Hashtag Blessed

When I initially picture hashtag blessed, I envision wealthy celebrities lounging on the beach with drinks being served to them. Maybe instead of the beach, you think of a secluded mountain lodge with perfect skiable slopes. Surely being #blessed means being god-like, living a life of ease with servants caring for your every need and desire. 


But those hashtag versions of blessed remind me more of Mount Olympus and Zeus than Mount Zion and Yahweh. If you and I are to understand this attribute of God we need to distinguish it from the hijacked version presented to us every day in various ways and even sometimes within the church.


It’s hard to not see the worldly interpretation of being blessed all over social media, movies, and magazines. It’s hard to not let culture decide what being blessed means. It’s hard to not let society influence what we think of as blessed. Can I keep my “religion pure and remain unstained by the world” (James 1:27) in regards to blessedness? We must not allow worldly interpretations to steal our joy or confuse us. Blessing is from God and defined by God. Don’t be discouraged by what you see around you. To keep pure thoughts, meditate on the Word of God day and night (Psalm 1:2). Having wealth is not bad and being comfortable isn’t a sin. But it can be a distraction of what God means by being blessed.


Jesus said that the poor are blessed. Jesus said that those who mourn are blessed. The meek are blessed. Those who seek after righteousness are blessed. Those who are merciful are blessed. Blessed are the pure. Blessed are the peacemakers. And strangely even those who are persecuted and reviled and lied about are blessed (Matthew 5:1-11). But we never ask to be these types of blessed people. We don’t desire those blessings. 


I recently heard a song with the lyrics, “I want to be tried by fire.” Honestly, that doesn’t sound so pleasant or something I initially would want to sing to God. I do not want to be tried or tested. And I am confident that I never want to be tested with fire. Isaiah 6:7 is part of a vision of cleansing with a burning coal. It doesn’t say that it was painful, but I can’t imagine a burning coal not being painful. Zechariah 13:9 and Psalm 66:10 both speak about the testing fire and purifying. Isaiah 48:10 specifically speaks to God testing people through the furnace of affliction. All these trials sound painful and unpleasant. But the end result is far superior to the beginning. If Christ can endure the cross and allow himself to become sin (2 Corinthians 5:21) and be separated from the Father by focusing on the joy that was on the other side of the cross (Hebrews 12:2), then I can endure isolation and Covid-19. More than endure, I can draw closer to God and in this way even Covid-19 is a blessing if I allow it to sanctify me. 


I’ve been blessed with a loving husband and wonderful children. My family has been blessed with a good income and good health. My house is a blessing. It’s a blessing to live in a country that allows me to worship God openly and freely. My belly is full and I have clean water. All these comforts are gifts from God. These are good things and I am grateful. (James 1:17)


I’ve also been so poor that I needed food stamps to get by. Once I was able to fend for myself, I was still generous and gave out of my poverty. It gave me joy to be able to share with those in need. I’ve also been gravely ill and close to death. I consider those moments to be my most blessed. Death has lost its sting. Facing death made living life more wonderful. And while I don’t know if I’ll recover physically from that experience, spiritually I’ve never been stronger and I’ve never been closer to God. That was a huge trial that landed me in the ICU with multiple infections that the doctors couldn’t determine the source of. But I had peace. When I let my mind wander, I would be scared of dying. But when I submitted to the instruction of God (Philippians 4:6-7, Matthew 6:27), I worshipped him and let him have control of my life and control of my dying. Control was only ever a facade. Almost dying was a blessing. Poverty was a blessing. I am grateful for my life. I am grateful for those trials. 


In fact, I am more than grateful. Today I am excited. Today is Easter Sunday. I am isolated at home with my husband and children instead of assembled with the rest of our congregation. We had a service through Zoom which was lovely. It excites me to see that my faith is being tested. Have you thought of the joy behind being tested? It doesn’t seem #blessed. 


I am excited to be able to celebrate Jesus with the rest of the congregation. It’s exciting to be able to still hold a service even though we are in lock-down. Technology is a blessing today because it allows us to not forsake the fellowship. Lock-down doesn’t really seem like a trial today. It is by testing that my faith produces steadfastness (James 1:3). The blessed are those who remain faithful while tested (James 1:12). James wrote that we will all receive the crown of LIFE when we have stood the trial. Being blessed means having life. That life is manifested through the death and resurrection of Jesus which we celebrated today. 


What an exciting way to spend Easter! We get to celebrate the giving of Jesus’ life in substitution for our own lives while experiencing trial. I do not desire trials but when I must endure them, I cling to God more tightly than before the trial began. Trials remind me that he is the only source of redemption. It is unfortunate that I falsely think that during non-trial times it is my own resourcefulness that saves me. It is unfortunate that I think my bank account saves me, that my income saves me, that my eating habits saves me, or that my exercise routine saves me. While those are all wise, my ultimate source of security is in Christ alone. It is during trial that the facade of control is lifted from my eyes and I see that being blessed means finding life in him and not in the ways of the world. 


Jesus did not desire the trial of the cross (Matthew 26:39). But he was obedient to the point of death. He saw the glory beyond the pain. He gave his life and he continues to give life. And that is another aspect of what being blessed means. Being truly blessed means giving, sacrificial giving. 


Blessing is that which builds up the kingdom of heaven. If I am blessed with a home, then I should seek ways to use it for God’s kingdom. If I have a vehicle, who can I give a ride or who can I drop off groceries for? If I get a raise, it is not to make me comfortable, although it is okay to be comfortable, but it is for serving the kingdom. There’s an old saying, “I am blessed to be a blessing.” Technology is a blessing if it furthers the kingdom of God and allows for the building up of the saints. Trial is a blessing if it allows us to shave away the layers of pretension and show us our true colors. I’m reminded of the parable of the talents found in Matthew 25:14–30. Am I burying my blessings or am I investing them into the kingdom of God? 


Being blessed isn’t being god-like, rather it is being like-God. It is sanctification. Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but the blessed man’s delight is in the law of the Lord (Psalm 1:1-2). Who better does this describe than Jesus? We are blessed when we follow his example and do what he commands. 


Jesus is the perfect representation of God, the exact imprint of his nature (Hebrews 1:3). By nature God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). It is by the trinitarian nature of God that we see that love is perfected not by terminating on itself but by giving and by fellowship. This is God’s example to us and what he commands: love one another (John 13:34).


When reflecting on the Beatitudes I listed previously (Matthew 5:1-11), we can see that Jesus was speaking of himself. If being blessed means having life and Jesus was describing himself in the Beatitudes, then we can have no greater blessing than emulating Jesus’ life. 


When asked how to gain eternal life (Mark 10:17-22), Jesus told a very blessed man that he must follow the commandments. He listed several of the Ten Commandments that describe how to love one another. But Jesus said he lacked one thing. He told the blessed man to sell all his possessions and give to the poor, and to then come follow him. 


He was describing sacrificial giving of his own comfort for the building up of the kingdom. Perhaps the first four of the Ten Commandments are contained within that description. Perhaps that blessed man was putting his earthly riches before God and thus taking the name of God in vain. Perhaps we find real blessing by loving the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind (Deuteronomy 6:5 as well as quoted in Matthew 22:7). Perhaps instead of hoarding treasures maybe we should be giving it away. 


On another occasion, Jesus was speaking with a different blessed man. This blessed man had position and was valued as a religious leader (John 3:1-15). Jesus explained to this blessed man that one must be born again to a new and eternal life by believing in the Son of Man who would be lifted up. To be blessed is more than only being religious. It is following the example of Jesus, the Son of Man, by sacrificial giving from a heart of love and compassion.


God is blessed. And by emulating him we are blessed. By speaking well of others and helping as we have ability, we bless others. We bless God when we worship him and acknowledge his holiness. When we bless others we show we desire for them comfort and happiness. The ultimate comfort is in the arms of the Almighty even when circumstances are bleak. The ultimate source and supply of happiness is contentment in Christ. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” is not a pithy self-help statement meant to make me think I can accomplish great feats. It is an expression of how Paul was able to find contentment no matter his circumstances. Contentment comes from the strength that Christ gives. It is the strength that led Christ to the cross. It is the strength of love and sacrificial giving of self. 


In the chaos of coronavirus, find comfort in the blessings of God. Find joy in the trial. Stay steadfast and draw near to Christ. Tell him about your discomfort and ask him to relieve your pain. Jesus wept when his friend died even though he knew that he would live again (John 11:35). Don’t be ashamed of your emotions. They are a blessing from God. God brings order to chaos and brings dead things to life. The Lord gives and the Lord takes, blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21).