Having all our prayers answered. Being healthy, happy and fulfilled.
Overcoming all our struggles and having all our needs met – without having to wait too long either.
That’s what it means to be blessed by God, isn’t it? But that isn’t how Jesus put it…
“Blessed are those who’ve got all they need and are quite-alright-and-not-in-need-of-any-help-from-God-or-man-thank-you-very-much.
Blessed are those who never suffer loss or tragedy or betrayal.
Blessed are those who never let themselves appear vulnerable or needy.
Blessed are those who know they’ve got it all sorted, with no more issues to deal with.
Blessed are the stingy and self-sufficient.
Blessed are those who cut a few corners, because no one’s really looking anyway.
Blessed are those who get their point across no matter who gets in the way, because they really know best after all.
Blessed are those who never get teased or alienated or attacked for their wacky ‘God-stuff’, or for going on about that Jesus guy again.
Blessed are you when people cheer you on, praise you and say all manner of wonderful things about you, because after all, you’re God’s highly favoured one.”
When we take Jesus’ famous teachings at the start of the beatitudes – the beautiful attitudes – of Matthew 5, and flip them on their head like this, I believe it challenges the very core of what we mean when we consider ourselves ‘blessed’, or feel that ‘God is blessing us’.
The word ‘blessed’ that Jesus uses here refers to being fortunate, in a state of happiness and joy. But how often do we associate someone as fortunate when they’re suffering, going without and experiencing tragedy or loss?
If we’re honest, it’s not just ‘prosperity gospel’ churches who believe that following God means only good, lovely things will happen to us. In western Christianity, we seem to have subconsciously adopted the continual ‘pursuit of happiness’, assuming we’re entitled to be successful and flourishing all of the time.
And while we may know that our joy shouldn’t be dependent on our external circumstances – on everything going right all the time – are we ever taught that it’s actually through the really tough, awful, excruciating times – during loss, betrayal, hurt and confusion – that we are truly blessed by God?
The reality is, we live in a fallen world, and being a follower of Jesus doesn’t exclude us from the consequences of sin and death. We will experience pain and loss and insults and heartbreak. But Jesus is saying that we are blessed in these circumstances.
Maybe true happiness and joy comes not from getting everything our own way all the time, but from learning more about who God is – how dependable, rock-solid, faithful and compassionate a father he is. How he truly understands and walks with us, having been betrayed and denied by his closest friends when he lived on earth.
Maybe it all comes back to dependence, to realising that without being connected to the vine – to God, the source of life – we are nothing, and cannot have true happiness, or that elusive peace we so often seek after.
This weekend the lightbulb in our toilet stopped working. So between us (and this is definitely the extent to which our DIY skills stretch), my husband and I managed to unscrew the exhausted bulb, only to have a shower of debris fall on our heads. It looked as if part of the internal fitting had disintegrated, so while we weren’t convinced it would work, we got out a brand new bulb and proceeded to try to screw it in.
But that new, shiny bulb, full of all that potential to shine light and illuminate the darkness, wouldn’t even hold in place. Because – as we’d suspected – the connection point with the source of power was damaged.
And that got me thinking.
How can we expect to be shining in the darkness, to be used to our full potential, to be happy and fulfilled, if we’re not even connected to the source, to the one who supplies the power, to the one who created us in the first place?
And how often do we choose – very intentionally, or perhaps more subtly – to remove ourselves from connection and relationship with God when things just aren’t going the way we planned?
At school they encouraged us to write a ‘five year plan’. But the reality of life is we don’t know what’s around the corner, and none of us would include on our five year plan ‘this relationship is going to break up’, ‘I’m going to unintentionally hurt this friend, and the fallout will be huge for both of us’, ‘I’m going to lose one of the closest people in my life to cancer’. It just isn’t in the plan.
It seems Jesus is reminding us, in the greatest sermon of all time, that although we won’t plan it or want it, tough stuff will come our way.
But in the midst of the struggles and questions and anguish and pain, will we choose to see ourselves as fortunate, and stay connected to the source of the blessings – to the one who alone can provide that deep, inner peace that passes all understanding?