Blessed are those who fear the LORD, who find great delight in his commands. (Psalm 112:1 TNIV)
If the words we choose matter, and I suspect that they usually do, then maybe it's significant that we don't use the word "blessed" much any more.
Honestly, it seems like an antiquated word, an antique from another era. I think that's because most of us in 2006 like to feel that we determine our own fate; that we are the pilots of our own lives. We are active, in control, traveling down a road of our own choosing, and under our own steam.
"Blessed" is too passive. If you're "blessed," you haven't done anything. You've received the action, not performed it. If you explain your status, success, wealth, health, happiness, or whatever by saying that you're blessed, you've limited your own role in attaining what you have.
Most of us don't naturally think that way. We prefer to describe ourselves with other words.
Maybe we'll use the word "lucky" from time to time, as long as we don't think that anybody really attributes our success primarily to luck. Every once in a while, perhaps we'll admit to being "fortunate" — if there's really just no way for us to take the credit for a windfall that's come our way.
But "blessed"? Really, now, when was the last time you heard someone use that word? (Saying "bless you" after someone sneezes doesn't count ....)
The biblical writers weren't shy about the word "blessed," though. The song we know as Psalm 112 begins with a promise that those who find joy in obeying God are "blessed." He sings of the prosperity of their children, wealth — "even in darkness," he promises, "light dawns for the upright."
Are those blessings a result of their own efforts? Well, it's not that they have nothing to do with it at all. They do their best to obey God, certainly. They live their lives. They try to be "gracious and compassionate and righteous," they "are generous and lend freely and conduct their affairs with justice."
Just the same, the blessings that the people in this psalm experience aren't produced by their own efforts. They come from God, in whom they trust, in whom they have security, and who will in the end give them victory to celebrate. God is the source, the one whom this Psalm praises. It isn't a song in praise of righteous living or religion or acts of kindness; it's a song that celebrates God as the source of blessings for all those who give him the place in their lives that he is due.
Our world says that success and prosperity are the result of hard work. If you want to succeed in your career, or in a sport, or in whatever, you know the drill, right? Work long hours. Sacrifice whatever doesn't make you better. Focus. Train. Be prepared. Keep your life focused around success, and you'll get there. And, truth be told, that approach works, to some degree. In all likelihood, you'll end up pretty good at whatever you've determined to be good at. You'll be successful, at least by some definitions of the term. Your accomplishments will be noticed.
Maybe we need to focus a little less on being successful and a little more on being blessed.
There's a traditional goodbye among the Spanish-speaking members of my church that I'm trying to adopt in my own life. Usually, when we English-speaking folks leave church, we say something like "Have a good week!" to each other. But, almost without fail, my Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters say, "Dios te bendiga" — "God bless you." I like that, I guess, because it reminds me that whether I "have a good week" or not, as a child of God through Jesus Christ I am always a recipient of his blessings.
Here's the difference, really, between being blessed and being successful. I can experience God's blessings "even in darkness." Even when things aren't going well, even when I've messed my life up, even when I'm not smart enough or strong enough or good enough or brave enough, I am still one who is "blessed." Even when I don't feel blessed, it's no less true.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit," Jesus claimed. "Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek, and those who hunger and thirst for just a taste of righteousness. Blessed are those who show mercy, and the pure in heart, and those who put themselves on the line to bring people together. Blessed even are those who are persecuted, insulted, and accused for no reason other than that they try to live lives that please their God." (Matthew 5:1-10 NKJV)
That list is very different from a list that those with whom we work and go to school, those who live down the street from us, maybe even those who go to church with us, would make of those who were "successful." It sounds ludicrous to say that those who are poor in any way are blessed. It's downright contradictory, isn't it, to say that those who mourn are blessed? In a world that values assertiveness and aggression, it's hard to imagine the meek inheriting anything but leftovers or those who make peace being anything other than doormats. And surely, if living for God brings pain and hardship, one might want to consider if he's a God worth living for.
But Jesus says those folks are blessed exactly for the reason that it's not obvious that they're blessed. They are people who choose not to set their hearts on the world's definitions of success, and so they find themselves on the outside looking in, misfits who don't seem to have a place in the world's economy. But that's because they have their eyes on God's kingdom instead.
Jesus' promise is that God doesn't overlook that. That touches him. It matters to him. And he responds by blessing: by pouring down comfort and mercy, by fulfilling our deepest longings, by making us heirs of everything he has, by showing us his face and calling us his children. In short, by opening wide the doors of his kingdom and promising that though we might not fit well in the world in which we live, we have a place in that kingdom with him.
So maybe we should rediscover that word "blessed." Maybe we've lost something by excluding it from our vocabularies. It is a reminder of God's great generosity and marvelous grace.
Dios te bendiga. God bless you.
Believe it — those aren't just words.