May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands.
PSALM 90:17 (ESV)
And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.
DEUTERONOMY 28:1-6 (ESV)
We toss around the word “blessed” in our culture a lot. We are blessed when we find a parking space up front at a movie theater. We’re blessed when we get comped a drink at a restaurant. We’re blessed when someone brings in donuts to the office. “Blessed” covers many things. It’s a remarkably popular hashtag across every social media platform and emblazoned on at least one t-shirts at every retail chain. Still, if you were to ask most people what “blessed” means, you’d get a ton of different answers.
For as long as I can remember “blessing” to me was something I had to pray over my meals. Growing up, there wasn’t a single bite taken as a family without someone reminding us all to bless the food. Today that routine continues, and if I find myself just a couple bites into a taco without having prayed, I’ll feel this strange but very real sense of guilt sweep over me. Even if nobody present is judging me, I’ll subtly bow my head and close my eyes to quickly pray for my food.
At some point I started to realize the absurdity of this practice. It wasn’t just that my prayers were animated by a warped sense of guilt or duty. That was wrong enough. But what really started to throw me was what I was praying over.
God bless this meal, I’d pray, my mouth uttering the words as the smell of a bacon triple-cheeseburger hit my nostrils. Or thank you for this food Lord, as a waiter brought a Flinstone-sized plate of bean and cheese nachos to join liters of Big Red at the table.
In asking God to “bless” my meals, more often than not I was asking him to fix something that that was broken. Rather than eating moderately or stewarding my caloric intake or balancing meals with exercise, I was acting as though this simple prayer would check the box required for protecting my arteries and calming my gut. Blessed for me meant “easily digestible,” “nourishing,” “comfortable,” and “filling,” and in excusing my need to participate in the blessing, I was reducing God to a mealtime magician.
After three decades of these prayers, the error in my ways became clearer and clearer. My dad bod started to set in with a vengeance, and I began to realize my brief dining ritual was having no affect on my metabolism. Eventually I had to act and decided to go on a diet. My wife and I chose Whole 30 because we thought if we couldn’t be gluttons for food, gluttons for punishment seemed the next best thing. And as is usually the case with an extreme shift into healthy eating, we found that we looked and felt significantly better. We had more energy and needed new clothes. We slept better and were more productive at work. By all accounts, our bodies and our activities seemed “blessed” in the way we thought prayers on their own might produce.
This may not be your exact experience, but it’s clear that many of us misinterpret “blessing” in similar ways. Typically we reduce it to mean simply “favor,” “gift,” or “good outcome.” Is this truly what it means to be blessed by God? Merely to be comfortable?
The conception of “blessed” presented in scripture is quite different than the one prevalent in our culture. In Psalm 90, for example, Moses asks God for favor in the work of His people. This sounds similar to how we pray and acknowledge blessing, but there’s a critical difference. Where we look at being blessed as the calling of God into whatever activity we are involved, Moses understands that true favor of the Lord only rests with those whose work is called into the will of God. In other words, our script needs to flip. Like someone sitting in front of a third chamber of Thin Mints asking God to bless their consumption, we often find ourselves praying for God to come and anoint what we’re already doing, regardless of its alignment with His will. Scripture is telling us that the favor and peace and protection and fulfillment we desire comes only in work that matters to God.
David Stubbs puts it this way: “Being blessed by God means that we become holy, reflective of God and the purposes of God. Asking for God's blessing does not mean that we are asking God to somehow help us to achieve our own wants and desires that may be reflective of a sinful culture. Instead, God's blessing means that our wants and desires are ‘blessed’ and made to conform to the will of God. In this conformity to the ways and patterns of God, we experience true human blessing and happiness. God does not bless us by fulfilling our own visions of what will make us happy, except to the extent that we are seeking first God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.”
The Lord cannot be reduced to some magician. He will not abide any foolishness or trivialities. A real prayer for blessing is a prayer for greater holiness. It’s a prayer for our continued transformation. We don’t pray for favor that God would fix something broken in front of us. We pray for strength that we might live like He has already fixed something broken inside of us. The truest blessing to a Christian is greater conformity. When we desire to see, speak, and act as Christ did, we will have found the favor of God already covering our food, our work, our very lives.
PRAYER: (written by Martin Luther)
Dear God and Father, I pray for you to so nurture me that I may be to you as a beautiful garden, so that many people may enjoy your fruit and be attracted through me to all godliness. Write into my heart, by your Holy Spirit, whatever is abundantly found in Scripture. Let me constantly keep your word in mind, and permit it to become far more precious to me than my own life and all else that I cherish on earth. Help me to live and act accordingly. To you be praise and thanks in eternity. AMEN.
You have probably heard the phrase “count your blessings” used often. When we define blessings well, this practice can be a powerful corrective for unhealthy behavior. Throughout the day, list the things in your life that show you God’s character and inspire you to follow His will. Before you go to bed, thank Him for each of these gifts.