Deborah Brunt is an abuse survivor who blogs at Key Truths.
In the Deep South, you know you’re in trouble when someone says, “Bless your heart!” It means, by translation, “Wow! What a hopeless mess you’re in!” or, “Wow! What a hopeless fool you are!” or, “Wow, am I glad I’m not you!”
The person who speaks the “blessing” may feel genuine sympathy for you. Often, though, they want a “nice” way to say something belittling.
Those times when people might bless our hearts, God wants to bless our lives. For real.
But we will likely miss the blessing if we have a wrong idea of
- who he is,
- how he works, and
- what his blessings are.
When God knows we’re in trouble, for example, he will never offer pretend condolences designed to slap us down. But he may, at times, slap us awake from a dangerous stupor. He may jolt our hearts back into sync with his. He may let us see the consequences of not seeing, of stubbornly going a wrong way.
Even when what he does, or doesn’t do, or allows to happen, is very painful, he is the God of blessings that truly bless.
Get ready to be blessed
Our Lord never minimizes any mess we may have made or the damage it’s done to his holy name.
But also, he never minimizes his covenant love and faithfulness and his capacity to restore. “I am the Lord, the God of all flesh,” he says. “Is anything too hard for me?” (Jer. 32:27).
Before he points out any flaw, he’s made the way to correct it. The moment he shows us what we don’t want to see, he announces his intent to redeem.
In the words of Revelation 3:20, he stands at the door and knocks. We can let him in, or we can refuse to answer. We can cooperate in the restoration he wants to accomplish, or not.
We can also try to cooperate, but fail, because we’re trying to do the will of God apart from the ways of God.
Wanting what our Lord offers, how do we receive it?
To walk in God’s ways, we need his blessings, the blessings Christ purchased for us with his blood. Romans 10:12 declares, “the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him” (NET). Ephesians 1:3 says, in Christ, every spiritual blessing has been deposited to our account.
And yet, we may want a blessing—may go to the bank attempting to make a withdrawal—and find the transaction has failed. What hinders us from appropriating the blessings already ours in Christ? What releases their fullness?
How to get the blessing
The Lord says, “I will bless those who have humble and contrite hearts, who tremble at my word. But those who choose their own ways—delighting in their detestable sins—will not have their offerings accepted … I will send them great trouble—all the things they feared. For when I called, they did not answer. When I spoke, they did not listen. They deliberately sinned before my very eyes and chose to do what they know I despise” (Isa. 66:2–4 NLT).
Humility is crucial. God blesses the humble. He opposes the proud (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). Which means: A lot of people we’ve thought blessed are not.
Discernment is crucial too. Especially, we need to discern:
- who is who in the Scripture above;
- what is from God, and what is not.
Who are those who won’t be blessed?
According to the Isaiah 66 passage, those who set themselves to choose their own ways over God’s, delighting in what he detests—whether in public or only in secret—cut themselves off from blessings. Those who are proud will refuse discernment.
Repeatedly, deliberately, they close their ears to God’s cry: “That way lies death!”
They close their eyes to the clear evidence of it. In so doing, they move from naïveté to willful blindness. They harden their hearts.
May I suggest:
— As long as you truly want to know whether this describes you—and you’re willing to ponder the possibility that it might–it does not.
— As long as you’re certain that your heart could never be this hard—and you see no cause to examine yourself—you’re on dangerous ground.
The night before his crucifixion, Jesus told his twelve apostles, “One of you will betray me.” Eleven wanted to know, “Lord, is it I?” They realized they were capable of doing the unthinkable, for they knew and owned their humanness.
Judas may have mouthed the same question. But he had already closed his heart to it. What he did next proves that: he went out to betray the Lord.
Just as telling: The eleven had no clue who among them Jesus meant. Looking at Judas, they saw a trusted leader and committed follower of God.
Ready to receive the blessing
So be glad, you who have tender, teachable hearts, ready to confess and repent. Stay open to what God shows you about yourself (including those things that are good).
Stay open to everything else God shows you too. For we can embrace humility and yet lack discernment, which means we can fall into another trap.
For example, we may trust people who appear to be godly, yet who are God-opposers filled with pride. We may accept whatever they say is God’s word. As a result, we may wrongly beat ourselves up, or accept it when others do. We may wrongly condemn the ones the God-opposing, spiritual-seeming leaders have condemned.
Dear one, those who will not own their own sin delight in laying on the humble a heavy weight of false responsibility and false guilt and confusion. If you are under such a weight, it is not from God.
Be blessed to throw it off.
Our Lord says, “I will bless those who have humble and contrite hearts, who tremble at my word.” Humble hearts. Not the arrogant. His word. Not the counterfeits.
Receive his Name
In Numbers 6, we find the blessing that is to blessings what the Lord’s Prayer is to prayers. There, God told his priests to bless his people with these words:
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace (vv. 24-26).
Sadly, we may read those words, and completely miss what is most important. For our English translations struggle to capture it.
“The Lord,” spoken three times, appears to be a literary device, a repetition that ushers us into the real essence of the blessing.
Yet all three times, what is translated “the Lord” is actually the Name.
- The Name God used when entering covenant with his people.
- The Name the Jews counted so sacred they would not say it aloud or write it in full. Instead, they wrote only the four Hebrew consonants transliterated YHVH.
- The Name God calls himself throughout the Old Testament when he is most intent on revealing different facets of himself to his people.
- The Name that appears again in the New Testament, given by the Father to the Son. The name we know as Jesus is “YHVH saves.”
Again and again, God makes known some aspect of his character or his ways, and links it to the Name. In so doing, he says, “If you believe this of me – if you truly, deeply embrace it and live in light of it – you know a little more fully my identity, my Name, me. As in these Scriptures:
- “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord (YHVH) your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians” (Ex. 6:7).
- “And you shall know that I am the Lord (YHVH), when I deal with you for my name’s sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according your corrupt deeds, O house of Israel, declares the Lord God” (Ezek. 20:44).
- “I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord (YHVH), the God of Israel, who call you by name” (Isa. 45:3).
Commanding the blessing of Numbers 6, God explained what he designed it to do:
“So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them” (v. 27)
“So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them” (v. 27)
Herein lies the essence of the blessing I call the Lord’s Blessing, and of every blessing God gives:
He imprints his Name, his identity, himself, on us.
As a result, we look more like him. We enjoy him, follow him, honor him. We become who he created and redeemed us to be.
The generation to whom God originally gave this blessing didn’t come close to receiving its fullness, because they didn’t humble their hearts. Standing at the edge of the Promised Land, they chose their own ways over God’s ways. They turned back, rather than risk the confrontations that going forward would require.
From that point on, they lived miserable, purposeless, petty lives.
Ah, but the next generation humbled their hearts, listened to God, stepped out in courage and received what their parents did not.
Laying hold of what God had given was not easy, painless, or quick. Quite the opposite, in fact. What’s more, the Joshua generation didn’t do it perfectly. In the big middle of their venture into the Promised Land, it may have seemed a big mess.
Yet as they stepped with God out of that wilderness, they stepped into blessing, and everything changed. Most of all, them.
Carry his glory
When the Lord turns his face toward us, we might expect a “bless your heart” smile.
Instead, facing his gaze is like pulling back a curtain, to find the sun shining in your eyes.
It’s overpowering. And yet. What we think will blind us, God will use to open our eyes and humble our hearts to receive his outpoured grace. What we think will consume us, God will use to consume what is not of him in us, to give us peace, to make us whole. Second Corinthians 4:6 says,
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
We’ve thought of blessings as sweet little things. They’re not.
The blessings of the Lord flow from the white-hot radiance of his glory. They enlarge our human spirit, setting it ablaze.
They enlarge our capacity to know and honor him, to become who we are in him and, from that place of identity and intimacy, to join him in bringing his kingdom from heaven into the earth.
The blessings of the Lord enlarge our capacity to carry his glory.
Discernment, humility, and a contrite heart open us, moment by moment, to be blessed.
Parts of this article are adapted from We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church, by Deborah Brunt, © 2011. Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotation are from ESV.