Why Blessing?

Bless me. Bless him. Bless them. Our prayers are full of cries to the Lord for his blessings. WE ask God to bless food, medical care, or tired moms. We ask for God to bless our churches, our outreach, and our services.

But here is a question: Why? What reason do we give to the Lord for why we want to be blessed? Is our desire simply that things will be easy for us? If so, that is something we should recognize. Is our desire that God bless us for another outcome? If so, we should realize that too.

This morning, I was reading through Psalm 67. It’s short, so I’ll just include it here. What got my attention is the reason that the psalmist asks for blessing. He has a very clear reason, repeatedly mentioned in the psalm, for why he wants God to do his people good.

Psalm 67

1 May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us, Selah
2 that your way may be known on earth,
your saving power among all nations.
3 Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth. Selah
5 Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
6 The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, shall bless us.
7 God shall bless us;
let all the ends of the earth fear him!

The psalm opens with a cry for blessing in verse 1 and follows immediately with the reason, “that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.” With the word “that,” hear the reason. It is a so that or an in order that sort of concept. Bless us. Why? So that your way and saving power may be known all over the world.

In verses 3-4, we see that an apparent result of the nations knowing of the glory and way of God is that the peoples will praise God and the nations will be glad.

Then, in verse 7, we see something similar, just without the explanatory term. The psalmist concludes, “God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!” So, on the one hand, we again see the blessing of God on the people of God. What is the result? On the other side, the result is that the nations will fear, rightly reverence and honor, the Lord.

So, why ask for God to bless you. Be careful here. It might seem that the answer is simply that we are going to want God’s blessing for evangelism. And that is almost right, though it is incomplete. The psalmist is not saying that he wants God to bless the people of God with earthly ease so that others will see that ease, want that ease, and then come to God to get that ease. That type of thinking is the mistake behind a great deal of church outreach in the 21st century. Many churches put forth the blessings of God as the carrot to try to draw people into the church.

What I think is missing in the idea of asking for blessing so that people will be drawn to the blessing is that this can quickly become about the benefits given by God more than about God himself. If you pay attention to the psalmist’s reasoning, he is asking for God’s blessing so that God’s ways, the fear of him, the glory of God might spread. The psalmist is asking for the people of God to be blessed by God so that the world around might see and understand the glory, the goodness, and even the justice of God. The idea is that, when people see God and his glory on display, God will draw to himself a people, thus making the nations glad in him.

Now, go back and ask why we ask for blessing. I’m not at all saying that it is wrong for us to pray for God to bless our families with health and even ease. I am not opposed to praying that God bless a doctor with wisdom to care for a patient. The point that I am making is that, when we think most biblically, our request for blessing is going to be motivated by the glory of God. We want God to bless so that in that blessing, he might display his attributes both to us and to a watching world. We want the glory of God to shine over all the nations. We rejoice as we experience that glory. Our souls are filled and satisfied when we know the majesty of God. And so we pray for blessing in order that the main goal of the magnification of the glory of God be accomplished. Results of that glory include our joy and the spread of the gospel to the nations.

Don’t Miss This When You Pray

Psalm 109:26-27

26 Help me, O LORD my God! |
Save me according to your steadfast love!
27 Let them know that this is your hand;
you, O LORD, have done it!

In Psalm 109, the psalmist is in great distress. Enemies have tried to destroy him with evil words and false accusations. And the Psalmist is miserable. He is suffering in many ways, emotional and physical. And, as we might expect, he is asking God to deliver him.

This all seems normal, but then we look at the thing that the psalmist asks for in how he asks to be delivered. The psalmist is conscious of the fact that the best way for him to gain victory is when that victory is to the glory of God. The psalmist asks for God to make sure that his enemies know that it was god who delivered him.

There is a simple lesson here for us. When we pray, we often pray for our own comforts and desires. We often pray for health or for the growth of our churches. But we sometimes forget that we need to be praying that the Lord show the world that he is the one who did the amazing thing. God and his glory are uttermost. When we pray, our prayers need to remind us that, in our circumstances, the best possible outcome is the outcome that demonstrates that our God is glorious and worthy of praise.

Relying on Something Other Than God

In 2 Chronicles 16, we read about King Asa and a crisis for Judah. The king of the northern kingdom of Israel was threatening the south, and Asa needed help. He needed rescue. And even though, in times past, the Lord had done miraculous things to rescue Judah from her enemies, this time Asa sent a payment of tribute to the king of Syria in order to get him to ally with Judah and turn away from Israel.

Asa made a shrewd political move. His actions were exactly what one might expect a king to take. And his actions worked. His actions also led to his downfall.

2 Chronicles 16:7-9, 12 — 7 At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. 8 Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the Lord, he gave them into your hand. 9 For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.” … 12 In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe. Yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but sought help from physicians.

The problem here is that, though Asa was successful, he succeeded in such a way as to refuse to rely on or glorify God in the process. And he clearly did not learn, as he refused to cry out to God for help in a health concern later.

Obviously, we can learn from this that the Lord wants to be glorified. In his people, the Lord desires to be the one upon whom we rely. And when we choose to try to handle everything ourselves and ignore the Lord, we are doing things that dishonor him.

In a word of caution, this passage is not opposing a believer’s consulting physicians for help. The problem is not that Asa involved a doctor. The problem is that Asa did not also involve prayer and the name of the Lord.

But let’s go a step further and think about the modern church in many settings. I wonder how much of what is happening in many church buildings around our land looks a lot like Asa striking a deal with the Syrians. Asa had a need. He had a goal. And he reached out strategically to make things happen. But in that move, he did not rely on the Lord. Asa, in point of fact, made the situation so that God would not receive glory from the victory.

Here is what I wonder, does your church rely on the Lord as it works toward growth? Or, is your church so focused on strategies, programs, and advertising that the Lord is only involved in the opening prayer of your planning meetings? In your services, is the glory of God central, or is trying to look appealing to outsiders your goal? Do you think that political favor in your community will somehow bless your church toward growth?

In truth, the Lord has told us and shown us what the church is to be. We are to love God with all our hearts. We are to pray and preach and sing and participate in ceremonies that the world thinks are odd. We are a people focused deeply on the word of God. We are different from the world. Jesus said that the way that we love each other is what will stand out to the world and mark us as different.

We will not honor the Lord in supposed church growth if our growth is based on compromise with the world and its principles. We do not build a church by force of a personality or through clever strategies to build a brand. We do not grow a church by showing the world that we are just like everybody else out there, we just have the extra benefit of a relationship with Jesus. No, we live differently. WE think differently. We do things that make no sense to the world.

As you see with Asa, God is not at all interested in us gaining little victories, even victories that seem to grow the kingdom, if those victories are not based on his glory. In the church, our victories must be based on prayer, on his word, on faithful worship, and on Christians loving one another. The victories in evangelism that honor God are not based on our cleverness, but on our communication of truth as we honestly speak the gospel and leave the results to God. May we never see churches grow large at the expense of showing that God is the one who does the building. May our strategies, plans, compromises, and personalities never get the glory. May we rely on the Lord and his ways, even when the experts say those ways are outdated. God calls us to be faithful to glorify him, and he will build his church.