When someone sneezes, are you inclined to say, God bless you!"? Many of us are. But God's blessings are so much more than perfunctory phrases or social rituals!
God is serious when it comes to blessing. The Hebrew root word for bless is barak, which means to bend the knee or to kneel. Such an act acknowledges a special relationship, ascribes honor. It is typically associated with power for success, prosperity, longevity.
Many prayers from the Siddur, the Jewish prayer book, begin, "Blessed art thou O Lord our God, King of the Universe." When we bless God, we acknowledge that He is the source of all blessing. Our focus is on the Lord, not on what we may receive from Him.
When God blesses people, He makes some of His special resources available to those being blessed—in order that they might use those resources to accomplish His will in the world.
God's power to bless works contrary to the power of the curse which is so evidently upon creation. Owing to sin traced all the way back to Adam and Eve, sin that is still very much at work in the world, humanity has been under the curse, in all our works, in all our relationships. This curse has brought us death and despair, the destruction of relationships, marriages and families, the defilement of sexuality, indeed the defilement of all human passions. But God has given us the power to bless as a counterpoint to the curse that sin unleashed.
Blessing God and blessing others is a choice. Y'shua (Jesus) taught us to bless even those who curse us. It is a command, a duty and a privilege. Many Christians earnestly seek blessing for themselves, yet the greatest good comes when we seek to bless others.
Once, while I was handing out gospel tracts on the streets of Tel Aviv, an Israeli approached me. He told me I was leading Jewish people astray, and then he challenged me. He intended to pronounce a curse on me and he invited me to pray a curse on him. Then we would see whose prayer, whose curse, was stronger. This is not a situation they prepare you for in Bible College or Seminary!
I found myself telling this man that he might wish to curse me, but that I would pray a blessing on him, that he would come to know the Messiah Jesus. That is the greatest blessing I know to offer others. So we stood there, and he began to pray a curse. I (after asking God's protection), prayed for God to bless this man by revealing Y'shua to him. After a few minutes he left.
The very next day a whole team of our Jews for Jesus drove to the beach to do evangelism. As we piled out of the van in the parking lot, I realized we had pulled right next to the man who had tried to curse me. He saw that I was quite well and that he was now in the presence of a dozen or so Jews for Jesus. His eyes got as big as saucers and he literally ran away. I don't know if he's yet come to the Lord, but it seemed apparent that God was more likely to answer my prayer than his.
We are to bless others, but it is also natural for us to desire blessing for ourselves. Remember Esau, when he realized that his brother Jacob had stolen his blessing? He cried out in desperation: "Bless me, even me also, my father!" (Genesis 27:43) That pitiable cry represents a painful reality for many today who long for the acceptance and love that blessing represents. When we seek blessing, we are seeking the answer to all our needs, hoping for all that has been brought into doubt through the curse.
God alone has the power to bestow blessing, and He doesn't need to be cajoled into it. He blesses all who trust in Him. But His blessing may not be exactly what we expect. He gives His blessing in order to accomplish His divine purposes. And He invites us to participate in extending His blessing to others. That is what it means for us as believers to be a Kingdom of Priests.
In Numbers 6, God gave a particular blessing to be recited by the Priests, a blessing which is still recited in synagogues and churches to this day:
The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace. So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.
The ineffable name of God, YHVH, (indicated when LORD is in all capital letters) is mentioned three times, once in each stanza of this blessing. Each stanza expresses a different aspect of God's power to bless our lives. Some even suggest that this ancient blessing contains a veiled reference to the triune nature of God.
In the first stanza, "The LORD bless you and keep you," God's blessing is "keeping us", that is, His watch-care over us. This is the work of God the Father whereby we experience His providence, the continuing action by which God preserves us and guides us to His intended purpose.
The second stanza reminds us of the blessing that comes with salvation: "The LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you." Remember how Queen Esther knew that if the king looked upon her with favor and extended his scepter of grace, all would be well? If he did not, she would die. That is the imagery of this second stanza of the Levitical prayer. If a king showed his face, he bestowed favor. If he hid his face, he showed disfavor. This stanza foreshadows the work of God's Son, through whom God has shown His face and extended grace. Jesus is "the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person". (Hebrews 1:3) He is the ultimate expression of God's desire to bless and give life.
The final stanza of this ancient blessing speaks of God's sustaining power, reflecting the work of the third person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit: "The LORD lift up His countenance upon you and grant you His peace." The phrase, "lift up His countenance" is literally lifting the face, as in a smile, as opposed to dropping the face as in a frown. (Jeremiah 3:12) God's smile represents His favor in an ongoing relationship He has with us through the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit sustains us, renews us and warms us with the smile of God's love. He grants us God's peace that passes all understanding, that unmistakable calm in the midst of a raging sea.
As our triune God desires to bless us, so we should extend His blessing to others. Like the priests of Levi, we have a special responsibility, not so much to seek our own blessing as to extend God's blessing to others. As we make His love known to others, the love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we ourselves will experience the riches of His providence, His salvation and His sustaining power.
Make me a blessing, make me a blessing, out of my life may Jesus shine.
Make me a blessing, O Savior I pray.
Make me a blessing to someone today.