Tuesday 27 December 2011

Blessing (1)

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.

The language of ‘blessing’ is used in everyday speech more than we might imagine. Most often it has to do with something that contributes to a person’s happiness or wellbeing. ‘Bless you’, we sometimes say after someone has sneezed, a practice which appears to be related to asking God to protect someone, traceable back at least to the first century ad. Or maybe we wish our friends ‘every blessing’ when we sign off emails. ‘Count your blessings’, a well-meaning person urges us when we’re feeling sorry for ourself. Indeed, on some occasions, we may consider we have been ‘blessed’ by someone’s kindness, or something good happens to us and we describe it as a ‘blessing’ – perhaps even an ‘unexpected blessing’ or ‘a blessing in disguise’. Whereas on other occasions, truth be known, something is more of a ‘mixed blessing’.

Then, perhaps, a superior at work says she is happy to give her ‘blessing’ to a project we’re working on, or a father-in-law gives his ‘blessing’ to the marriage of his daughter to her future husband. Some of us may say a ‘blessing’ before a meal as a way of acknowledging God as the giver of all good things. Or, we may attend a church where services end with a ‘blessing’, or even where bread and wine is ‘blessed’ before it is distributed. More controversially, we’re aware that people talk about whether it is appropriate to ‘bless’ same-sex partnerships in church.

What ‘blessing’ means differs from context to context, a variation which is reflected in the Bible too. In Scripture, the concept of blessing is related especially to the Hebrew root brk in the Old Testament and the Greek eulogia in the New Testament. Even limiting ourselves to occurrences of these, words related to ‘blessing’ appear over 300 times in the Old Testament and 65 times in the New Testament – constituting an important biblical theme.

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