From The Garden Bench - Blessings
Words by David Hollows
What makes you happy?
A day at the seaside or in the country? Time spent with family or friends? Shopping? A holiday?
What makes you content?
A breath-taking sunset? Sitting and reading in your favourite armchair? Relaxing in the garden?
Is there a difference between being ‘happy’ and ‘content’? How would you define these two terms?
Happiness is an emotional response to a situation which you have experienced or has been given to you by another person, for example, the giving of a gift. Whereas contentment is a psychological response to your lifestyle; all is well. What do you think?
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Jesus took this issue to a whole new level in His teachings about Blessing. In the Old Testament God regularly blessed his people in the good times and the bad; he did not let them down nor withdraw his blessings. He blessed the Israelites as they moved from Egypt eventually to the Promised Land, he used Esther to save his people from the extinction plan of Hagar and he restored the people to Jerusalem with Nehemiah.
During the plague of the mid 14th century, if you sneezed and people responded with; God bless you, this was a real expectation that God would save you from the Black Death as sneezing was one of the symptoms.
Today the Church of the Beatitudes overlooks the lake of Galilee and it is in this very beautiful setting that Jesus sat with his disciples and gave them his new teaching;
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of God. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil things against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven.
The Greek word used in translation, makarios, may mean; blessed, fortunate, happy, privileged.
The words Bless or Blessing appear 130 times in the Bible, 30 times in the Psalms alone as David the shepherd-boy certainly appreciated his blessings.
So what did Jesus want essentially to communicate? Who was His intended audience? One suggestion is as follows;
Jesus says that those people who are at the bottom of the social pile are the most blessed of all. Perhaps because in the upside-down Kingdom of God, it means that for these people, God is especially real and close. We accept that you do not have to be necessarily at the bottom of life to be blessed although it is also suggested that; sometimes our greatest blessings come from out of our most negative circumstances.
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Some of the Blessings Jesus outlines are fairly easy to understand; those who mourn will be comforted but only if the comfort is accepted. For many, being meek or a peacemaker does not come easy and persecution is not something most of us would ask for. But the rewards Jesus offers are incredible. Jesus also highlights in His paradoxical statements that for His followers, blessing is not something that we can manufacture but is to be encountered. Blessing is a result of a deepening and enduring relationship with God. It would be contrary to go in search of poverty, mourning or persecution in the hope of finding a blessing. However, it is reassuring to know that in these particular circumstances, God is with us.
In our current social climate there is a determinant to understand ‘happiness’ or well-being as Governments attempt to identify interventions or strategies to improve the mental or social well-being of citizens and overcome such social issues in order to increase personal happiness. They need look no further than the source of the teachings of Jesus; God.
Paul explains in his letter to the believers in the church at Philippi that he has learned how to be content;
For I have learned how to be content in whatever state I am. I have learned in any and all circumstances the secret of facing every situation. I have strength for all things in Christ who empowers me. (Philippians chapter 4 verses 11 – 13)
Paul fully understood and appreciated that all his blessings came from the hand of God for Paul had experienced aspects of life which most of us will never endure; beatings, stoning, imprisonment, rejection, hunger, shipwreck. Yet God blessed Paul all through this and brought him to a place of contentment.
As disciples of Jesus we believe that we are blessed so that in turn God uses us as a blessing to others. In Genesis chapter 12 verse 2 when God instructed Abram to leave his country, God promised; And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name famous and you will be a blessing to others. St. Francis prayed; Make me a channel of your peace.
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Do you understand what makes your life blessed? Do you recognise those moments of blessing? Do you know the One who blesses you? What then, is your response?
You may find the following useful; Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine (Mission Praise 59) Bless the Lord, O my soul (Matt Redman)
You may find the following prayers useful;
Lord of all blessing, as we walk about your world, let us know ourselves blessed at every turn. Blessed in the autumnal sun and leaves and in the winter wind, rain and shafts of sunlight. Blessed in the moving stars and the turning of the world beneath our feet. Blessed in silence and in sleep. Blessed in our children, our families and friends. Blessed in conversations, music and the singing of the birds. Blessed in the smile of the stranger, laughter and the touch of love. Blessed in pain, darkness and grief. Blessed in a desert place, loneliness or waiting for the spring. Lord of all blessing, we bless you.
I thank you, O Lord, my Lord, for my being and my life, my gift of reason, intellect and preservation. For my civil rights and religious practices. For your gifts of grace, my redemption, regeneration and instruction in the faith. For your forbearance and long-suffering and for all the benefits I have received from your hand. For the times you have prospered me and for the use of the blessings of this life. For all your mercies and kindnesses, I praise you and thank you and bless you all the days of my life.
God bless you
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Signing off; your local Lay-worker, David Hollows