Growing up in Texas, I learned that when someone asked, “How are you?” they rarely wanted an honest answer. Anything other than “Fine,” or “Great,” tended to throw the conversation off course. When I lived in Minnesota, an understated culture, I discovered that the appropriate response to “How are you?” was “Not too bad.” When I tried to use that response in Texas, it raised all kinds of questions. But, whether in Minnesota or Texas, I discovered that African Americans had developed an entirely different response. When I asked my African American friends, “How are you?” they often responded, “I’m blessed.”
In my youth, I stopped using the word “blessed” or “blessing.” I thought it seemed shallow and artificially religious, something you say to sound religious when you don’t know what else to say. I wasn’t even sure what it meant. But, as I have grown older, I have changed my mind. I think my African American friends got it right. I am blessed.
Jesus used this term when he introduced the Sermon On the Mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit … blessed are those who mourn … blessed are the meek … blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness … blessed are the merciful … blessed are the pure in heart … blessed are the peacemakers … blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.” (Matthew 5:3-10).
Being blessed has nothing to do with prosperity, health, comfort or security. It is all about a relationship with God that blesses us whatever our circumstances happen to be. In fact, those who suffer poverty, illness and difficulty are more likely to experience God’s blessing than those who are wealthy and well off.
I grew up listening to Billy Graham each week and looked forward to listening to the Hour of Decision. Dr. Graham’s messages, books and, most of all, his conduct always inspired me. He ended every broadcast by saying, “God bless you real good.” It wasn’t proper grammar, but we all understood what he meant and, when we listened to him we always felt blessed.
Liturgical churches still conclude their worship services with the “benediction,” a blessing of the worshippers as they leave the worship experience. In African American churches the benediction is the high point of the service. Many churches end with a rush toward the doors to get a jump on parking lot traffic and early seating at nearby restaurants. It seems to me that we lose something when we don’t take the time to experience God’s blessing and to bless one another.
When God called Abraham to follow Him, he promised him He would bless him and make him a blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:2). God’s blessing of Abraham and his descendents sometimes resulted in great difficulty. Perhaps the secret to following Jesus is discovering how to live life very day with awareness that we are, indeed, blessed, and seeking ways to bless others.