Tuesday, November 10, 2015
This is a time of year that many people are focused on the things they are thankful for in their lives. Sometimes they refer to these things as blessings. Every now and then a post will make it's rounds through social media that condemns the use of that term, and of thinking of physical things as blessings at all. I haven't seen that post yet this year, so I wanted to make a preemptive response so that nobody thought I was calling them out individually.
The criticism of the term is well intended. People rightly point out that God does not just dispense houses and new cars to His most faithful servants like a parent positively reinforcing their children's behavior with candy. Also, Jesus plainly teaches that riches can be an obstacle to following him, so how can they be considered blessings?
They also point out that the term "blessed" can sometimes be used as a tool for false modesty and bragging. For example, "I can't believe I got another big sale. So blessed!" Or, "I love my new boat! Feeling blessed!"
These points are not totally invalid, but I don't think that banishing "blessed" from our vocabulary is the answer. My basic philosophy on this is simple. According to James 1:17, "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above..." If you believe that something in your life is a good thing, then the appropriate thing to do is to give God the glory for it. Referring to something as a "blessing" simply means that we believe it to have been a gift from God. Everything else in this discussion flows from that basic principle.
Now it could be that we are mistaken. We might think that a certain thing is good, but then it turns out to our detriment later. That does happen when material things distract us from spiritual things. If that's the case, then that thing was not good, it is not a blessing, and it was not from God. However so long as we believe the thing to be good, it is entirely appropriate to call it a blessing.
"What about faithful christians with less??? Isn't calling our material goods "blessings" an insult to them?" Being a missionary in Africa, I am confronted daily with those who are faithful to God, but live in abject poverty. I am painfully aware of the struggle that they face. Referring to material goods as "blessings" is absolutely NOT insulting and offensive to them, UNLESS we mean that we have those things because God loves us more or because we are more deserving. In that case we are very much mistaken.
Even a cursory survey of the faithful men and women of the New Testament will show that godliness is not necessarily rewarded with wealth and ease. All of the apostles (except Judas) experienced great persecution, and all but John were martyred for their faith. The gospel of health and wealth absolutely does not match observation of the real world.
That does not mean that God hasn't given you material blessings. Did God "bless" you with that big raise? Maybe so. If He did, then He likely expects you to use those resources to His glory. Did God "bless" you with a great deal on that new house? Perhaps so. If so, then He probably expects you to use it as a tool in His service (i.e. think hospitality and evangelism). We should think of ourselves as stewards of the possessions that God entrusts to our care, rather than as the owners of those possessions.
Some might point out that it just seems so unfair that God would bless some Christians with "so much" and others with "so little." However, here is the really crucial point that people need to understand: physical blessings are not the ONLY blessings, and are NOT even the BEST blessings. In fact, on the overall scale, physical blessings are actually of low-end value. Spiritual blessings are of far, far greater value. My brethren here in Africa are NOT less blessed than their counterparts in America. They are just blessed differently.
God is under no obligation to bless everyone the same way. He blesses us in the ways that He sees fit in His ultimate wisdom. His blessings are not one-size-fits-all, but rather are tailored to the individual. What you need to be equipped to fill your role in His grand plans may be different from what I need to do the same.
Even hardships can be counted as blessings when they result in improved character that brings about a better spiritual future for ourselves or others (see Romans 5:3-4; James 1:2-4). Ultimately, if the poorest man in the world is in Christ, then he is blessed far more than the richest man outside of Christ (Matthew 16:26). In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that there will not be a single soul in heaven complaining to God about the inequality of the socio-economic situation they experienced while on earth (Luke 16:19-30).
But what about those "blessed" braggers? It's not my place to judge their motives. If they are truly praising God for what they believe to be a good thing in their life, then more power to them. That's what they should do. If it is really self-praise disguised as God-praise, then that's between them and God. If it inspires jealousy in me, then maybe that's my issue rather than theirs. Maybe I'm valuing the physical blessings too highly.
So the next time you encounter someone who is "blessed" join with them in praising God for His activity in the world. Then get busy thinking about all of the ways that He's blessed you, and contemplate what you have done with those blessings in return.
May God bless you, my friends.
Friday, April 17, 2015
Some time ago I was considering my prayer list. As I reflected on all of the ways that I wanted help for family, my friends, and myself, I had a realization. They all really came down to one thing: the fruit of the Spirit. As you'll recall from Galatians 5:22, the fruit of the Spirit is a multifaceted thing comprised of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Let me explain. When I prayed for a problem to be resolved, really it was because I wanted peace for myself or my loved one. When I prayed for a conflict to be resolved, really it meant that the people involved were going to need an increased measure of love, patience, kindness, and gentleness. When I prayed for some good thing to happen, really it was because I wanted joy for myself or my loved one. When I prayed for relief from temptation it was because I wanted faithfulness and goodness for myself or my loved one. To achieve this faithfulness we would likely need self-control.
Maybe a more specific example would help. I have a couple of preacher friends who are looking for jobs, and I've been praying for God's intervention. But WHY do I want them to find new jobs? Because I don't want their families to be discouraged and their faithfulness suffer. Because I want them to experience the peace that comes from a stable work situation. Because I want them to have the joy that comes from a fulfilling work. Because I want to see the brethren deal with them with patience and kindness. Because I want God to continue to use them to increase the goodness in the people that they have the opportunity to minister to. See what I mean? Really, I am wanting to see the fruit of the Spirit abound in their lives, and in the lives of those around them.
Literally, everything that I could think of related in some way to the fruit of the Spirit. If the fruit of the Spirit was present in sufficient quantities, then the problems would either be resolved or they wouldn't seem as important anymore. When I made this realization, it changed both my prayer-life and my personal outlook. Rather than focus as much on the surface situation, I pray that God will increase the fruit of the Spirit in my life and in the lives of the other people for whom I am praying. Then I trust that God will know the best ways to bring about the result. The ways that I think things should be resolved might not actually be the best in the long-run, but God always knows what's best.
The title of this article may be a little hyperbole. I still pray for many things, but with this one thing in mind. I try to focus on the real result that I'm looking for and leave more of the "how to get there" up to God's wisdom and discretion.
I mentioned that it has also changed my personal outlook. By this I mean that if I want more peace and joy in my home, then I need to work to increase the role of the Spirit in my home. This emphasizes the need to be a good spiritual leader in the home. If I want those things for my friends, then I need to try to help them increase the role of the Spirit in their lives. This emphasizes the need to be evangelistic.
My most effective life-tools are Bible study, prayer, fasting, serving, teaching, and other such spiritual disciplines. When my life seems off-track it is usually because I have slacked in these things. When I am diligent in these things, then life seems to recenter regardless of the external factors around me.
Spirituality is not just a part of a person's well-being. It is, in fact, the entire supporting structure that holds a life up. Attempts to have fulfillment in life will be like trying to scratch an itch that we just can't ever quite reach until we realize that love, joy, peace, and all the rest ultimately only come from God's involvement in our lives.
I pray that you find your life abounding in love, joy, peace, patient, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. What more could you ask for?