Our church has a leader’s retreat this week. Sunday afternoon after church, I asked the leader of our prayer team if there would still be morning prayer meetings at the church each morning. She assured me that there would be, and then asked, “Are you going to the leaders’ retreat?”
I answered, “No, I don’t think so.” (Right now, we’re focused on language studies, so we’re not taking on many outside ministry responsibilities.)
Gantuya answered, “Oh, but you’re speaking at the retreat.”
Taken aback, I stuttered, “Th-that’s the first I’ve heard of it.”
“Didn’t Batsukh tell you?”
“No. He tried to call me a couple of times, but I could never figure out what he wanted.” (I can occasionally make out what someone is saying when we’re face to face. When I’m on the phone, forget about it.)
“You need to meet with him.”
So I walked over to Batsukh, who was looking rather sheepish, as he explained to me that a scheduled speaker had gone to the countryside and that they needed me to talk for an hour or so on the topic of how to receive God’s blessing. That is a topic I’ve never really done much research on, but they didn’t really ask; they just told me I was doing it, so tomorrow I’m headed out with a laptop and a projector to try to find the right bus to Gachuurt. I’m hopeful that I’ll have time afterwards to grab a geocache about 4 kilometers farther down the road.
I don’t really expect anyone to read it, but I’ll post here what I’m presenting tomorrow. I didn’t cite sources, so if you see something that’s original to you, holler and I’ll give you credit.
I want to discuss several questions about God’s blessing with you this morning. Let’s begin with the most basic question of all:
1. What Is God’s Blessing?
Blessing is a major theme in the Bible, mentioned more than 500 times; but what does it really mean to be blessed? How can we know if we are experiencing God’s blessing in our lives? Let’s think of some people in the Bible who were blessed by God. Certainly it includes people like Abraham and David, but what about those who didn’t have visible external blessings? What about Joseph, Job (during his trials), and Paul?
Sometimes our view of God’s blessing is too limited. Our vision of God’s blessing is so focused on temporal, material blessings that we don’t see all that God wants to give us.
Certainly God does have material blessings for His people and we see plenty of evidence of this, especially in the Old Testament.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for blessing is barak, which literally means “to kneel.” It conveys the idea of a subject kneeling before his master, while the master gives something good to him.
We first find the concept of blessing in Genesis 1:22. After God had created all the animals that lived in the sea and the air, he looked at them and saw that they were good. Then God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” In other words, God gave them a good gift—the ability to reproduce themselves, to have children. In verse 28, God gives humans the same blessing.
A few chapters later, in Genesis 24:35, we see a description of God’s blessing on Abraham. Abraham’s servant tells Laban: The LORD has greatly blessed my master, and he has become wealthy; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and donkeys. Again, we see the idea of God, the master, giving a good gift to his servant, in this case the gift of material wealth—animals, money, and slaves.
Let’s quickly look at one more passage before we move on. The book of Job is about a man who has a lot of bad things happen to him, but the story has a happy ending. In Job 42:12-13 we read, The LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. Just as in the story of Abraham, God blesses his servant with great wealth. And just as God did to Abraham, God gives Job many children, another blessing.
In fact, most of the Old Testament references to blessing refer to some sort of material blessing. We all enjoy receiving those kinds of blessings from God, but really those blessings are usually just temporary. Having a lot of money and possessions might make life easier, but, when we die, we can’t take the money with us.
Fortunately, God’s blessing is a lot bigger and better than just financial wealth. As we start to move into the New Testament, we see a bigger picture of the kind of blessing God wants to give his people.
In the New Testament, the Greek word often translated as “bless” is makarios, which means “blessed, fortunate, or happy.” And, in the New Testament, blessing rarely has anything to do with financial wealth. Almost always, blessing is related to the joy that Christians have because they know that they have been saved from their sins and because they know that they are members of the kingdom of God. The true blessing of the Christian life is the knowledge that, whether we are rich or poor in this life, we have a glorious future promised to us.
Probably the most well-known use of the word “blessed” in the New Testament is Jesus’ description of blessed people during the Sermon on the Mount.
Matthew 5:3-10 “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.
These are some very interesting statements that Jesus makes. He gives some descriptions of people that seem negative—poor in spirit, mourning, hungry and thirsty, and persecuted,. He then tells about the beautiful rewards that await these people in the future—the kingdom of heaven, comfort, and fullness. But the blessing—the happiness—doesn’t just come in the future. It comes in the present. The poor in spirit are blessed now, because they know that the kingdom is in their future. Those who mourn are blessed now, because they know that comfort is in their future. So Jesus says that we have blessing—we have happiness—now because of our hope for the future.
Much of the rest of the New Testament echoes this future perspective. But we do not want to ignore the present blessings that we receive from God’s hand. There are many present benefits of being members of God’s kingdom. We have freedom from guilt, purpose in life, spiritual gifts, fruitfulness in ministry, the leadership of the Holy Spirit, the privilege of bringing our concerns to God in prayer, an increased ability to love, power over sin, and improved relationships. All of these are gifts from God’s hand that we receive as his servants kneeling before him.
So what is blessing? It is everything good that we receive from God’s hand. James 1:17 says that Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Everything good that comes our way is a blessing from God. That includes material blessings in the present, spiritual benefits that come to us as a result of being members of the kingdom, and hope of rewards to be given in the future.
Obviously we all want to receive gifts from God, but before we ask for God to bless us, we need to deal with a second important question:
2. What Is the Purpose for Blessing?
Does God just give us blessings, so that we can be happy all the time? Of course God wants his children to be happy, just like I want my children to be happy. But God is not in the business of cultivating selfishness in his children.
One of the earliest blessings in the Bible is found in God’s call of Abram. In Genesis 12:2, God tells Abram: I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. God had some fantastic blessings that he was about to give Abram—a land flowing with milk and honey, more children than there are stars in the sky, and incredible wealth. But before God gave Abram any of those things, he wanted Abram to understand that those blessings were not just for Abram to enjoy. The blessings were given for a reason—so that you will be a blessing. In fact, in verse 3, God goes on to say all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
James expresses a similar idea in his letter, but he phrases it as a warning to those of us who are tempted to pray for personal blessings without a plan to bless others. James 4:3 says, You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. James is saying that God will not bless us if our only desire is to be selfish with what we get. We receive blessings from God so that we can channel those blessings on to other people.
This definitely applies to material blessings. When God blesses us with financial wealth, it opens a door of opportunity to start a whole cycle of unleashing God’s blessings. In 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, Paul describes the amazing things that happen when you give generously from what God has given you. If you do that, you will also reap generously (v. 6). God will make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work (v. 8). God will supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion and your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God (vv. 10-11). When you are a channel of blessing to others, God will supply all your needs and will give you more so that you can give more. When you give more, others will be blessed and they will give thanks to God (vv. 12-13). Because of their thankfulness, they will offer prayers for you so that you will be blessed (v. 14) and the cycle of receiving blessing and passing it on can continue forever.
But we need to pass on spiritual blessings as well. When Peter and John were walking up to the temple, they met a crippled man, who asked them for money. Peter’s response, in Acts 3:6, was Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk. And then he raised the man to his feet. Peter did not keep God’s blessing to himself, but he used it to bless someone else. When he did, it caused the crippled man to go into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God (v. 8). The crippled man’s praise caused all the people to be filled with wonder and amazement (v. 10). And the people’s amazement gave Peter the opportunity to preach the gospel to the crowd (vv. 11-26).
Paul teaches the same thing about spiritual gifts. In every place where he discusses them, he makes it clear that spiritual gifts are given not for the benefit of the believer who receives the gift but for the building up of other believers. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul says that exercising any of the spiritual gifts without love is worthless. If we have great speaking ability, or great faith, or great knowledge but we just use it for our own benefit, it is useless. The only way our spiritual gifts are really blessings is if we use them to bless others. In the next chapter, Paul goes on to use this thought to explain why prophecy is a more important gift than the ability to speak in an unknown language. Speaking in tongues does not build others up; if others do not understand what you are saying, they will not receive the blessing that spiritual gifts are supposed to bring.
So, what is the purpose for receiving God’s blessing? It is so that we can be a channel of blessing to others. Once we understand that God’s blessings are to be shared, we can then ask the question:
3. What Are the Requirements for Receiving God’s Blessing?
I want us first of all to notice that we do not have to try to force God to bless us. Psalm 16:11 says, You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. God’s hands are full of the blessings that he has prepared to give us.
God not only has those blessings in his hands, but he wants to bless us with them. Augustine said, “God is more anxious to bestow His blessings on us than we are to receive them.” Augustine was right. Jesus put it this way in Matthew 7:7-11:
“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
So we do not have to try to argue or beg God into giving us his blessings. We simply have to be in the right place to receive them. What is that place? It is the place of obedience, the place of seeking God’s kingdom first.
Obedience has always been the requirement for receiving God’s blessing. In Deuteronomy 28, the children of Israel were preparing to enter the land God had promised them. God had a great blessing that he was about to give them, but before they receive it, God had a message he wanted Israel to understand. Let’s read verses 1-8:
If you will only obey the LORD your God, by diligently observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth; all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the LORD your God:
Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field.
Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your livestock, both the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock.
Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.
The LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you; they shall come out against you one way, and flee before you seven ways. The LORD will command the blessing upon you in your barns, and in all that you undertake; he will bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
In these eight verses, God’s promise of blessing is stated nine times. But all of those blessings depend on one little word in verse 1 and verse 2—“if.” If Israel would just obey God, they could receive all of the blessings God had in store for them.
I want to be clear here that there is nothing we can do to earn God’s blessing. But God has put some laws into effect that govern who receives his blessings and who does not. We cannot earn God’s blessing, but by living according to those laws, we can receive his blessing. For example, in Matthew 6:14, Jesus says, For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” That does not mean that we can earn forgiveness, but it does mean that there is something we must do if we want to receive forgiveness.
Here are some other “laws” God has set up. In Matthew 19:17, Jesus says, If you want to enter life, obey the commandments. In John 14:23 he says, If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. We do not earn eternal life or God’s love and fellowship, but there are conditions that we must meet to receive them.
In 1 John 3:21-22, John tells us exactly what the condition for blessing is, exactly what we need to do if we expect to receive anything from God:
Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
It could not be clearer. If we want to receive something from God, we must obey his commandments and do what pleases him. If you are not sure what commandments you are supposed to obey, just look at the next verse:
And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.
Believe in Jesus and love one another. It is not surprising to see love as one of the requirements, since Jesus said that love was the greatest commandment. But John also puts love in this verse to remind us that the gifts we receive are not for us alone but to be shared with others. God cannot give his blessings to those who will keep them for themselves. So, obedience is the first requirement for receiving God’s blessing.
Secondly, we need to work faithfully; we need to be a useful servant. Paul makes a very important statement about how to receive an inheritance from the Lord. In Colossians 3:23-24, we are told: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Sometimes in the Bible, the word for blessing also means the inheritance that the father passes down to the son. Paul is saying here that if we wish to receive God’s blessing, we need to do everything we do with our whole heart. Sometimes, when we’re doing a job, we just do it for our own satisfaction or we do it to please our boss. But if we want to receive a blessing, we ought to work as if Jesus were our boss. Even if it’s something like hauling water or washing dishes or chopping wood, we should do it with excellence.
In Luke 17:7-10, Jesus tells us what it means to be a useful servant:
“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”
If I just come to work on time and do the basic requirements of the job, is my boss going to raise my salary or give me an extra bonus? No. If I get a raise or a bonus, it is because I have done more than was required of me. If I work hard and do more than is required, my employer makes more money and then he can afford to give me some of that money.
In the same way, if we want to receive greater blessings in this life and in God’s kingdom, we ought to do more than God requires of us. We cannot allow ourselves to become casual Christians, people who are just barely going to make it into heaven. God is pleased when we are on fire for him and are using our body, soul, mind and strength to expand his kingdom.
So, we need to live obediently and we need to serve faithfully. Third, we need to be a cheerful giver. I have already mentioned this, but I want to speak about it a little more.
When we become useful servants by doing more than is required, we can begin to receive blessings from God. If we want to continue to receive those blessings, we must share them with others. We must give cheerfully. If we want to have a full, abundant life, we must be full, abundant givers.
Second Corinthians 9:7 tells us how we ought to give: Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
But what can I give? Well, whatever God has blessed you with is what you can use to bless someone else. If he has given you free time in your day, then you can use that time to bless others. If he has given you the ability to pray, then you can use that prayer to bless others. If he has given you the ability to say an encouraging word, then you can use that ability to bless others. If he has given you money, then you can use that money to bless others.
Most of us might classify ourselves as not having much money and that may be true. But, if God does provide extra money for us, what do we do with it? Do we spend it on ourselves or do we use it to bless others? In Proverbs 19:17, God describes the blessings that come from helping the poor people around us: He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done. Giving to those poorer than us is like loaning money to God. We lend the money to them, and God pays us back. We do not get to choose when God pays us back, but he has promised that he will. It may be in this life or it may be in heaven, but God will repay the debt.
God never fails to honor his commitments. Proverbs 3:9-10 says, Honor the LORD with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine. Even if we do not have much to give, if we give it cheerfully, God will multiply it and will repay us. The boy with five loaves and two fishes did not have much to give, but Jesus took that small gift and fed thousands, including the boy himself.
Finally, we need to walk by faith. As we walk down life’s road, we cannot always see what is in front of us. Sometimes the road has twists and turns that we did not see. Sometimes fog covers the road and we have to use the light of God’s word to find our way. The Psalmist says in Psalm 119:105 that Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. It says “a lamp to my feet” not a spotlight shining 5 kilometers down the road. Sometimes, I have to just walk in the tiny bit of light that God has given me.
The writer of Hebrews says that this walk of faith is a requirement for receiving God’s blessing. In Hebrews 11:6, we read, And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. There are times when we may feel that God is not there, that he has forsaken us. Many great followers of God have gone through times like that. Both David and Jesus cried out, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? But, even in those times, we need to reach out in faith and believe that God is there. And we must believe that he keeps his promises. He says that he is a good God. He says that he has everything that we need. He says that, just as human parents provide for their children, God our Father wants to give good gifts to his children. Do you believe him? If you never receive any visible reward in this lifetime, are you still willing to believe him?
As we walk by faith, we keep seeking God’s will for our lives. If we do that, God’s blessing will surely come, even if they do not come in the way or at the time we would have chosen.
So, what are the requirements for receiving abundant blessings from God? We must keep God’s commandments, we must be useful servants, we must be cheerful givers, and we must walk by faith.
We have looked at some things that are required for receiving God’s blessing, but that brings up another question:
4. What Things Can Block God’s Blessing?
There are things that we can do to put ourselves in the place where God can bless us, but there are also things that we can do that can keep God from blessing us.
I talked earlier about the Hebrew word barak, which means to kneel before your master so that he can give you something good. That word was used to describe the gift of family inheritance, passing land from a master to a servant, or even a king giving a title to one of his subjects. But it was always done inside a healthy relationship. If the son was not in right relationship with his father, he could not receive the inheritance. If the servant was not in right relationship with his master, he could not receive property from him. And, if we are not in a right relationship with God, we cannot receive blessing from him.
The Israelites often made that mistake. They were wrongly related to God. They did not care about the things God cared about, but they believed that God was still going to bless them. They thought, “We are God’s chosen people. We still believe in God. We obey God more than the nations around us. Surely God will bless us.” But God did not bless them, because they were worshipping idols.
Sometimes an idol can be a statue made of wood or metal or clay, but many times our idols are not so easy to see. An idol is anything we are trusting, anything we are depending on to provide for us. The Israelites would pray to God, but then they would pray to a local god just to have extra security. The Israelites would pray to God, but then they would hire the Egyptians to bring their armies to protect them. They said they trusted God, but they were always making another plan.
Some of us are like that. We say we trust God, but we only really trust him when things are going smoothly. When things start to get rough, we do not keep walking in faith. We start looking for another plan. If our faith is in money, or our faith is in another person, or our faith is in the government, or if our faith is in anything besides God, we put up a barrier to God’s blessing.
God wants to bless us; it is one of his greatest desires. But he will withhold his blessing to get our attention.
Usually, we do not take big steps away from God; we just stop paying attention. We stop being careful and we start letting the culture around us affect us. Unfortunately, the bad things in life spread more easily than the good things. For example, if I walked in here with muddy shoes, would the clean floor make my shoes clean? Or would my muddy shoes make the floor dirty? In the same way, holiness is not easy to communicate from one person to another. You cannot inherit holiness from your parents. You cannot buy holiness. You cannot become holy by brushing up against a holy person.
But sinfulness is easily communicated. When we interact with a sinful culture all day every day, it is easy for us to begin to fall into the patterns of that culture. Does that mean that we should just lock ourselves inside our churches and refuse to speak to those who are not Christians? It does not, but it does mean that we need to constantly be careful in our actions to be sure that we are continuing to trust God and God alone.
I have seen Christian young people who think that they can date a non-Christian and bring him to Christ. But it rarely works that way. Usually the non-Christians drag the believers away from their faith.
It does not happen right away. Sin is like spiritual leprosy. It slowly kills the nerves until we cannot feel anything anymore. When we first sin, the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts and we feel real guilt and conviction. But if we ignore the Spirit’s leadership, little by little, our hearts become hardened and eventually we do not feel any guilt anymore. When we get to that point, God cannot bless us.
As we come to the end of our session, I want us to stop and take some time to let God examine us. Some of us are not experiencing all of the blessing that God wants to give us. So we are going to take some time to pray the prayer found in Psalm 139:23-24 Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! And as we pray that prayer and let God search us, I want us to take a piece of paper and begin to write down what barriers are in our lives that are blocking God’s blessing.
If you are in a place of right relationship with God and you are experiencing his blessing, then take this time to write down some of the many ways that God has blessed you. But if you are not sure that you are receiving all that God has for you, maybe God is trying to get your attention. Let God examine you, and then deal with whatever he may bring up. If we will sincerely ask him to, he will point to those things in our lives that need to change. Then it’s up to us to decide what we are going to do. Are we going to continue to disobey and block God from blessing us? Or are we going to ask God for help to take those barriers down and trust him to do a new work in our hearts?
To close our time together, I want to pray a prayer of blessing over each one of you. Ephesians 3:14-21 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.