#blessed: You've seen it on Instagram and Twitter posts as the caption of choice for pictures of beautiful autumn sunsets, good grades on report cards and smiling faces in family photos. Or perhaps you've seen the sarcastic #blessed posts — images of flat tires and parking tickets. It's now so ubiquitous that people thoughtlessly add it to the end of social media posts like periods.
Used in this way, the word "blessed" has ultimately come to represent material prosperity. That is, we believe we are blessed when we increase in comfort, security and possessions. But this reflects a narrow understanding of the word's rich spiritual heritage — a heritage flowing from a fountain both deep and wide.
In his most famous speech, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preached to a great crowd that gathered from across the countryside to hear his wisdom. His first words must have sounded as perplexing then as they do now: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth."
Jesus went on to pronounce blessing upon additional unlikely candidates — the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and even the persecuted.
This speech, commonly referred to as the Beatitudes, comes across as nothing short of paradoxical — that real blessedness is found in those who mourn and in the meek. This biblical explanation of what it means to be blessed seems to celebrate, if not necessitate, material hardship. And in doing so, it turns our contemporary definition upside down. According to Jesus, true blessedness is lost in the pursuit of physical comforts and luxuries, but is found in the spiritual pursuit of God and his will for our lives.
This pursuit of God's will, instead of following our own plans, will likely lead us through challenges, trials and hardships. Seeking God's will often requires loving our neighbor as we would ourselves or seeking their prosperity: it's costly. It doesn't lead to accumulation of material comfort for ourselves, but rather drives us to share it with our friends, our families, our colleagues and even our enemies.
When we pursue the best this world has to offer, we leave no space in ourselves for God's blessing to enter in. He offers his blessing, but finds there is no room in our cluttered hearts. But when we become poor in spirit, when we mourn with those who mourn, when we seek to become humble and meek, we allow God to enter in to our lives, and we are blessed by receiving nothing short of a deepening relationship with God himself.The materialistic goods we receive, which we all too often equate with being #blessed, will fade away. But Jesus offers us a light which will never dim.
So next time you encounter #blessed on social media, may it remind you of the Beatitudes and where true blessedness may be found.
Bob Creson is president and CEO of Wycliffe Bible Translators USA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people around the world translate the Bible into a language and form they can clearly understand. Visit Wycliffe.org to learn more.
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