When American Christians start talking about ‘Blessing,’ I get nervous. It isn’t that I don’t believe in God’s blessings, but the contemporary chatter on blessing amounts to little more than good advice about how to obtain the good life (defined along the lines of “American Dream”). ‘Blessing’ means for us, a good job, a good marriage and a meaningful life. Among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians, ‘blessing’ means that you ‘get your miracle’ or experience a manifestation of the Spirit’s presence (i.e. ecstatic utterance or holy laughter). Certainly all of these could be God’s blessing, but us American Christians often end up speaking about God’s blessing in an entirely self-referential and self-centered way.
Thankfully Gerrit Dawson’s new book, The Blessing Life: A Journey into Unexpected Joy, provides a larger vision of what God’s blessing is. In three parts, he presents a pastoral and biblical theology of God’s blessing. Part one explores God’s blessing for us, part two describes how we bless God and part three describes how we bless others by reflecting God’s blessing to us.
Dawson does not define God’s blessing as everything going well for us. God’s healing is certainly a blessing, but some people long for healing, pray fervently for it and die in pain. Some faithful Christians experience turmoil and tragedy, grief and loss. Dawson says the essence of blessing is God himself ‘who came to us full of grace in Jesus Christ'(10). The ‘blessing life’ is a life lived in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We are blessed when we live aware of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. Suffering can be a blessing in the life of a Christian because God is sovereign and uses the struggles we face to help us grow. Thus we can experience the blessing life even when our circumstances don’t feel much like a blessing.
The idea of ‘blessing God’ is found in the Psalms (cf. Psalm 96, Psalm 103. It is exemplified in Mary’s Magnifcat. The idea of blessing God is found through out scripture. Throughout part two of the book, Dawson picks up on this language of ‘blessing God’ and gives a theological account of worship. Dawson exhorts us
say something, write something, play something, bang something, shout something, dance something, draw something, give something, add up something, design something–whatever you can do to give glory to the God of all, do it. Of all the creatures in the universe, you alone uniquely give this blessing to God. He waits and longs for your blessing. His throne is richer and more glorious because of our praise (79).
According to Dawson, blessing God can be as simple as recounting and giving thanks to God for the ways he has blessed you. It may mean creative service to God (as the above paragraph illustrates) or it may mean reflecting on the truths about God found in scripture or in a beloved hymn.
While the first two sections, describe the orientation of the Blessing life (receiving blessing from God and returning blessing to Him), the final section describes the activity of the blessing life. Those who have been blessed by God, live lives which overflow in blessing to others. Like Abraham of old, we are blessed to be a blessing. We bless others with our words and in our giving. We bless others when we participate in his mission to welcome the Kingdom of God into our world. We do not just bless others to receive a reward from them (which would just be a utilitarian, self-serving version of blessing), but we bless others even when they curse us, hurt us, hate us and seek to destroy us. This is the sort of blessing that reflects the blessing we received in Christ who gave his life for our salvation.
These are rich meditations on the Blessing life. I appreciated Dawson’s focus on Jesus as our blessing. This is fundamentally different from a focus on blessing which simply extols the benefits of the Christian life. Yes there are benefits: God provides, people get healed, miracles happen. But the heart of the Christian life, is a relationship with the Triune God through Jesus Christ. This is the real blessing of the Christian life! I also appreciated the sensitivity in which Dawson deals with difficulties. This book is chock-full of stories of God’s blessing, but he also recounts stories of difficult episodes and profound grief at the death of loved ones. Dawson is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The community he serves lost everything in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Thus he is cognizant of life’s struggles and does not present a Pollyanna-ish version of the Blessed life. God’s blessing comes to us in the midst of a world scarred by human Sin. Dawson does a good job of naming the tension and presenting the biblical vision in a compelling manner.
I think this is one of the those books that would probably good for anyone to read. The first part of the book is a re-presenting of the gospel–all that God in Christ has done on our behalf. Interested non-Christians and Christians alike will benefit from Dawson’s account. The anecdotes and stories throughout the book make its message easy to grab on to, and Dawson gives a good deal of space to discussing relevant scriptures. There is a companion volume, A Guide to the Blessing Life, which has 40 days of scriptures and prayers to accompany your reading of this book (I have not read this). This means that it is possible to use this book in small groups or devotional use. I give the book five stars–★★★★★
Thank you to InterVarsity Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.