(Adapted from a presentation that I gave at a Protestant All-faith Tuesday night Bible study in March 2015)
For those of you who don’t know me my name is Tim. In the world I called myself a Christian, but since I came to prison, I’ve learned what it means to be called as a Christian, to be a disciple of Christ. Tonight, I want to speak to you about one of the things I’ve learned.
As Christians we are called to be a blessing.
Psalms 103:1-5 is a Psalm of King David where he describes God’s blessings.
1 Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Verse one in the King James says, “Bless the Lord.” In the Hebrew there are several different words for bless. When we bless God that means we praise Him, kneeling in humble adoration. Praise is our response for what God has done for us. Verse two through five go on to describe how God blesses us.
- Forgiveness of sin
- Healing from sickness
- Redemption from a life of destruction
- Renewed strength
What are the conditions under which we are blessed? In Deuteronomy 28:1-2 Moses says, “If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God.” And then Moses goes on to list the blessings. You see, under the Old Covenant God blessed man in response to obedience in keeping the law. But we aren’t under the Old Covenant, we are under the New Covenant. Hebrews chapters 8-10 describe the differences between the old and new covenants. I would encourage everyone to take the time to read them.
Hebrews 9:14 says, “How much more then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God. Cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” Under the New Covenant obedience is our response to blessing not the means of obtaining it.
I hear the phrase “Bless you brother” all the time. What does this really mean? According to Jewish understanding a blessing between people is something promoting or contributing to the happiness, well-being or prosperity of another. Not just wishing somebody well, but more like a prayer on their behalf. It is a sacred promise, an obligation you are committing yourself to aid that person.
1 John 3:16-18 says, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person. Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” I believe that Christian love and blessings are related. Love is the motivation and blessings are the works.
James 2:14-17 says, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes or daily food. If one of you says to him. “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” No empty words or worthless platitudes, but actions from the heart. God never gives his blessings to us simply to be hoarded. He gives his blessings to us so we can share them. So how many of you have truly blessed someone else today?
I want to take this a step further. Matthew 10:5-8 says, “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”
“Freely you have received; freely give.” Besides looking out for our brothers in Christ what is the #1 thing we as Christians are supposed to do? As we just read Jesus empowered the 12 disciples and sent them on a missionary trip to preach the gospel, heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who had leprosy and drive out demons. Christ does the same for us today, empowering us for service, so we can bless others the way we ourselves were blessed.
So how can we do this?
- Preach the gospel– St. Francis of Assisi said, “Wherever you go preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.” When the opportunity arises, all we have to do it tell others what God has done for us. Remember Psalms 103, we all have a testimony.
- Heal the sick– When someone asks you for an aspirin give it to them and pray for them. We know what James 5:13-16 says about the prayers of a righteous man.
- Raise the dead– We are surrounded by the walking dead. People who are dead on the inside. They are spiritually dead with seared consciences, who need life breathed back into them. God told the prophet in Ezekiel 37 to prophesy to the dry bones and so should we.
- Cleanse the leapers– Modern day leapers are the social pariahs, outcasts from society. In prison these are the outcasts of the outcasts. We know who they are. Lonely, friendless people who need to see a smiling friendly face and hear words of encouragement.
- Drive out demons– Demons are things that keep people from knowing peace. Alcohol and drug addicts and those with mental disorders have demons. We need to be their support group.
The lost, sick, dead, leapers, and demon possessed surround us and we choose to interact with them or avoid them on a daily basis. It takes a conscious effort on our part to not shy away, but rather to bless those who are most in need of our blessing.
I encourage you to bless someone today and every day.
- Give a kind word to those who are lonely or discouraged.
- Perform simple acts of kindness such as holding the door for the guy with the cane or in a wheelchair.
- If you’re not going to eat a meal, give it to someone who is hungry.
- Count the cost for befriending the social outcast.
Then those who are around us will know that we are Christians by our love. Actions speak louder than words. Love them until they ask why. Paul told the Ephesians in Acts 2:35, “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
John Wesley, the 18th century evangelist said:
Who has tried to do good and been taken advantage of?
Who has tried to do good to someone who was ungrateful?
Who has tried to do good and had it rebuffed?
1 Peter 3:8-9,14 says, “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.’”
- We need to value the welfare of others more highly than our own self-interest.
- Give without expectation of return or reciprocation.
- Give because it is the right thing to do.
- Have compassion.
Compassion is one of the blessings we received listed in Psalms 103. According to Webster, “compassion is the deep awareness of the suffering of others, coupled with the wish to relieve it.” I’m not talking about sympathy, and compassion is more than empathy. God through Christ has given us the means, but until we have compassion for those around us, we won’t be able to win this prison compound for Christ. So, who are you blessing? Just your Christian brothers? Close associates? The lost and truly needy?
I would like to close with a prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: