It is the season for award shows and Super Bowl parties, and nothing goes better with these celebrations of human achievement than some name dropping for Jesus/God. Most recently, Ray Lewis made a bit of a Christian stir for his various references to the role of God in his and his team’s success (here he is after the Super Bowl). Nearly every Ray Lewis interview is scattered with references to God’s providence…just when you thought Tim Tebow had that market cornered! Much of the uproar over Lewis has to do with his propensity to take Scripture references out of context, and I doubt any would step up to defend that practice. But I would like to pose an alternative question:
How can Christians identify their blessings and how can they acknowledge them publicly?
The first question may seem the simpler of the two. There are many instances of blessings in Scripture that are easily identifiable: gifts of children, abundant harvest seasons, peaceful relationships. This is not just Old Testament Deuteronomy stuff; James even says things like, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…” So, reading through these things, we might say, “I can look at my life, and where I see good things, those are my blessings.”
But James, and the New Testament particularly, is filled with more puzzling statements like, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…” or Jesus’, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” So our view of blessings must extend beyond even commonly identifiable “good” things.
But what of these commonly identifiable “goods?” We can see how Jesus warned those in Israel that they might be missing it, saying, “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” So even if we give Jesus’ remarks proper context of speaking to Israel’s missing of the Kingdom at hand, we can still see how even commonly held goods might not always be blessings for us.
Which leaves me in a strange place, if the easily seen goods are not always goods, and my trials can sometimes be blessings, how on earth do we discern what are blessings and what are, well, not blessings? I might propose a new working definition for blessings that reads something like, “Blessings are gifts from God that draw us toward fellowship with and faithfulness to Him.” It’s a working definition, and I submit it to your critique humbly.
So let’s say they we identify some blessings in our lives, and we feel overwhelmed with gratitude and want to express some thankfulness or praise, how can we do that in a helpful public way?
I feel like that answer is perhaps easier within the church context, so that does not concern me as much, but within a secular or public space, it becomes more challenging. Back when Tim Tebow was big, I was intrigued by Tim Gombis’ series about why Christian athletes should NOT use their fame as a platform for witnessing. He offers several reasons like: athletics as Kingdom Sabbath, the advertising misdirection, the culture war inevitability, and the distortion/over-simplification of popular media.
So, I won’t pretend to have even working definitions of proper ways to speak publicly. Paul commands us to be wise toward outsiders in our speech and conduct, and I think wisdom demands more than rigid rules and guidelines. But here are a few things that would want to bring into consideration:
1. Will my speech be received in a Christ glorifying way? If we are thanking God for helping us win an award for our violence-glorifying music/movies, does that bring glory to God? Or if we know our speech will be twisted to support some political/social/economic agenda, is Christ getting glory?
2. What is the motivation of our heart? We can be tempted to seek the praise that comes from other Christians when we use our success as a platform for Jesus or conversely to revel in the “persecution” that comes from openly identifying with Jesus. If our aim is to offer thankfulness, then we need to be taking the attention off of ourselves and placing it on God.
3. Consider whether your private thankfulness/praise/worship is in balance with your public proclamations. If we are only “thankful” when we are on the stage, something may be amiss. Let our private or corporate worship temper our times of individual public recognitions.
We are thankful that You are a God who gives good gives to Your children.
Grant us to discern with worship and prayer the ways that You bless us and draw us to Yourself.
Convict us of our complacency when we miss the Kingdom for the King’s blessings.
Grow us in the discipline of thankfulness in times of both suffering and joy.
Let our speech be saturated with wisdom and grace as we use our speech in the public square.
Forgive us when we misuse Your name before the world in our actions or our words.
May we be a blessing, for Your glory.