Tag: blessing (page 1 of 2)

The importance of “so that”

psalm 67The people of Israel got it wrong frequently.


That’s important to remember when we read the Old Testament. The Bible is not filled with heroes, it is filled with humans. Messed up and broken individuals, just like us. People who seemed to fail more often then they succeed.


The Bible is a story of God blessing and loving people not based on what they do, but on who He is.


In the Old Testament jumble of God’s commands and Israel’s mistakes, the stories can sometimes be frustrating. Were the other nations all that bad? And with all the fighting, what is God condoning and what is God allowing? And how can God bless in the midst of that behavior?


We sometimes want more answers than the texts provide.


But, we do have the answer to one thing. Does God love us? The Bible reveals God’s unquenchable, never-ending love for humanity. Not just for Israel, but for the entire world. That’s why He blessed Israel in the first place.


When God chose Abraham in Genesis12, He said it was so that all the people on earth might be blessed through him. That declaration continued throughout the chapters and books that followed.


Israel was blessed in order to be a blessing.


In ancient history, nations each had their own God. The character and circumstances of a nation, then, revealed the God of that nation. A blessed nation would reveal a God who blessed. A nation that was commanded to take in strangers would reveal a God who loved and welcomed all.


Israel had so much potential.


Except that they were broken people just like us. And sin got in the way of obedience and love.


They often focused on what they had, and what they wanted, and forgot the “so that” part of the blessing. Or, maybe even more often, made up their own “so that.”


God, bless us, so that we may become stronger.
God, bless us, so that we may become more powerful.
God, bless us, so that we may become richer.


This is not what God intended.


In Psalm 67, though, Israel gets it right. They use language that connects to the priestly blessing in Numbers 6. And they remember the “so that.”


“May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face shine on us-
SO THAT your ways may be known on earth,
Your salvation among all nations.” – Psalm 67:1-2


I wonder how often modern Christians repeat the mistakes of Israel, and make our own “so that” for our prayers.


God, bless our church, so that we may grow bigger.
God, bless my preaching, so that I may become famous.
God, bless my leadership, so that I may be respected.


Whether we admit it or not, our “so that” drifts to selfishness pretty easily.


How would the Church look different if we stopped the drift? If we followed the example of Psalm 67 and refocused our “so that” back where it belongs?


And what about me? How would I look different if my “so that” was not based on my own desires? What if I prayed for God to shine His face on me so that His love could radiate to the world?


Psalm 67 is challenging me with that thought. I think I may take these verses as my prayer for awhile.


Link up your post about Psalm 67 below. Make sure to read the posts of others, too. And come back next week with a post on Psalm 68.

When we long for faith to be a black and white drawing


Sometimes I wish I lived in ancient Jerusalem.


I long for the clarity of a theocracy, in which the laws of the land and the laws of God are one and the same. Wouldn’t everything be so much easier if we lived in a place God promised to protect? If there were bold lines drawn between our obedience and God’s blessing? If reaching the world meant establishing us, because through our strength other people would know that our God was real?


I want the picture of my faith journey to be a black and white drawing. I want it all to be clear and simple.


And so when I read a psalm like Psalm 48, I am jealous.


I am jealous of a people living in a city where God shows up to fight battles on their behalf.


I want to confidently praise with words like,

God is in its fortresses;
he reveals himself as its defender.
Mount Zion rejoices;
the towns of Judah are happy,
because of your acts of judgment. – Psalm 48:3, 11


And I want to confidently make requests with words like,

Walk around  Zion! Encircle it!
Count its towers!
Consider its defenses!
Walk through its fortresses,
so you can tell the next generation about it! – Psalm 48:12-13


I am jealous of how uncomplicated this seems. We are God’s people, we live in God’s city, thank you for protecting us, do more of it in the future. Boom.


Meanwhile, today, as I follow Christ, I don’t know how to pray about blessing and protection. Christ calls us to humble ourselves and sacrifice and serve and give up all for His sake. It seems so shallow to pray for God’s blessing on my life. How can I pray for God’s protection when He asked me to die to self when I started to follow Him?


So, should I pray for more friends, or should I pray that I would be more content in Christ alone? Should I pray for more margin to rest, or for more energy to do all that is before me? Should I pray for God to protect against illness and suffering, or for Christ to be reveal in and through me as I endure it?


I want the freedom of clarity I perceive in the Old Testament. If I obey, God will bless. If I do the right things, I will be protected.


But then I look about this little line in verse 8.


We heard about God’s mighty deeds, now we have seen them,


And I realize that things were not always as simple as I like to imagine them. This verse is positive, but it implies the negative. The people have heard about God’s mighty deeds, but not seen them themselves. They have wondered where He was and why He was not intervening. Now, finally, they have seen His acts themselves, and are praising Him for them.


In ancient Israel, God’s blessing was on a people, not on a person, which made the whole journey of following Him just as jumbled as it is now. Perhaps even more so. What would it have been like to live as an Israelite faithful to God during a time when the king was erecting idols? Or to make sacrifices on behalf of our sins, always knowing that they were not actually enough to cover them?


black and white faithThe picture of faith in a God who is full of both justice and mercy, a God who has a narrow law and a wide grace, a God who is perfect and who loves a sinful people, has never been black and white.  


But though that may make life more difficult, doesn’t it also make it more beautiful?


When my kids see a piece of paper that contains only black lines and white spaces, they immediately run for the markers. It is their instinct to add more to a black and white page. The starkness does not feel like enough. They want to blur over the lines and fill in the spaces with depth and variety. Often, as they do, there is frustration and tears when colors don’t look the way they thought they would. But no matter the process, in the end, the paper is much more beautiful than it was before they colored it.


God is a master Artist and we are His masterpieces. The picture of our life with Him is filled with color and blurred lines and frustration and variety and complexity and beauty. 


walk through the psalmsWalk through the Psalms is a series working its way through the book of Psalms, one Psalm a week, one post a week, in order. It is grounded in the belief that as Psalms swirl through prayers of pain and praise, they paint a portrait of a life of faith. And, as with any walk, it is better with company; all are welcome to join. To learn more, read this.




Linking up? Grab the Psalms button:

<a href=”http://www.everydayawe.com/tag/psalm-series” target=”_blank”><img alt=”Psalms” src=”http://www.everydayawe.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/walk-through-the-psalms-psd.jpg” /></a>

On becoming less self-centered


I would be embarrassed if you could see my thoughts. I try to conceal how self-centered I am, but if you had this view to my inner mind, you would see the truth.


I think about myself all the time.


I get ready in the morning and think about how I look. I drive to work and think about what I have to do that day. I run through upcoming conversations and think about what I am going to say. I walk away from interactions and think about how I was perceived. I plan for the future and think about how I will position myself to get what I want.


Seriously. I my thoughts are ALL. ABOUT. ME.


(I hope, in admitting this, you might admit that you think about yourself a lot, too? I don’t think I’m alone…)


This self-centered thought life also translates into a self-centered prayer life.


My prayers certainly seem spiritual and pious. I pray for my heart’s devotion towards God. I pray for my actions and attitude to reflect those of Christ. I pray for forgiveness for my sins and help to do better next time. I pray for wisdom and peace. I pray for my kids and my marriage and my role in loving those God has placed in my life.


None of these are bad things. But they are all me things. Me and my are perhaps the most common words in my prayers. Perhaps spoken even more often than God and Lord.


Even when something not about me does pierce my heart, and therefore break into my prayers, it is usually related to some tragedy that I beg God’s help to change. I pray in some general sense for His will to be done and love to be shown and felt.


I don’t know the last time I praised God for someone else’s existence and prayed specifically for their blessing. Besides perhaps a few specific people who I care about deeply, I don’t know if I have ever done that.


And so, I feel challenged by Psalm 45. It is a blessing and a love song. And it is still a prayer.


It praises the king and reminds him of his identity as God’s chosen leader.


You are the most excellent of men
and your lips have been anointed with grace,
since God has blessed you forever.
In your majesty ride forth victoriously
in the cause of truth, humility and justice;
let your right hand achieve awesome deeds.
You love righteousness and hate wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy.
-       Psalm 45:2, 4, 7


Can you imagine what it would feel like to have a choir of people singing this kind of blessing over you?


True, the model of the Israelite life of faith was different than ours. Their relationship with God and their success as a country were inextricably tied to the success of their king. So, they had some extra motivation to pray and bless in this way.


But in Christ, aren’t we each the recipients of God’s blessing? What if we prayed like this for each other?


What if we reminded one another of our identity as heirs in God’s Kingdom? That we are adopted sons and daughters of a King, called to live in truth, humility, and justice? That we are blessed and called to be a blessing?


The Psalm also prays blessing over the king’s bride.


Listen, daughter, and pay careful attention:
Forget your people and your father’s house.
Let the king be enthralled by your beauty;
honor him, for he is your lord.
-       Psalm 45:10-11


And aren’t each of us, through Christ, God’s beloved? What if we prayed like this for each other?


What if we reminded one another of our identity as Christ’s bride? What if we told each other that we are beautiful? That we need to leave our pasts behind and let ourselves be loved?


blessingIt honors God to when we root one another in or identities as His heirs and beloveds. When, in our private prayers, we pray for each other to know these truths. And, better yet, when we speak these kinds of words of affirmation for those around us in public.


I know I want to do this. I want to be less self-centered. In my thought life and in my prayer life. Will you join me? Let’s say out loud to each other:


You are blessed. You have a purpose. You are loved. You are beautiful.


walk through the psalmsWalk through the Psalms is a series working its way through the book of Psalms, one Psalm a week, one post a week, in order. It is grounded in the belief that as Psalms swirl through prayers of pain and praise, they paint a portrait of a life of faith. And, as with any walk, it is better with company; all are welcome to join. To learn more, read this.


Linking up? Grab the Psalms button: 

<a href=”http://www.everydayawe.com/tag/psalm-series” target=”_blank”><img alt=”Psalms” src=”http://www.everydayawe.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/walk-through-the-psalms-psd.jpg” /></a>

Wonder: Mary and the Curses that Follow Blessing

Ed Cyzewski is a gracious and welcome presence on the Internet. He uses his site to host the voices of others and elevate the discussions that tend to turn to arguments. I am honored to be the host of his words today.

Do you remember that story where the religious leaders accused Jesus of being demon possessed and born out of wedlock? That always struck me as a little insight into the effects of small town life and the kind of shame that Mary faced on a regular basis thanks to that visit from an angel.

News about the “scandalous” birth of Jesus traveled far and wide.

If you’ve never lived in a small town before, you may not know about the way bad news, let alone a scandal, can spread.

We lived in a small Vermont town for four years, and I rarely needed to read the newspaper to learn about the latest round of bad news. If there were rumblings over the ownership of a local store or the tempestuous relationship between a pastor and the sexton, I just needed to show up for work or go out for a pastry. News spread quickly among people long before Facebook became a powerful force for sharing news in a network.

If you can imagine living in a small town in the ancient village of Nazareth, and most of us can’t really, we might think of a Jewish culture where sex outside of marriage was shameful and reason for exclusion. If it happened, it was either covered up or a source of lifelong shame.

We’re not quite in Scarlet Letter territory. This is far worse. We don’t know how often women were stoned for committing adultery, but among a Jewish people determined to keep the Law perfectly in order to leave their nation’s checkered past behind, it certainly brought some devastating consequences.

Enter Mary, a lowly peasant, most likely a very young woman, if not young “teenager.”

She had everything to lose if she was found pregnant before her wedding day. Although Joseph didn’t turn her over to be killed, she certainly accepted a life of shame.

Isn’t it something that the person called “favored” by God, chosen to bear his son into the world was also destined to carry a life of shame—to say nothing of the grief of watching her only son suffocate to death on a cross as a criminal.

God showed up in the life of Mary.

She was favored and blessed.

She looked forward to future generations with the eyes of faith, trusting that they would call her blessed.

She was anything but blessed during her lifetime.

Who knows how many years she lived in shame around her relatives and close friends. Perhaps she and Joseph preferred to remain in Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus in order to escape the knowing glances by their former friends.

Let us pray this Christmas season for God to come. His presence is more valuable than any gift.

But what happens once God shows up? What happens to those he favors and calls blessed?

Does life get easier or better or simpler?

Perhaps the arrival of God in our lives and his blessings is the start of a lifelong struggle and pain. The catch is that God is there with us in the pain, difficulty, and questions.

“God with us” is not a remedy to our problems. It’s the good news that God is present with us in our pain, that he can use us just as we are, and that the troubles of this life are not the end of the story.

Future generations may even call us blessed.


About Today’s Guest Blogger: Ed Cyzewski

Ed Cyzewski is the co-author of Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus and the author of Creating Space: The Case for Everyday Creativity (A Kindle Best-Seller), A Path to Publishing, and Coffeehouse Theology. He blogs about imperfectly following Jesus at www.inamirrordimly.com and tweets at @edcyzewski.


Wonder: Rediscover the Christmas Story is an Advent series designed to help us pause and reflect on how amazing the stories of Jesus’ birth really are. To break through the cluttered busyness of the season and touch our hearts with the awe of what God has done. Let’s make this a season of wonder and worship, marveling together at our great God.


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