And you say? Bless You!
Where does it come from that after someone sneezes we say “bless you”?
During the plague of AD 590, "Pope Gregory I ordered that anyone sneezing be blessed immediately ("God bless you"), since sneezing was often the first sign that someone was falling ill with the plague."
But we tend to use the term quite widely nowadays. We pray for God's blessings to be on us or our travels or our food, etc. We are not referring to the plague stopping ritual. What do we meani?
A Blessing for You
If I offered you a blessing would you want it?
Would you consider receiving something given in kindness a blessing?
Most people would answer “yes” to both these questions.
What are blessings?
I had an amazing holiday - is that a blessing?
I got my dream job - is that a blessing?
I won a car - is that a blessing?
I missed out on a holiday because I got sick - is that a blessing?
I lost my job - is that a blessing?
My car broke down - is that a blessing?
Typically when we use the word “blessing” it's to do with the former category. And that's understandable because often the Bible seems to refer to the good things that happen to us as being blessings.
For example there are the blessings (and cursings) that were pronounced on Israel on the two hills - Ebal and Gerazim in Deut 28.
God's blessing on your children,
the crops of your land,
the young of your livestock,
the calves of your herds,
the lambs of your flocks.
God's blessing on your basket and bread bowl;
God will order a blessing on your barns and workplaces; he'll bless you in the land that God, your God, is giving you.
God will lavish you with good things: children from your womb, offspring from your animals, and crops from your land, the land that God promised your ancestors that he would give you. God will throw open the doors of his sky vaults and pour rain on your land on schedule and bless the work you take in hand. You will lend to many nations but you yourself won't have to take out a loan. God will make you the head, not the tail; you'll always be the top dog
But are blessings necessarily the “good” things we think they should be?
A Chines Tale by Paulo Coelho
Many years ago, in a poor Chinese village, there lived a farmer and his son. His only material possession, apart from the land and a small hut, was a horse he had inherited from his father.
One day, the horse ran away, leaving the man with no animal with which to work the land. His neighbours, who respected him for his honesty and diligence, went to his house to say how much they regretted his loss. He thanked them for their visit, but asked:
‘How do you know that what happened was a misfortune in my life?’
A week later, the horse returned to its stable, but it was not alone; it brought with it a beautiful mare for company. The inhabitants of the village were thrilled when they heard the news, for only then did they understand the reply the man had given them, and they went back to the farmer’s house to congratulate him on his good fortune.
However the farmer replied, ‘But how do you know that what happened was a blessing in my life?’
The neighbours were rather put out and decided that the man must be going mad, and, as they left, they said: ‘Doesn’t the man realise that the horse is a gift from God?’
A month later, the farmer’s son decided to break the mare in. However, the animal bucked wildly and threw the boy off; the boy fell awkwardly and broke his leg.
The neighbours returned to the farmer’s house, bringing presents for the injured boy and saying how sad they all were about what had occurred.
The man thanked them for their visit and for their kindness, but he asked:
‘How do you know that what happened was a misfortune in my life?’
These words left everyone dumbstruck, and saying to each other: ‘Now he really has gone mad; his only son could be left permanently crippled, and he’s not sure whether the accident was a misfortune or not!’
A few months went by, and Japan declared war on China. The emperor’s emissaries scoured the country for healthy young men to be sent to the front. When they reached the village, they recruited all the young men, except the farmer’s son, whose leg had not yet mended.
None of the young men came back alive. The son recovered, and the two horses produced foals that were all sold for a good price. The farmer went to visit his neighbours to console and to help them, since they had always shown him such care. Whenever any of them complained, the farmer would say: ‘How do you know that what happened was a misfortune?’ If someone was overjoyed about something, he would ask: ‘How do you know that what happened was a blessing?’ And the people of the village came to understand that life has other meanings that go beyond mere appearance.
The first occurrence of a word in the Bible often gives us the best insight into what the word means. The first occurrence of word “bless” is in the very first chapter of the Bible.
Gen 1:22 - God created all the fish and said “And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.” then in Gen 1:28 he creates man and says “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”
From this we can see that blessings have two key parts - fruitful and multiply - to grow and become abundant.
God's blessing are about growth and multiplication.
Growth is something that impacts us - multiplication is something that impacts others.
So, when we seek blessings - we are seeking things that will both let us grow and things that multiply that growth to others.
This brings us to the real point of all of this - experiencing blessing in the real meaning of the word.
Blessing is more about what we give than what we receive. It's actually about b-less-ing (be less).
Think about John the Baptist. Blessed with leadership and teaching skills. Yet that growth in his life was so he could multiply it into the lives of others - and in his case it was into Jesus. He became the b-less-ing for Jesus. And so John said:
“He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30)
Speak the Blessing
So how can we bless others?
There are two ways we can bless others.
We can speak the blessing or we can be the blessing.
The first person to give a blessing was Melchizedek. He blessed Abram (Abraham before his name was changed).
“And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed Abram, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth:” (Gen 14:18)
He speaks a blessing upon Abram...and the result, God listens and makes it happen, replying some time later with these famous words:
“That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies.” (Gen 22:17)
Speaking blessings, in faith can be very powerful, because we are calling God to act in people's lives.
Be the Blessing
However, it's the next part that is even more exciting and the essence of our Christian life - being the blessing. In the words of James:
“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, to keep yourself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27)
Remember that blessings is about growth and multiplication. It’s when we are the blessing that we are truly living this.
If you consider your life you will see that there have been things that God has given you. Areas where you have experienced growth.
You knowledge of something.
We have certainly, if we examine our lives, and allowed God to work with us, been blessed. We have all had something valuable grow. However, now to complete the blessing we must take this growth and multiply it to others.
Whether it be your money, possessions, connections.
Whether it be your skills to build, teach, sew.
Whether it be your patience to guide, nurture, train.
Whether it be your energy to visit, feed, lead.
Whether it be your faith to console, encourage, develop
Blessings begin as growth in our lives but are completed as multiplication in the lives of others.
How will you allow your blessings to multiply?
Jesus is the ultimate example - he spoke the blessing and became the blessing - he grew and he multiplied. He proclaimed the ultimate blessing - “I have come that you may have life (fruitfulness) and have it abundantly (multiply).” (John 10:10)
Jesus was the life and he multiplied it to every single person on this planet by being the ultimate b-less-ing- by pouring out his entire life that we may have life eternal.
We now take his life and to complete his blessing must seek to multiple it to as many as we can.
May you be the blessing - in the truest sense of the word. Ask yourself:
How will I speak blessings in the year ahead?
How will I be the blessing in the year ahead?
How will I multiply what God has grown in my life?