enslaved, not by human overlords, they were the current great empire, but slaves to their idols, to their superstitions, to belief systems they believed would bring them greatness, wealth, and security, that God wanted to free them from. In both the cases of the Israelites and the Egyptians, God was tearing down their idols.

And those who trusted in their idols, like the Pharaoh, his army, that generation of Israelites who were seeking a place more than a person, would miss out on the true promise of God: Himself. If we think that God’s ultimate plan is to bring us to a lifestyle sweet spot where everything is spiritually, financially, physically, emotionally, and socially comfortable, than we’ll miss deeper truths in the scripture. We’ll accuse God of not being “good” because people are suffering. Many times we think it’s other people who are in the way of our success and happiness. I’ve learned that my biggest roadblock is myself.

It’s not the unkind man who is in the way of my becoming kinder. It’s the unkind David that bristles at being treated less than I feel entitled to.

It’s not the greedy man who in the way of my financial happiness. It’s the greedy, discontented, David that isn’t satisfied.

It’s not the inefficiencies around me that makes me frustrated. It’s the impatience already in me that gets triggered when things go wrong.

It’s not my accusers that make me defensive. It’s the pride and fear inside me that armors my heart.

If I am to grow in God, I need to deepen my roots into more than superficial knowledge of “good” and “evil” but the truth that all circumstances, all situations, and all events, are God’s ways of bringing all people to Him. I can’t keep casting myself in the Israelite role and casting the people I don’t like in the Egyptian role. That’s not where the divide is. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put it,

“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil.

Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.”

So why would a good and loving God, who is all powerful, not simply ease the load and pain of the people He claims to love?

Like I said, I only have this seed of a thought, and it’s this: We’re all part of God’s universal plan to draw all men to Him, and all of us will journey through different experiences, all involving some (or even a lot) of pain, because God is working on the specific evil in each of our hearts. For some it’s pride. For some it’s fear. For some it’s inflicting injustice. For some it’s accepting injustice. For some it’s grumbling. For some it’s apathy. For some it’s self-righteousness. For some it’s unbelief. For some it’s unkindness. For some it’s man pleasing. For some it’s greed. For some it’s laziness. For most, if not all, it’s a combination of many evils. I know all of the above describe me.

Yet, in His faithfulness, He journeys with me in a very different way from the journeys of others, to love my specific heart and deal with my specific evils. And I can take assurance in the truth, not the opinion, that no matter what happens, in highs and lows, I just need to keep running back to God and trust that He’s drawing me to Him. And when I look at others, even the people I don’t like (there are quite a few), I need to fight my own pride and fear and see them as people also being drawn to God.

That’s really hard. That’s really really hard.


#db Thoughts:

  • We see the world from a limited perspective, particularly the perspective of our own narrative.
  • The world is infinitely larger than our own narratives yet we interpret the world from that limited perspective. This is what it we mean by the term narrow-mindedness, the shrinking of the world to fit our own limited perspective.
  • The Christian perspective is more than a “dogmatic” stance but sees things with an understanding of God’s universal plan to draw all men to Him. The Christian perspective asks, “How are You drawing us to You?”
  • The wise man paradoxically has both conviction and openness, seeking truth more than defense.
  • The wise man understands that God is working on all of us all the time at the same time.
  • The wise man takes assurance that no matter how bad things are, God hears, God sees, God knows, and He remembered His covenant.
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