American Blessing

I have been thinking about this idea of the US being blessed for the last few months. Being blessed implies that there is a way to assign goodness to an action or result of one’s standing. Did God bless me with good health? Or did I just make some good choices? When I get sick, did God make me sick, or did I get sick because I made some bad choices? (Is that an anti-blessing?) Did God bless me with my good job, and what was my role versus what God gave me? Or did I respond to the circumstances in a way that led to good outcomes? I simply don’t know what is a blessing and what is a result of my personal choices. But what I do know is I can be grateful either way.

Now on the national scale, we have many incredible things to be grateful for, but I think we fall into a trap. We ascribe our blessings to some special favor God has given us. And when we don’t have that special favor, we say America is losing its greatness and on the verge of losing its God-given blessings because of a long list of rationales including our insufficient virtue. In other words, we’re rich and powerful because God blessed us due to our ways of living (and to be ignored, slavery, the systematic annihilation of Native Americas, but extolled our wealth and freedom). Somehow some people just know this American blessing to be true. It is a power packed sentiment, and I have to admit, it is alluring to think we are special in the Creator’s eyes.

I think we confuse our national prosperity, freedom, and safety with some type of divine blessing. That’s a mistake easy to make. After all, why wouldn’t there be some external factor giving us all these things? But Jesus told us differently. He told us what being blessed is. And he told us how we are to know that we are blessed. It all comes down to our attitudes and our actions. Just after he began his ministry, Jesus sat down with a crowd, and he taught them. And the first thing he taught, according to the Gospel of Matthew, was what it means to be blessed.

Matthew 5:3-12 (NRSV)
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

We Christians have to beware we do often confuse prosperity with what Jesus described as being blessed. Maybe if Jesus had said, “Blessed are the constitutional republicans, for they shall have great wealth and power and righteousness.” Well, then I could be convinced America has great blessings through its form of government (a constitutional republic). But Jesus did not say that. Instead, he talked about the way an individual is supposed to live. He said our blessings would be derived from being poor in spirit, being meek, being merciful, being a peacemaker. And a result, we would know the kingdom, we would inherit the earth, we would receive mercy, and we would be called a child of God.

So is America all these things: poor in spirit, meek, peacemaker? Are we pure in heart as a country? Can we even be pure in heart? Perhaps, as a country, we could. But I think it would be fair to say a lot would have to change. But as a Christian, I know what Jesus taught does not have to be on a national level. It must be personal. That is hard stuff in this day and age, and this idea goes against the current national climate. But blessings are not a direct result of my earthly citizenship. They are a result of my individual choices and the way I live. And in that area alone I — we all — have significant work to do. And that’s the key idea, and one of the more frequently missed points of Jesus’ ministry: work on yourself first, and the rest will follow.


Stop Praying

I recently finished a book called, Wasted Prayer: Know When God Wants You to Stop Praying and Start Doing by Greg Darley (five stars for this book). The basic premise is that we Christians pray a lot, and when confronted with action, we often say something like, “Let me pray to God, and see if He gives me a clear idea as to what I should do.” And that does often sound really good. I mean really, really good. And pious. And devoted.

But so often that is where things stop. In all honesty, I have been praying about a lot of things, and not doing anything about them. For example, re-engaging in this blog has been at the top of my list for a long time. But I have been doing nothing about it, and wanting so much to see what the “big plan” was all about while ignoring the nagging thought, just write once this week.

Darley recounts the story of Peter’s calling. After a miraculous encounter with Jesus, Peter becomes a disciple (Luke 5). As far as we know, there was no clear plan explained to Peter. We modern day people often want that 100% clear plan before we decide anything. So, imagine if we were the modern day Peter, we’d ask Jesus for all the details, and he’d tell us: We’ll do a lot of walking, you’ll see some miracles, we’ll be challenged by the local politicians, you’ll betray me, you’ll try to kill a Roman soldier, but cut off his ear, you’ll make some amazing speeches, convert a lot of people, and eventually you will be crucified because of me. Peter: well, thanks, Jesus, but I think I’ll fish instead.

The point is, our must-know-it-all world stops us in our tracks, and progress is often really, really slow. Instead, Darley’s idea is to respond to little yeses. “This is the beauty of the small yes. I think it’s one of the ways God protects us. The small yes allows us to deepen our trust in the Father and his call. With each yes, we build a little more trust, gaining a little more confidence for what the next call may be. If God isn’t giving you the entire picture, rest in the possibility that this is a grace allowing you to only focus on the step in front of you.”

So there you have it. I don’t know where this blog will go. Or what I will do next week. But if I am going to follow Jesus, I have to begin walking behind him. And I don’t need prayer to do that.