Having all our prayers answered.
Being healthy, happy and comfortable.
Seeing breakthrough and victory in all areas of our lives.
Seeing our struggles overcome and all our needs met.
Having what we need provided, without having to wait too long either.
That’s what it means to be blessed by God, doesn’t it?
But someone pretty important had a different idea about blessings.
Because this isn’t how it goes…
“Blessed are those who know they’ve got all they need and are quite-alright-and-not-in-need-of-any-help-from-God-or-man-thank-you-very-much…
Blessed are those who never suffer loss or tragedy or betrayal…
Blessed are those who never doubt themselves…
Blessed are those who know they’ve got it all sorted and have no more issues to deal with…
Blessed are the stingy and self-sufficient…
Blessed are those who cut a few corners because no one’s really looking anyway – and it doesn’t really hurt anyone, does it…
Blessed are those who get their point across no matter who gets in the way, because they really know best after all…
Blessed are those who never get teased or pointed out for their wacky ‘God-stuff’, or for going on about that Jesus guy again…
Blessed are you when people cheer you on, recognise you, praise you and say all manner of wonderful things about you, because after all you’re God’s blessed and highly favoured one…”
When we take Jesus’ famous teachings at the start of the beatitudes – the beautiful attitudes – of Matthew 5, and flip them on their head like this, I believe it challenges us to the core of what we mean when we consider ourselves ‘Blessed’.
When Jesus says ‘Blessed are…’ he’s talking about being in a state of true happiness and joy. But we don’t really associate true happiness with suffering and going without and experiencing tragic loss, do we.
Especially in our western culture, where the continual ‘pursuit of happiness’ seems to be something we’ve subconsciously allowed to creep in, and assume we are entitled to all of the time.
Because when we get real, it’s not just ‘those prosperity gospel churches over there which we all look down on’ who are founded on a belief that following God means only good, nice, lovely things will happen to us.
Even in the process of writing this, I’m challenged by what we really mean when we say statements like “God only wants good things for his children”, and “God blesses his children”. I believe they are true, but what are ‘good things’ and what are ‘blessings’?
Does it mean getting our way all of the time, and only having nice things happen to us?
I firmly believe that God is a good God, and a wonderful father. As Jesus himself teaches later in this same sermon on the mount:
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11)
But the reality is we live in a fallen world, and being a follower of Jesus doesn’t exclude us from the consequences of sin and death.
We will experience pain and loss and insults and heartbreak.
But Jesus is saying, as Christians, we are blessed in these circumstances.
It seems Jesus is telling us – through his radical teachings – that he wants to bless us and show us something of his ability to give true, deep, inner joy, especially in those hard situations.
We may have been taught that our joy shouldn’t be dependent on our external circumstances – on everything going right all the time – but are we ever taught that it is actually through the really tough, awful, excruciating times, during loss, betrayal, hurt and confusion, that we are truly blessed by God?
And maybe true happiness and joy comes from not getting everything our own way all the time, but from learning more about who God is – how dependable, rock-solid, faithful and compassionate a father he is. And how he truly understands and walks with us, having been betrayed himself by one of his closest friends, and denied by another.
Maybe it all comes back to dependence, to realising that without being connected to the vine – to God, the source of life – we are nothing, and cannot have true happiness or that elusive peace we so often seek after.
This weekend the lightbulb in our toilet stopped working. So between us (and this is definitely the extent to which our DIY skills stretch), my husband and I managed to unscrew the exhausted bulb, only to have a small shower of debris fall on our heads. It looked as if a large part of the internal fitting had disintegrated, so while we weren’t convinced it would work, we got a brand new shiny bulb out from the cupboard under the stairs, and proceeded to try to screw it in and switch it on.
But that new, shiny bulb, full of all that potential to shine light and illuminate the darkness, wouldn’t even hold in place, because – as we’d suspected – the place to connect it into was no longer there.
And that got me thinking.
How can we expect to be shining in the darkness, to be used to our full potential, to be happy and fulfilled in life, if we’re not even connected to the source, to the one who supplies the power, to the one who created us in the first place?
And how often do we choose – very intentionally, or perhaps more subtly – to remove ourselves from connection and relationship with God when things just aren’t going the way we planned?
I don’t know about you, but in my school they encourage us to write a ‘five year plan’. But the reality of life is we don’t know what is around the corner, and none of us would include on our five year plan ‘this relationship is going to break up’, ‘I’m going to unintentionally hurt this friend, and the hurt and fallout will be huge for both of us’, I’m going to lose one of the closest people in my life to cancer’. It just isn’t in the plan.
But maybe Jesus is reminding us, in the greatest sermon of all time, that although we won’t plan it or want it, tough stuff will come our way.
But, in the midst of the struggles and questions and anguish and pain, will we choose to stay connected to the source of the blessings, to the one who alone can provide that deep, inner peace?
This article first appeared on the 22nd September on the Evangelical Alliance Threads. To view the article follow this link Threads