We see it everywhere on social media. Today there are over 77 million posts that use #blessed on Instagram, and people use it to talk about all kinds of things they consider blessings: great selfie lighting, a new car, their families and even delicious baked goods.
The term “blessed” has become something that we use flippantly, sometimes insincerely and without much thought as to what it truly means.
All too often, we ultimately equate it with comfort and enjoyment, good health and minimal problems.
But Jesus had a different understanding of what it means to live a “blessed life.” This kind of blessing didn’t necessarily lead to an abundance of physical comfort. Instead, it was about actively pursuing God and his will for your life — even if that meant encountering difficulties and challenges.
In the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12), we find Jesus sitting on a mountainside, teaching. And the disciples don’t know it yet, but he's about to shake up their perception of what it means to be blessed!
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.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (NIV).
None of these eight blessings describe health, wealth and abundance. In fact, based on these examples, pursuing God’s blessing appears to often lead us through difficulties, trials and hardships. These Beatitudes describe circumstances where we have to intentionally give up comfort, ease and complacency to pursue God and seek his will in our lives. And while doing this might result in challenges, it ultimately leads us to a place of blessing and abundance in Christ.
Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. — Ephesians 4:2 (NLT)
Practically speaking, what might it look like to intentionally pursue God over comfort?
Meet North and Amanda Cady. They had big dreams for their future. Even before they got married, they knew they wanted to serve God in missions.
But a year into their marriage, their dreams came crashing down when secret addictions and unhealthy behaviors came to light.
North and Amanda could have blamed each other and walked away from their marriage. They could have given up on God’s plan and tried to sweep their issues under the rug. Instead, over the next two years, the couple sought counsel from their pastor and began the excruciating process of exposing hidden sins and uncovering the deep roots of their marital problems.
Admitting their brokenness before God, each other and their community was incredibly difficult and humbling for North and Amanda. But it was also critically important in order for God to be able to pour out his blessing on their lives. God used this process to bring them healing, growth and renewal — both individually and as a family.
God ultimately restored their dreams too! Today North and Amanda are serving with Wycliffe in Papua New Guinea. The difficulties in their marriage may not have seemed like blessings at the time, but God used these difficulties to continue to mold North and Amanda into his image — and ultimately bless them with the truth of his presence and grace. As a result, he brought them to a place where they could serve him in missions and pursue the life he wants them to live.
North and Amanda could have remained complacent in their marriage, but they did the much harder work of seeking reconciliation and healing. And the hardships led to blessing that they might have otherwise not experienced. Because they were willing to make the sacrifices necessary to restore their marriage, today they are receiving deeper blessings. North and Amanda first had to intentionally pursue God in their lives — and their marriage — before they could step into the roles he had for them in missions.
Hebrews 12:1-2a says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (NLT; emphasis added).
What a beautiful description of how we are meant to run this race called life! It’s about keeping our eyes on Jesus rather than allowing ourselves to become distracted by the temporary enjoyments and comforts of this world. (And by the way, there’s nothing inherently wrong with enjoyment and comfort! They can be a way that God blesses us, but they’re not the only way.)
Before Jesus left earth, he told his followers that they will face trials. Not that they might; they will. If we are gauging the value of our lives based on how comfortable we are or feel, we might be missing the true blessings God has for us. After all, North and Amanda’s dream to serve as missionaries was a good one. But they first had to go through a season of challenges and obstacles before they could embrace the blessing of seeing God’s calling on their lives fulfilled.
Rather than asking ourselves how God wants to bless our lives, perhaps the better question to ask is if we’re willing to intentionally pursue him — whatever that might look like.
Would you be willing to potentially surrender your dreams or encounter hardships if it meant pursuing God wholeheartedly? Could you acknowledge that the pursuit of God is really the blessing itself?
So the next time you think about your blessings — or how blessed you don’t feel — step back and pause. Open Matthew 5 and allow Jesus’ words to wash over you and give you new perspective on what it means to be “blessed.” Because we all need to realign our definition of “blessed” with God’s. When we’re in the center of God’s will, we live blessed, abundant lives because we have him. And that’s all we really need.