How we can help people in our congregations move into the holiday season as ambassadors of God's love.
by Jack Hayford
I was wonderfully reminded of something recently—oh, the power of it!—something that could change your Thanksgiving and charge your Christmas this year—and I don't mean on a credit card! The reminder came while I was completing my book—a book with "blessing" in the title. I had almost missed including one of the mightiest truths about that word.
Briefly, the book is titled Blessing Your Children: How You Can Love the Kids in Your Life. It's an eight-chapter piece born of hundreds of counseling sessions and dozens of parenting-seminar presentations and is designed for teachers, children's workers and all who have a place of potential influence on a child's life, as well as young parents, providing them with practical guidance and biblical wisdom.
With four kids, 11 grandkids and having pastored a lot of people for a lot of years, I was pleased when a publisher asked me to prepare a parenting tool that would be something other than the usual—something that also would be useful for anyone who had kids in his or her life, whether or not he or she were parents.
This isn't a book review column, so I won't describe the other seven chapters, but the following is adapted from the chapter titled "Speaking Blessings Over Your Children." I've adjusted it to broader application here, at an appropriate time, with both Thanksgiving and Christmas facing most of the people in our churches with family exposures—sometimes delightful, sometimes otherwise. It occurred to me that such "blessing" may have a redemptively dynamic potential in such seasonal settings.
Blessing in prayer and conversation I can't help but think of times people have described to me the holiday difficulties of being among family or friends with whom certain strain exists. Sometimes the cause is related to painful issues from the past, and other times it's that unbelieving family members resent the believers. (Sadly, on occasion, this happens when believers conduct themselves unwisely at family gatherings, seeking to "scalp-hunt for God" rather than simply showing love and respect to family members and letting the Holy Spirit take it from there.)
I also remember the testimonies we have received through the years in our own congregation—stories of family members ultimately won to Christ by being blessed rather than by being made to feel either "less than" or "disapproved by" their believing relatives. The strategy: Carry warmly expressed and lovingly worded blessings into your holiday gatherings.
"Could I please speak a blessing of love over all of us?" is an offer that is hard to turn down. This can be done at either a personal or group level—and it can be done in conversation just as well as in a formal bow-your-head prayer. It can even be presented to the family as a toast, a gesture that can be offered with water in your glass irrespective of whatever anyone else has in theirs.
Preparing 'blessors'. To help people toward this means of touching their families—especially at holiday times—I have done some special teachings on "The Power of Blessing." It is always amazing how God has conferred a capacity for our words to cause things to happen, and it is within the broader scope of this remarkable truth that the privilege and the power of speaking blessings function.
Of course, this basic concept is commonly understood in most of our circles, as it is a central point of understanding as to the relationship between God's Word and the exercise of faith. While there have been extremes on both sides of this issue—from the caustic lovelessness of the legalist to the bitter smallness of the critics—an inescapable reality is revealed in the Scriptures: How we talk makes a difference—in everything.
Receiving, not rejecting. We have helped people to receive the dynamism of God's power-gift of words—for either blessing or cursing (that is, for either releasing God's power or for restraining it through careless speech that neutralizes His Word)—by teaching the spirit of the truth in the following prayer:
"Father, I am astounded that in Your will You have conferred upon mere humans the overwhelming privilege of both announcing and pronouncing Your blessings upon people—to speak Your Word-unto-life in a world filled with dying.
"I receive this humbling privilege, and want to exercise its marvel-filled and powerful potential. Accordingly, I declare it is Your Almightiness I honor in this action, knowing my words are not the source of the power, but that Your Word makes my words pivotal in a dramatic transaction.
"By Your choice, You have made us Your 'middle-men'--speaking Your blessing to bridge the distance between Your throne and the need of dear people in this world. Help me minister this awesome wonder in Your Spirit's power--always with wisdom, and always with that gentle grace that will cause those whom I bless to know how loved they are--by You and by me. In Your Holy Name. Amen."
The climate and words for blessing. Let's help the people in our congregations move into the holidays as ambassadors of God's love—the kind of ambassadors who reconcile in hope of evangelizing later, rather than trying to evangelize the family now as a qualifier for showing reconciling warmth.
Tiny Tim's words ring through the centuries—"God bless us, everyone!"—because they remind us of a crippled boy loving beyond his limitations. Love has a way of winning, and spoken blessings are a marvelous way of loving. So, how do we do it? Here are some practical thoughts on helping people reach out to their families as "blessors," ambassadors of His love.
First, encourage people to find ways to affirm family members. Let conversational encounters incorporate a kind of pre-blessing generosity and graciousness. Rather than accepting the terms of family strain, where it exists, teach people to plan ahead on ways they can speak winsome words: (1) words that affirm and approve; (2) words that commend and compliment; (3) words that specifically speak love and affection; (4) words that invoke hope and self-confidence; and (5) words that answer pain and disappointment with support and faith.
Second, teach people to use the timeless blessing in God's Word. Society is always open to "blessings" (or "toasts") with an ethnic flair.
For example, present Num. 6:24-26 (outlined below) as an old Jewish blessing. It is God's "fountainhead blessing," given to every believer to use just as God ordained the priests of Israel to do.
First Pet. 2:5, 9 and Rev. 1:5-6 establish every believer as a priest in Christ—so let's teach our people how to bless. This "fountainhead" overflows with so much meaning, if understood and not merely repeated, that it becomes a warm and powerful invocation loaded with promise and power.
Third, teach the rich dimension of this blessing. It deserves yearlong application, commending its scope of goodness upon people, and by showing God's love, to sow seeds of life the Holy Spirit can nourish later. Phrase by phrase, let's help our people grasp the richness of this blessing in Num. 6:24-26 (NKJV):
1. "'The Lord bless you and keep you'" (v. 24): Seeing the Lord in whose name this blessing is offered is the God of the universe, unlimited in His capacity to prosper the efforts of those He blesses, and unrestricted in His power to protect those He keeps.
2. "'The Lord make His face shine upon you'" (v. 25): His face, "like the sun shining in its strength" (Rev. 1:16), radiates with a glory that will invade, defend from the rear and overspread with the excellence of His presence (see Is. 4:5; 58:8).
3. "'And be gracious to you'" (v. 25): What a joy to commend those we bless unto the unmeasured bounty of God's grace—the very quality that brought us into His life and love as He showers undeserved mercy and forgiveness (see Eph. 2:8).
4. "'The Lord lift up His countenance upon you'" (v. 26): The one and only maker of heaven and earth, the Savior-Redeemer, is invited to shine with love upon those being blessed, while the blessor knows that same "countenance" can scatter darkness of soul and shatter the power of the enemy's efforts to curse or control the one we bless (see Prov. 16:15; 20:8).
5. "'And give you peace'" (v. 26): The finale is glorious—not only as a blessing, but also as the prospect that "peace with God" may well become the fruit of our having blessed others—as His love through us, and His Word of power spoken over loved ones and friends, dynamically sows the seeds of saving grace, with great reason to expect a future harvest.
Jack Hayford is founding pastor of The Church on the Way in Van Nuys, Calif. This column is adapted with permission from his book, Blessing Your Children (Regal Books).
How do you plan to help people in your congregations move into the holiday season as ambassadors of God's love?