When I was young, I didn’t use the word, “blessed.” 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.
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 learned 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 complications. But, whether in Minnesota or Texas, I discovered that African Americans had developed an entirely different response. When I asked my African American friends who are Christians, “How are you?” they almost always responded, “I’m blessed.” I like the African American response.
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). He used the work makarios which some have translated “happy.” But, I think blessed is the right word.
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. Some churches end with a rush toward the doors to get a jump on parking lot traffic and early seating at nearby restaurants. It feels good to take time to be blessed.
When God called Abraham to follow Him, he promised that He would bless him and make him a blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:2). Perhaps the secret to following Jesus is living every day knowing that we are blessed and seeking ways to bless others. When we are blessed, we can sing with the Psalmist, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to thy name, O Most High; to declare thy loving kindness in the morning, and Thy faithfulness by night.” (Ps 92:1-2)