PrayerWorks, a new venture from the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity starting in early January 2012, seeks to encourage prayer for the workplace by providing creative ways of praying and developing pathways of prayer for Christians together. From 1 February, this will include a 40-day journey of prayer for work using the prayer pathway of blessing. As part of this, I have been asked to write a supportive piece on what the Bible says about ‘blessing’ – what it tells us about God and the way he works, and its implications for our response in praise to God and in praying for others.
In our exploration of the significance of blessing, we begin (where else?) with God himself.
1. Blessing comes from God
The Bible is clear that God is the source of every blessing, which are his to give and administer. God operates out of love and grace towards his world and his people, and we are to understand blessing in the light of that. In particular, blessing is bound up with two major aspects of his work – creation and covenant.
(a) The creator God
In Genesis 1, having first declared them ‘good’, God then blesses the creatures he has made – fish in the sea, birds in the sky, people on the earth (1:22, 28; 5:1-2). Blessing in this case relates to their capacity to multiply and flourish in their allotted space. In addition, humans – as God’s image-bearers – are called on to steward the earth, to exercise loving rule over other creatures. That God’s blessing remains on humanity even after the entrance of sin into the world is seen in its restatement to Noah after the flood (Gen. 9:1-3), where blessing is God’s generous giving of good things to his creatures and ongoing provision for them, with Genesis 8:21-22 promising the unending provision of times and seasons. God’s continual care for the created world is also reiterated in the New Testament (e.g., Matt. 5:45; 6:25-33; Acts 14:17; 17:25; James 1:17).
So significant is this theme that one biblical scholar, Claus Westermann, made a distinction between blessing as God’s ongoing activity in sustaining creation through natural processes, and deliverance as God’s isolated acts of saving his people through remarkable events. Arguably, as we shall see, God’s acts in creation and salvation shouldn’t be distinguished too sharply, but it’s still worth noting that God is present not just in his mighty acts of ‘saving’, but in the ongoing results of his activity of blessing humanity and his constant sustaining work in all realms of life. To be sure, the Bible tells of a series of events in which God works powerfully on behalf of his people, but he is as much a part of our ongoing existence in the giving of life, the bringing up of children, and the cycle of the working week. God’s blessing in these realms is continuous and often unnoticed, but no less real for that.
Even so, the opening chapters of Genesis also show how sin results in rebellion against God, estrangement from each other, and the ensuing struggle to live and work in a fallen world. It becomes apparent that sin is all-pervasive as well as destructive, and brings about death. What now of God’s intention to bless? All this is backdrop for what follows with the call and promise to Abraham, the beginning of the story of salvation, where God’s blessing on humanity becomes particularised in a special people.