This word ‘bless’ must be one of the most overworked in our evangelical vocabulary. It seems to encompass a multitude of general longings, more often personal than anything else. Christopher Robin wasn’t the only one to major on ‘God bless’ requests for his own and family needs!
This insularity is evident when our prayers make little reference to global questions and the need for gospel answers to them. Too often the blessing of the Lord is sought for the good of the church as though this is an end in itself.
But the prayers recorded in Scripture do not exhibit such narrow-mindedness. Take Psalm 67 for example, which begins, ‘May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us’. The psalmist is echoing the Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6:24-26: ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace’.
Selfish? Not at all. Although the psalmist wants this benefit for his own people, he is actually crying out to God for a global outpouring of his blessing. He continues, ‘May your ways be known upon earth, your salvation among all nations. May the people praise you O God; may all the peoples praise you … May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the people justly and guide the nations of the earth’.
Reflecting God’s glory
Modern communications ensure that the ‘ways’ of men are widely known – but millions remain ignorant of God’s ways. People are praised, false gods are worshipped and sadness abounds under the unjust rule of those who know nothing of the guidance of God. The psalmist’s prayer recognises all this, and points to the two-fold answer.
Firstly, God’s people must be seen to be different. The best proof that the church has God’s answer to a needy world is that his glory is reflected in his people – that his face shines in the purity, beauty and constancy of their Christ-like character and conduct.
The blessing of the Lord cannot be received and concealed. You simply cannot insulate his blessings from others. If he really blesses us it will be apparent to those around us. The once-familiar chorus, ‘Make me a blessing … out of my life may Jesus shine’ actually recognises something that is wonderful as well as desirable.
Speaking God’s Word
Secondly, when the Old Testament priests pronounced the blessing of the Lord, there was nothing mysterious about what they did. They spoke his Word, giving instruction according to what was revealed to them. Today’s church has the same priestly privilege and duty.
In Romans 15:15-16 the apostle Paul describes his calling ‘to be a minister of Christ Jesus with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit’ (NIV).
All God’s people are priests, and it is their duty to tell the truth about him. What a privilege to be part of the scene described by the psalmist in 68:11 – ‘The Lord announced the word, and great was the company of those who proclaimed it: Kings and armies flee in haste; in the camps men divide the plunder’.
In its historical context, God’s promise of victory to Israel, and the proclamation of it, had a great effect on the surrounding nations. The scene has been repeated in the church’s history whenever the triumph of Christ has mobilised people to spread the Word through preaching and writing.
A link in a chain
In one of his commentaries Guy King relates a thrilling sequence of events. Richard Sibbes, a Puritan, had written a little book called The bruised reed. It fell into the hands of a pedlar who gave it to a boy called Richard Baxter – who through reading it became in time the godly Baxter of Kidderminster.
He in turn wrote A call to the unconverted which God used to deeply affect Philip Doddridge, who himself wrote a book called The rise and progress of religion in the soul. This changed the life of William Wilberforce, and led the great emancipator of slaves to write A practical view of Christianity.
By reading this, Leigh Richmond was profoundly
affected and, as one result, wrote The dairyman’s daughter. One of Scotland’s greatest preachers, Thomas Chalmers, was changed by this book, and he in turn touched the world.
Be a link in the chain. You never know what it might lead to!
Make the nations glad
Today a toxic flood of error is being spewed from the mouth of Satan, but Psalm 67 urges us to seek the favour of God – that his shining face of approval might transform our lives and that our transforming message might make the nations glad.
The implications for us? Less insularity and self-
centredness, and a more passionate concern for others. We are not called to be pulpiteers or sermon-tasters, but proclaimers. We should not simply accumulate good books, but be energetic in their universal distribution. In other words, receive God’s blessing that you might yourself become a means of blessing.