What Does “Blessing” Really Mean?
Unpacking this rich biblical word can help us realize the power of God’s intentions toward us.
By Winn Collier
Each Sunday, at the conclusion of our church’s worship, I stand before the people, extend my hands, and speak a blessing over them. If I were ever to stop being a pastor, this moment may be what I would miss most.
In biblical terms, to bless is to declare God’s truth into someone’s life and to announce God as the gracious, sovereign Lord who intends to flood His children with goodness and joy. When we pronounce a blessing, we serve as witness to the truth that God’s generosity and power have by no means been extinguished.
Regardless of the difficulties we face or the despair we know, God’s tenacious love will have the final word. Writing from the prison where he would eventually be executed by the Nazi regime, German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew this firm hope: “Blessing means laying one’s hand on something and saying: Despite everything, you belong to God.”
In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord speaks blessings that reflect the subversive reality of God’s kingdom. His beatitudes upend every assumption we have about whom we’d consider blessed and who we’d expect to enjoy the good life. Blessed are the poor in spirit, says Jesus. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek and the hungry (see Matthew 5). The people that we would believe to be at the bottom of the pile are the very ones Jesus says are blessed.
With these strange words, Jesus makes a prophetic announcement declaring who is included in the blessing of God’s kingdom. Again and again, He affirms that blessing comes to us not because of our ingenuity or effort but because God is kind and always working for our good. As theologian and ethicist Glen Stassen said in his book Kingdom Ethics, “Jesus [declares] good news to those who mourn, because God is gracious and God is acting to deliver us from our sorrows.” Blessing arrives because we have a God whose being exudes blessing.
Because we belong to the Lord who blesses, we live as a people who bless. In our corners of the world, we announce—and live as instruments of—His blessing. While it is true that a blessing serves as a witness to God’s generosity, in some mysterious way, it also enacts His generosity. As author Eugene Peterson once said in an interview, “Words make something; they don’t just say something.” Whenever we bless others in Jesus’ name, we join God’s healing and restoration. We participate in His intentions to bless the world.