Be Blessed So You Can Bless
Several years ago I was approached by a young lady who went to church with us, and she asked me if I would be willing to perform her wedding. With that request she showed me her engagement ring and began to squeal with excitement. I agreed to be a part of the celebration and we began to make arrangements and very soon we started Pre-Marital Counseling.
She and the groom to be were both very excited and seemed to love the idea of being married. They fully participated in everything I asked them to do, read the books I suggested, and did all of their homework. They would come early for our appointments and stay late talking about colors and food choices. She would bring this huge 3 ring binder with pictures, and sketches that they had worked on together. It was the most enjoyable time I have ever had working with a couple that wanted to be married.
The big day came and it was an wonderful event. The groom was handsome and the bride was beautiful. The whole day was out of a fairy tale, and everyone left talking about how perfect everything was. The happy couple ran thorough the bird seed and into the limo as they made their way to start their life together.
6 months later this same couple was once again in my office, but all of the joy and happiness that was in their relationship before their marriage had been replaced with an icy cold bitterness. At first I believed that they were just going through the same struggles that all new couples go through, she doesn’t cook like my mom, he leaves his clothes all over he floor. Things we could talk through and I could help them see the other side. But that afternoon the bride started the conversation by saying, “I wanted the wedding so badly, I looked forward to it, poured my life into planing it and now that it is over I’m not sure that I want the marriage. The wedding was fun, but the marriage is just hollow.”
Have you ever had a similar experience? I’m not talking about having difficulty in your marriage; I mean have you ever anticipated something so much that when it finally happened it didn’t live up to your expectations? Maybe it was your first job, or first car. Maybe it was a trip that you always wanted to take, or a person that you always wanted to meet. And when you finally got what you thought you always wanted what you realize is that it wasn’t what you wanted at all.
The first Sunday in April we started a journey together, we began looking at the songs that the Jewish travelers would sing as they made their way to worship. The journey began in the 120th Psalm as the travelers sang about traveling from the distant lands of Meshech and Kedar, and then their joy at seeing the city of Jerusalem and standing within the city’s gates.
We started our journey looking at the idea of repentance. The word in Hebrew basically means to turn away from the world and turn toward God. This is the first step in living a life focused on God instead of focusing on self. This song was addressed to the person at the crossroads, inviting each of us to make the decision to live a life of faith; inviting us to a better way.
Each of the following songs described what takes place along this journey to meet with God. We understand there will be difficulties on this journey and it is full of adventures and challenges. It requires everything that is in us. But when we get to where we are going, what then? What happens at the end of faith? What takes place when we finally arrive? Will we be disappointed?
This morning we end our journey at Psalm 134. This is the song of men and women who have experienced the blessing of being in God’s presence and among God’s people who are getting ready to return to their world and live out the charge to bless others. They fully understand that as great as the journey was, the opportunity to be in the presence of God was far greater.
These pilgrims have had the opportunity to experience the joy of that mountain top type of experience. It’s what our youth felt when they came home from Summer camp a few weeks ago, or what folks who have the opportunity to attend the Tulsa Workshop or another lectureship feel when they have had the opportunity to worship, to sing and spend time with 2000 plus other broken people who are in love with an awesome God.
But you can’t live on that mountain top; that concentrated time of growth and fellowship eventually must come to an end. The pilgrims in Jerusalem had been on a spiritual retreat, away from the pressures of everyday activities, focusing on their worship of God and being encouraged by others. And while it was sad to leave this wonderful place of God’s nearness and blessing, they knew they were returning home changed. This journey that began in an act of repentance ends in a life of praise.
Understanding the Nature of a Blessing
The Psalm begins in verse 1 by calling the servants of the Lord to Bless the Lord. While some versions say praise most of them translate the Hebrew word bless. This thought of blessing God caught my attention; in this short song three times we sing bless God, bless God, God bless you.
There are two different words which are translated blessed in our Bibles. The first one describes the sense of wellbeing that comes when we are living in harmony with God and His will for our lives. There is something special, something peaceful, about living your life in agreement with the one who created you in the first place.
The other word describes what God does to us and among us as He pours out His blessings in our lives. God poured out His own life for us, shares the goodness of His Spirit, and the joys of His redemption. Eugene Peterson describes it as God getting down on His knees among us, getting on our level and sharing Himself with us. It’s like a dad who get’s on the ground to spend time with his toddler, crawling on the ground and playing with the child so that the child can feel the closeness that the dad wants to share. God doesn’t live in some distant land and every now and then sends us some message to let us know He’s still alive. God blesses us by kneeling among us.
God enters into our need He gets into our skin and understands us better than we understand ourselves. God knows what it is like to live in this world and He understands our frustrations that we deal with day in and day out. God knows the frustration of changing a diaper for the thirteenth time in the day, to see a report you worked so hard on gather dust on somebody's desk for weeks and weeks, or to be in a rush when you have a flat tire or a car that wont start. Because God created us, and the world where we live, He understands the true desire of our heart and He comes along side of us so we never have to take this journey alone.
Carl F. H. Henry wrote a book entitled The God Who Stands, Stoops and Stays. In that book he describes the posture of blessing: God stands: He is foundational and dependable. God is the rock on which we build our lives and there is nothing in all creation that will be able to cause that foundation to move.
God stoops: He kneels to our level and meets us where we are. We don’t have to struggle trying to reach out to God. Even in those times where we feel like we are standing at the bottom of the Grand Canyon looking up, God is standing there with us. While we may struggle at times wondering where God is, He promises and has been faithful in the past to stoop beside us so that we do not have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death alone.
God stays: He sticks with us through hard times and good times, sharing His life with us in grace and peace. I have mentioned before how much I appreciate the book of Lamentations. Jeremiah shares his fear, anger, and frustration with God only to be met with God’s love and presence in his life. No matter what you do, God will never leave you; He stays. All you have to do is turn around and see Him.
We are called to bless God because He blessed us first. We have been offered the blessings of God and when we acknowledge His great blessing we cannot help by bless others.
Understanding Blessings Leads To Worship
Once we understand the richness of God’s blessings we are drawn to worship Him. This song is a reminder of that invitation, come and join in with the family and worship God. Did you have an argument with your spouse on the way? That's all right. You are here now. Bless God.
Did you fight with your neighbor while making the trip? Forget it. You are here now. Bless God.
Are you overwhelmed with what the rest of your day holds, planning lunch and getting everything ready for company? Put that aside for the moment, you are here. Bless God.
Are you ashamed of the feelings you had while traveling maybe you grumbled on the way or felt a bit of resentment? Well, it wasn't bad enough to keep you from arriving, and now that you are here, bless God.
Are you embarrassed at the number of times you quit and had to have someone pick you up and carry you along? No matter. You are here. Bless God.
This song is an invitation and a command. We are invited to bless the Lord; we are commanded to bless the Lord. And there some of us who have come all this way and the trip has been so hard emotionally, or physically we say, I just don't feel like it, and I can't bless God. It wouldn't be honest.
That’s where we get to verse two, and it’s an area that makes several of us a bit uncomfortable. The song calls us to Lift up holy hands in prayer, and praise the Lord. We are not big on raising hands to God in worship, but it is a principal that is commanded in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament. In 1 Timothy 2:8 the Apostle Paul writes, In every place of worship, I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God, free from anger and controversy.
Now some of you are getting a bit nervous here so let me alleviate a little of your fear; in the text the position of the hands is symbol of the position of the heart. Lifting your hands to God is a physical reminder of our spiritual need to look up to God and it’s an appeal for God to pour out His blessings in your life.
Flavil Nichols writes that when the Jews and early Christians would lift hands they would hold their hands up to their hearts so that God could symbolically pour His blessings into their lives. In essence lifting up holy hands is symbolic of the pure heart and worship during prayer. So while we are not going to require you to start lifting your hands to pray, if you want to that’s ok as well.
The call to lift up your hands can be done regardless of how you feel; it is a simple motor movement. You may not be able to command your heart, but you can command your arms. Lift your arms in blessing; just maybe your heart will get the message and be lifted up also in praise. God created us in such a way that our body and spirit are interrelated. Go through the motions of blessing God and your spirit will pick up the cue and allow you to bless God through prayer.
I am being drawn back to the fact that the first priority of the church is to be a place and a people of prayer. Do you remember when Jesus confronted the moneychangers in Mark 11. Jesus goes to the temple and sees what is going on, and since it was late in the afternoon He traveled on to Bethany. Then the next morning He comes back to the temple and confronts the folks who have set up a flee market inside the walls of the temple. He begins to overturn the tables, and releasing the animals, and then He said “My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,”.
Prayer must have a prominent place in our lives and in the life of this church family. The Jewish travelers knew that prayer would bring God down into their lives and get Him actively involved in the lives of His people.
This same attitude is seen in the early church, a simple reading through the book of Acts leads us to understand that they were a praying church. Acts 2:42 says They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Whenever a decision needed to be made, the church prayed. When deciding who would take the place of Judas, first they prayed. When Peter was in prison, the church prayed. They went to the Temple during the time of prayer, to pray and teach. Their prayer had involved God in their lives in a deeper way than many of us understand today. By lifting their hands to God in prayer, He was not just another option among the many, He was their only option.
Looking back through the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John I am struck by the fact that the folks closest to Jesus, His disciples, didn’t have it all figured out. At times it looks like a slow and painful process of 12 men watching what God did, trying to follow that example, and sharing it with others. It wasn’t an overnight success, but it was a long obedience in the same direction.
Back in the 19th century a German philosopher and poet Friedrich Nietzsche wrote: The essential thing in 'heaven and earth' is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.
I was introduced to this quote when I opened Eugene Peterson’s book with the title, A Long Obedience In The Same Direction. I was struck by the fact that this collection of songs is calling us to take that long journey. We are called to be a community of people dedicated to following Jesus. Sometimes we will hit a home run and other times we will hit a wall. But the important thing is that we keep moving in the same direction; a direction that pays attention to what God is doing and where God is showing up in our lives.
Questions For You To Consider
Can you think of a journey you have had in your life that ended with a sense of disappointment?
Describe the journey that Psalm 134 is calling us to, a journey that ends well.
Psalm 134 contains a description of the Christians Life, we are to kneel and bless the Lord and stand to serve the Lord. How does kneeling and blessing, followed by standing and serving bring blessing and praise to the Lord?
Verses 1-2 urge us to bless God. What does it mean to bless God?
Verse 3 talks about a life blessed by God. What is God’s blessing, and how can we receive it?
What does your hands have to do with your heart?
What are some other symbolic things we do to remind us of our relationship with God?
Is this where your life is going, toward the finishing point of a life that ends well?
Is your journey a pilgrimage with Christ for your companion, heaven for your goal, the blessing of God on your lips, and the assurance of God’s blessing in your life? If not, begin without delay the journey that ends like this.