Truly Blessed

“Blessed” is a familiar — even overused — word in Christian circles. For most of us, hearing this word implies pleasant situations and comfort. I can recall many such blessings, times when my circumstances were good, my heart felt joyful, my mind was thankful, and my outlook was positive.

But that does not mean we are not blessed — or we are missing far more life — in the difficult times we face. In fact, I can think of many times I felt MORE blessed while encountering difficulties. When I felt alone, hopeless and helpless, scared, or overwhelmed and reached out to God, He met me right where I was and gave me exactly what I needed. I was blessed to experience Him in a new way, to understand Him better, or to realize where I had a wrong impression of Him or my situation. The memories of those “hardship blessings” are clearer than most of the sunny moments I have experienced. One psalm states it this way:

It was good for me to be afflicted, so that I might learn your decrees. (Psalm 119:71, NIV)

I have learned much more about God — and why following His ways is where I will be truly blessed — during hard times than good ones. And while those lessons were painful, they are precious to me and have brought me far more life!

The Greek word translated “blessed” throughout the New Testament means happy. This probably means different things to different people, based on personality. I think of “happy” as an emotional optimism and steadiness that is rooted in something more solid than our circumstances. Look at some of the situations where God instructs us to be happy (blessed):

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:10, NIV)

Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. (Luke 6:22, NIV)

Blessed are those who have not seen [Jesus] and yet have believed. (John 20:29, NIV)

…It is more blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20:35, NIV)

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12, NIV)

Even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. (I Peter 3:14, NIV)

Mourning, Persecution. Hate. Exclusion. Insults. Rejection. Emptying yourself. Trials. Suffering. We may not enter these situations feeling happy, but each offers the opportunity for blessing. Some blessings are immediate while others come later. It is a blessing to find comfort in Christ. It is a blessing to inherit the kingdom of heaven. It is a blessing to belong to Christ. We are happy when we can meet needs for others. We will be happy when we receive the crown of life. We are happy with a clear conscience before God about our choices.

How do we find the blessing in these hard things? Reread the verses and note that each one points us back to the Lord. He comforts us. He gives us His kingdom. He offers us a relationship. He provides for us. He defines and rewards righteousness. The blessing of far more life rests on our connection to the Lord. Whatever we face in life, we are blessed to face it with the Creator of the Universe and Lover of our Soul living within us.

Recognizing blessings depends on our perspective, not our circumstances. Circumstances can change quickly; death, betrayal, financial loss, natural disaster, and so much more can take away the people, things, and situations that we count as blessings. But when we base our happiness on what has eternal value — knowing God, growing in Christlikeness, and sharing His love with others — we can look beyond our situation to the Blesser, who is constantly present and available to us. Changing our perspective brings happiness, even in the middle of difficulties. One of my favorite blessings is recorded in Romans 8:

 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39, NIV)

We are blessed through security in God’s love, no matter what we face in this life!

When we are in hard situations where comforts and pleasures are stripped away, we may find ourselves thinking, “Well, at least I can look forward to Heaven. I am happy that Jesus forgave my sins and accepted me into God’s family.” What we think of as our “last resort” blessing is actually our greatest blessing! Without a saving relationship with Christ, none of the other things that make us happy really matter! Even if this was the only blessing God offered, it would be enough. Jesus raised this question to His followers:

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? (Mark 8:36, NIV)

He asked this while prompting them to consider how they wanted to invest their lives. He challenged them to choose between worldly success and spiritual success. One may be more tempting in the short term, but the other will reap dividends for eternity. We are truly blessed through anything we experience with Christ.

Sisters,
When you hear (or say) something is a blessing, what does that mean?
Have you ever felt like you were missing out on blessings when you encountered difficulties?
What does happiness mean to you? When have you experienced happiness in Christ?
What blessing have you discovered DURING or AFTER something hard?
If you have accepted Christ as your Savior, thank God for the biggest and best blessing possible — far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

Not To Us

Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. (Psalm 115:1, NIV)

God, who deserves to receive praise and honor? Not us, but You. You alone are loving and faithful. The only reason we can love is because You have shown us what love is. You alone keep Your promises. Always. You alone carry out what You have said will happen. Perfectly. We may have good intentions, but we fail. Our plans get pushed aside by circumstances beyond our control. Only You can always follow through on what You have agreed to do. People may see bits of Your image in us, but we do not deserve their praise. We glorify You, the One who deserves all praise.

Why do the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. (Psalm 115:2, NIV)

Father in Heaven, people question what they cannot see and understand. Although we cannot see You, we know where You are. Although we do not understand Your ways, we know You are trustworthy and good. We know You are not under our control; You will do what You decide is best. And You know that better than we do! In their ignorance of You, people may try to hold us responsible for Your action or inaction. But You are not at our beck and call; You show yourself when You are ready. We eagerly anticipate You. We rest in You. We wait for You.

But their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. They have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk, nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them. (Psalm 115:4-8, NIV)

God, You are so different from the man-made gods throughout history. You are alive and powerful. We are thankful to be made in Your image. We are grateful to have access to Your power through The Holy Spirit. You have given us life! You have given us so much more! You deserve our trust, our allegiance, our reverence.

You who fear him, trust in the Lord—he is their help and shield. The Lord remembers us and will bless us…he will bless those who fear the Lord—small and great alike. (Psalm 115:11-13, NIV)

We stand in awe of you, Lord, our helper and protector. We are thankful to receive Your blessing and to be remembered by You. You do not favor the great and disregard the small. Rather You care for and bless all who are Yours. Not because we deserve it, but because You are the Lord! We trust You; You have proven Yourself faithful over and over. You are good to us. We have no reason to doubt or fear because of You.

May the Lord cause you to flourish, both you and your children. May you be blessed by the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 115:14-15, NIV)

All good things come from You, Lord. Everything we have is a gift from you. Because of You, we are prosperous. Regardless of our circumstances, You fill us with joy, peace, love, purpose, and satisfaction. And You let our children experience it, too. When we are blessed by our Creator, we are blessed indeed! Having made us, You know exactly what we need. We cannot turn anywhere else and expect to receive what You offer. How wonderful it is to be under the care and protection of the all-knowing, all-powerful, eternal God!

The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to mankind. (Psalm 115:16, NIV)

You have created a home for Yourself and given us a home, too. The heavens are full of Your glory and we marvel at them. The earth is also full of Your glory and we marvel at it, too. Although we are imperfect, You have made us stewards of this amazing earth. You have instructed us to care for it, subdue it, and fill it with people made in Your image. What an honor it is to care for Your creation! We can see so much of Your character on the earth: creativity, humor, nobility, power, beauty, complexity, order, whimsy, gentleness, and more. We can discover You anew as we gain understanding of each aspect of earth. Thank you for proclaiming Yourself to us through our temporary home. Thank you that one day You will invite us to live in Your home for eternity.

It is not the dead who praise the Lord, those who go down to the place of silence; it is we who extol the Lord, both now and forevermore. Praise the Lord. (Psalm 115:17-18, NIV)

We are among the few who will praise you, Father. We know You and recognize Your worthiness. We believe You and see Your hand clearly through all of creation. We recognize You in our souls. While we have breath and life on this earth, Father, we will praise You. We know others will not, but we will! You have given us life. You have given us a voice. We will use them to honor and praise you. We will not be silenced, now or at any time throughout eternity. Today and forever we will praise You! So be it. Amen.

Sisters,
What aspect of God’s character do others see in you? Do you give Him credit?
Are you comforted or concerned that God does as He pleases? Do you trust Him to always know and do what is best? Why or why not?
How have you experienced God’s help and protection?
Are you flourishing? Do you focus more on your spiritual or material blessings?
If you are alive in Christ, praise the Lord! He has given you far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso
Photo credit: Jenjoe Marsh

Open Doors

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:17-18, NIV)

These verses can be so hard to live out! When we are wronged, our fleshly response is to retaliate in some way. If not with our actions, then with our words, thoughts, or attitudes. We do not like to think of those responses as evil, but if our motive is not love, God says they are. When we give in to evil desires, we miss out on far more life. I made that mistake this week; I got caught up in defending a perceived wrong by pointing out the offender’s sin in front of others. But instead of feeling better afterwards, I felt worse! That made me realize I had chosen evil over far more life.

Fortunately God tells us how to find far more life in situations where we have been wronged or offended: do what we know is right. We know it is right to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We know it is right to treat others as we want to be treated (Matthew 7:12). We know it is right to forgive (Colossians 3:13). In my situation this week, when I finally decided to do what was right, I first chose to forgive the person who offended me, which changed my heart toward them. Rather than trying to convince them of their wrong, I chose to accept that we had different perspectives and values. This changed my anger to sadness. Then I was able to admit my wrong thoughts and actions, first to myself, then to them. I could feel my heart getting lighter with each step of this process, each choice to pursue far more life.

God takes it a step further: the verse continues, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” I appreciate His clear instruction that we are only responsible for our part, and sometimes peace is not possible. I think of it like adjoining hotel rooms; both doors must be open for you to pass freely back and forth. If only one person opens their door, you remain separated. We can open our door to peace by doing what is right, blessing the offender with our words and actions, praying for them, and showing them love. Whether or not they choose to open their door and live in peace with us, we can have a clear conscience about our actions and thoughts. It is sad and uncomfortable to be separated from others, but our open door serves as an ongoing invitation for them to join us in pursuing peace whenever they are ready. God says that is enough. In my situation, I have accepted that the other person and I are not on the same page in life, so the door to many deep conversations is closed right now. I plan to pray all I wish I could say to them in love and trust God with it. I will speak carefully in future conversations unless they directly ask for my input. That is the best way for me to show them love and experience far more life. For now, that is the level of peace we can share.

Why is it important to God that we live in peace with others, especially others who are following Christ?

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3)

Peace brings unity, which is important to God. Merriam-Webster defines unity as oneness or a condition of harmony. God is perfectly united with Jesus and the Holy Spirit; they are one, they live in harmony. And He says this to us, who are created in His image and filled with His Spirit:

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! (Psalm 133:1, NIV)

By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ I appeal to all of you, my friends, to agree in what you say, so that there will be no divisions among you. Be completely united, with only one thought and one purpose.  (I Corinthians 1:10, GNT)

God wants His children to live in harmony with one another because that is the only way His purpose can be accomplished. If our purpose is to love God and bring Him glory, can we do that if we are divided and arguing? No. In fact, God makes it clear that our love — which grows as we grow in unity — reveals our purpose to everyone:

If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples. (John 13:35, GNT)

This verse always amazes me. It is not our Bible knowledge that shows we are disciples of Jesus. Or the number of Bible studies or church meetings we attend. It is not the good works we do or the causes we support. What communicates our devotion to Jesus is the love we show others, especially other followers of Jesus. Sometimes that love is most evident when we return evil or sin with a blessing. When we do what is right rather than retaliating. When we pursue peace with someone who has offended or sinned against us. When we share our lives and pursue a common purpose. When we choose far more life!

Sisters,
Do you tend to repay evil with evil or with a blessing?
When have you found far more life by choosing to do what is right?
Do you have a relationship that is not at peace? Is your door open and inviting the other person to peace?
How are you living in unity with other followers of Jesus?
Pray and look for opportunities to show love — and choose far more life — today!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso


Every Spiritual Blessing

May blessing (praise, laudation, and eulogy) be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah) Who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual (given by the Holy Spirit) blessing in the heavenly realm! (Ephesians 1:3, AMPC)

In Christ, we have every spiritual BLESSING. What exactly is a blessing? Some dictionaries define it as God’s favor and protection. You have God’s approval and support. You are under God’s protection. This is far more life.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32, NIV)

No one is stronger, smarter, or richer than God. He alone can change the course of nature, history, or the cells in our body with a word (Psalm 33:6; Psalm 103:20; Psalm 107:20). His love for us prompts Him to freely give us all we need. But sometimes it seems that we are not blessed. We do not feel protected and favored. Far more life feels distant and unattainable.

At those times, we need the next key word: spiritual. In Christ, you have every SPIRITUAL blessing. It is easy to focus on our physical blessings, like health, possessions, and good circumstances. These definitely make life on earth more enjoyable and comfortable. But they are temporary. Spiritual blessings are eternal and far superior. They are described in these verses:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, (Romans 8:28-29a, NIV)

The biggest spiritual blessings we can receive are to know Jesus and be like Him. Know Jesus as Savior and Lord. Be like Him in character, beliefs, thoughts, words, and actions. Imagine what life would be like if we always had God’s perspective, God’s responses, and God’s character…that would be amazing! Our worry, fear, and frustration would be gone. Instead we would be filled with peace and hope as we clearly recognized God’s plan, presence, and power. Thankfully this is possible as the Holy Spirit works in us! We find spiritual blessing — far more life — by recognizing where we are not like Jesus, exposing our underlying beliefs, and exchanging them for His perspective. Good news: God promises to faithfully continue this process in us until we become like Christ at His return (Philippians 1:6-11; I John 3:2-3).

In Christ, you have EVERY spiritual blessing. Nothing is withheld from us. God gives His children every good thing:

The Lord God is our protector and glorious king. He blesses us with kindness and honor. The Lord freely gives every good thing to those who do what is right. (Psalm 84:11, ERV)

He freely gives every good thing. We can get stuck on the “do what is right” phrase and think our sin disqualifies us from receiving God’s blessing. But this verse was written under God’s old covenant that was dependent on following His law to earn His favor. People of that time did not have the Holy Spirit inside of them; they were separated from God by their sin. We now live under grace and have been declared right with God through Christ (Romans 5:1); even our sin does not separate us from Him (Romans 8:38-39). We have access to every spiritual blessing, including unlimited love, joy, peace, kindness, self-control, and more. In other words, we have access to far more life.

IN CHRIST, you have every spiritual blessing. In order to receive His blessing, we have to stay connected to Him. If we put our trust in other things — our own abilities, other people, food, pleasure, power, money, or anything else — we miss out on God’s best for us. At those times, we do not recognize or value the blessings He offers. In fact:

Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. (Jonah 2:8, NIV)

We get to choose the extent of blessing in our life by choosing the object of our faith and devotion. When people are our primary source of wisdom and comfort, we forfeit far more life. When we turn to food for comfort, we forfeit far more life. When pleasure, power, or money are our primary motivators, we forfeit far more life. When we make Jesus our best friend, primary comforter, and mentor, we choose far more life and every spiritual blessing. He is always available and willing to be chosen. Fortunately, any time we recognize we have chosen idols we can immediately repent and turn to Him instead. The blessings begin to flow into our hearts and minds as soon as we put Him back at the center of our heart and mind.

As I grow in understanding the privilege of every spiritual blessing available to me in Christ, I want to join the songwriter in proclaiming: Praise God from whom all blessings flow! And I want to add: Praise Him for far more life!

Sisters,
What blessings have you received from God? Where is His favor and protection evident?
Do you value physical or spiritual blessings more? What will help you grow in your desire for His spiritual blessings?
What barriers keep you from believing He offers you EVERY spiritual blessing?
What worthless idols compete with Christ for your devotion?
Look for God’s spiritual blessings this week and praise Him for giving you far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2019-20, Shari Damaso