But remember the Lord your God, For it is God who gives you power to get wealth, So that God may confirm the covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as God is doing today. (Deuteronomy 8:18)
It is popular to express thanksgiving with the words, “I am so blessed”. In fact my social media feeds are populated with this sentiment which expresses a gratitude for graces both large and small.
The gathering of dearly loved family to celebrate a birthday or anniversary … “I am so blessed.”
An ‘all clear’ diagnosis from a nagging health problem … “I am so blessed.”
The gift of money or financial support during tough times … “I am so blessed.”
The regular commitment from a friend to phone you when you’re having a bad day … “I am so blessed.”
Even as we count our blessings – and maybe these appear rather basic and simple in a year that has brought us so much upheaval and disruption – the message of the Gospel can challenge us, shock us.
The text from Deuteronomy mentions the ‘covenant’. The covenant between God and people was first established with Abraham. When Abraham received the promise of blessings from God, he was to do something with that. Yes, Abraham was ‘so blessed’, he can pray. His descendants would number the stars in the sky, so promised God. But that blessing was meant to be given to others. God said to Abraham, “I will bless you so that you will be a blessing; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
We know what being shocked feels like. The pandemic has shocked our systems. And for people in various situations, the way the world has changed has asked from each of us something different. The pandemic has shocked our lives. So much so we are in survival mode and our top priority becomes self-preservation.
Yet it is precisely at those times when we are knee-jerked into circling the wagons and narrowing our focus into self-centred strategies for living – for whatever reasons – we need to consider again how it is we live our faith. And who we are, really.
Because the truth is – and social scientists and psychologists have all corroborated these in findings – that “our most enduring happiness does not come from what we gain [for ourselves] but rather from what we give away, offering who we are and what we have to bless others.”
The blessings we receive as individuals have a wider destination. The blessings given to us are meant for others, in some way. We, as individuals, are not the final repository of a blessing. If we feel ‘so blessed’, then we need to do something for others with that blessing. What we receive has a broader purpose, a destination far beyond our private interests alone. We may not even be able to comprehend right now the fruit of those seeds we plant.
The ancient story is toldof the seeker of Christ who yearns to travel far to encounter and experience the presence of Jesus. She believes she can do so by going to the Holy Land and retracing the steps of man Jesus, Son of God, who walked the earth over two thousand years ago.
But she realizes that the journey to Jerusalem will be expensive. She would need to ask for financial help and save money for many years before she could afford to go. Then, nearing the end of her life she finally has enough money to go on her ‘bucket list’ trip.
As she exits her house to leave for her journey to Jerusalem she meets the cleaning service for her apartment. Normally he keeps his head down, carrying his supplies into the building. But this time, he looks up and calls out, noticing her suitcase: “Where are you going today?”
“On a journey,” she replies, “to meet someone special.”
“I have a wife and children who I haven’t seen for years. They live overseas. And my son is sick. Whoever you are meeting, ma’am,” the cleaner continues, “is very lucky to have you.”
The seeker stops in her tracks. She takes a deep breath, nods and turns around back into her house. She doesn’t go on her trip. She has abandoned her quest for the remote. Because she has just met Christ right outside her door.
The next day when the cleaner comes into the building she stops him in the foyer and tells him. “I know someone who works for refugee sponsorship. I will give all I have saved for this trip towards applying for your family to see you face-to-face again.” The man listens to this news, with tears in his eyes.
“We must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35)
I pray that we can be a blessing to one another, and to the world that God so loved.
Ken Shigematsu, Survival Guide for the Soul (Michigan: Zondervan, 2018), p.136-137.
Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning (New York: Bantam Books, 2002), p.119,266; I’ve adapted it, so our modern ears can more readily access its meaning.