When we think about sharing our faith with others, about evangelism and mission, we think first of all about talking. Telling others what we believe and why. We’ll come to that eventually. But I want to start somewhere else. I want to start with blessing. I admit, I’ve been reading books! (That’s partly what you pay me for, right?) I’ve read three books on the subject of “five habits for mission”. All of them include something that one calls Blessing, one calls Generosity, and the third Serving. And two of the three start there. That’s where I want to start.
What? What do we mean by “blessing”?
The very first time blessing is mentioned in the Bible is in Genesis 1. 23, where God “Blessed the first sea creatures and said ‘be fruitful and increase in number…’ ” Later on we are told to “Bless the Lord” (Ps 103. 1) which means to speak good things about the Lord. So blessing means to speak good things into a person’s life, or to speak good things about a person. And rooted in the ancient idea of the power of words, it then goes on to mean to do good towards someone, to give them some good gift that may be at a cost to ourselves. So in Genesis 24.35, Abraham’s servant says “The Lord has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys.”
It’s no surprise, then, that the core meaning of the word “bless” in the New Testament is literally to “speak well”…
So, “blessing” is rooted in how we speak over people. When Jesus sent his friends out on a mission trip, their first strategy was blessing. See Mt 10. 11-13: “Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you”. Compare Luke 10. 5 where Jesus tells the seventy-two, ‘When you enter a house, first say, “Peace to this house.”’
Jesus is talking about blessing people. And blessing means
- To be generous in our opinions and judgements. Identify a worthy person. Or “a person of peace”. (Lk 10. 6)
- To wish people well and to speak good into their lives. “Give the house your greeting”, says Jesus. And “Greeting”, is actually “welcome” The root is to draw [sc. someone] close). It’s about being glad to be there, in that new place among these new people.
- To have an attitude of giving towards people rather than taking from them.
That challenges us. We often start out on a negative footing in mission. We think negatively about people. We can be quite judgmental towards people who don’t accept the Christian faith, and towards the cultural norms of the world we live in. And we can very easily have an attitude of entitlement towards people. We want to “get them in” to our churches. Hang about. What is it that we want to give them? Michael Junior is an American comedian and a Christian: like most comedians, he told jokes to get laughs. After he became a believer, God spoke to him about telling jokes to give other people an opportunity to laugh. A subtle difference that has the potential to revolutionise our lives and our churches.
Why? But wait a minute. Isn’t sharing your faith the priority and being generous to people just a distraction? No! Not in the least. It is central. Here area a number of reasons why:
- It’s the Jesus way! a) Jesus told the 12 (& the 72) to begin with blessing! b) Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5.16); and “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you … Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6.27-28, 31). That should just about settle it!
- The early Church, like Jesus himself found favour with the people (Lk 2. 52, Acts2.47)
- It is implicit in the life of the early Church. See Gal 6. 10 “doing good to all…” Rom 12.17, 20 f, “repaying evil with good,”
- It works. Research on short term mission in Thailand studied two groups of mission workers: those who went to bless the people, and those who went simply to bring people to faith. The first group, the “Blessers” had a greater impact on their communities. But remarkably, they were also 50 times more successful at bringing people back to God!
How? “It starts with the Heart.” That’s a very “Jesus” thing to say. Jesus was always concerned to take his followers along the road from doing what looks right, to experiencing the heart transformation of the Kingdom of God. And this generous, blessing habit, begins with a heart-habit. It’s about how we see people. Jesus looked at the struggling, rudderless crowds, (Matthew 9. 36) and saw exactly what? When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
A key to a generous, blessing heart, is to remind yourself that you don’t know the forces that are at the root of the behaviour in the other person that you don’t like. When Steven Covey (well known for his books about the habits of effective people) happened to be travelling on a train where two wee boys were misbehaving quite badly, he got so angry that he challenged the boys’ dad about the fact that they were out of control. Dad said “yes, I know. But I don’t know what to say to them: we’re on our way home from the hospital where their mother has just died.” Have you ever had an “ouch” moment like that, when you have wished you had known and understood a bit more about someone, before thinking or saying something critical to them or about them? A scalded child who is screaming is not a naughty child to be quieted down but a needy child to be cared for tenderly.
And when you get the heart right, you get everything right. You get attitudes to struggling people right. You get the pitch right in talking about Jesus. You touch hearts. You even get the supernatural right. When I was looking up texts about doing good, I found that in Acts 4.9 Healing is described very modestly & accurately as “a good deed”. Blessing and generosity sets the necessary context for the safe operation of the gifts of the spirit such as healing.
So I challenge us all to learn to bless, to think, feel, and speak about the people around us in the world in a truly generous way.
- That will affect how we pray. it’s not rocket science; but it is heart surgery. We need the Holy Spirit to be at work to give us generous hearts towards the people round about us, hearts that are insightful and compassionate about their lostness.
- It will affect how we speak and how we speak to people.
- It will affect how we behave. Not stunts, gestures or acts of kindness with strings attached. “You owe us because we’ve been nice to you.” But the overflow from loving hearts that will in turn touch hearts. Christian writer Darrin Hufford says “When we finally grasp God’s focus [the heart], He will suddenly become real and knowable”.
© Gilmour Lilly May 2019