God Bless You! – What Does It Really Mean To Be Blessed?
By Brad Hewey
We often hear the expression “God Bless You!”, but are we actually calling upon God for blessings? Brad looks at what it means to ask God for blessings.
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I was walking down the street the other day and out of nowhere… one of those little tingles in the nose caused me to sneeze. “Bless you”, said a voice from a stranger passing by me, and I smiled and said, “thank you.”
It’s a fairly common exchange and one that’s been happening for centuries. We can’t pinpoint the origin exactly, but it seems tradition gives merit to the account of Pope Gregory in the late 6th century. A sneeze in that day was thought to indicate the outward sign of a person who was sick with the deadly bubonic plague. Tradition holds that Pope Gregory declared the phrase “God Bless You” should be uttered upon hearing another person sneeze…that this might call upon the mercies of God to intervene and bring healing from above. And we say yay and amen to anything that reaches out to draw on the power of our almighty father. If this is the true origin of the phrase, it has been around for well over a thousand years. No wonder it’s something we all are so familiar with.
Of course, the inclusion of God in the phrase is often omitted these days, as “bless you” seems to be more common. It implies basically the same sentiment, but like so many things, it’s taking a little bit here and a little bit there…pulling away from, or replacing something that is or was associated with God.
The Bible, especially the Old Testament… gives many examples of one man blessing another man. We know it was a very important thing, for a father to bless his son. So much so, that when Isaac was very old and about to bestow a blessing upon Esau his firstborn, Jacob was convinced of his mother to deceive Isaac his father, Jacob in turn, would inherit the coveted blessing set aside by Isaac for Esau.
Naturally, there is something even more powerful and beautiful about a blessing that calls upon our father God. When God blesses something, it is beyond what we as man can fathom. One of the most powerful accounts of God’s blessing is recounted in the book of Job. Job, a man who seemingly had it all, was reduced to poverty and loss of every type. But at the end of the account, we see blessing upon blessing poured out from God, upon faithful Job.
Here in the rural towns of Nova Scotia, we don’t encounter, or actually ever see people living on the streets. There is without question an ever-increasing demographic who fall into categories well below the poverty line and require a fair bit of government aide. We don’t, however, have a number assigned to an actual homeless population. That, of course, is a good thing, and undoubtedly a credit to both levels of government, municipal and provincial.
A recent visit to Toronto brought me face to face ( and not for the first time ) with folks who have no place to call home…no fixed address. Sadly, there are growing numbers in most large cities around the world, where… for whatever reasons, people find themselves living in destitute conditions on the streets, in alleyways, and abandoned warehouses.
I passed by several people who had visibly made the sidewalk their home. I knew a little handout from my pocket wasn’t necessarily going to change their situation in the long run, but I knew without a doubt, it could help bring some comfort for the day, and a reminder of God’s love. We as Christians are called to reach out to the poor.
Heb 13:2,3 declares “be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unaware. Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.”
One particular man on this busy Toronto street was not asking for any spare change. There was no handout. He was just sitting, his body pulled in around itself. As I bent down and handed him a little money, he looked up and received it with such appreciation, and said: “God bless you.” He could have just said “bless you,” and as we mentioned earlier, it implies virtually the same thing, but it was very beautiful to hear my heavenly fathers name at that moment…I found it very moving. I know it’s a phrase so often used, and one used even without the person really meaning it or understanding much of anything about God, but this man said it as “from the heart.”
There’s always something real, and raw about a man or woman, who at such a low point in life, expresses a sentiment that calls upon God. It’s a testament to the underlying truth that God is sewn into the fabric of each life, and it’s sometimes when our fabric is most torn and tattered that we see him more clearly, there by our side to shoulder the burden.
Calling Upon God For Blessings
Jesus encourages us in the beatitudes with the beautiful words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This doesn’t mean of course that all who are poor, will have a desire to follow Jesus. To suggest that one’s financial state equates to a state of spirituality, good or bad, would be incorrect. It does remind us that when we are un-wealthy, without means, we are perhaps inclined to see ourselves as needy, and needy before God is a good thing. So many are destitute spiritually but are so overtaken with a busy life focused on personal success and financial gain, they have no need of calling out to the one who is our God and Savior.
In the book of Hebrews we read that “since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.” I reminded this poor man of this very thing, and I believe he knew that already. He was able to genuinely ask for God to bless me; being destitute himself, yet already in tune with blessings from the Heavenly Father.
“Financially bankrupt” does not mean “spiritually bankrupt.” Perhaps this dear man is more in tune with his situation than many who are rich in other ways. For any and all who recognize that they are poor in spirit, to call upon God to bless, they have the ability, through Gods power… to rise-up off the street, to find a good place to lay their head, to be safe, with food and clean surroundings. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The next time a sneeze brings about that familiar response, “bless you”, let’s remember how blessed it is to call upon God for his blessing, and to seek him to bless those around us. We are all needy in different ways. Those of us who have the everyday comforts around us, and the promise of Christ Jesus in our hearts, we are so very, very blessed. Let it be a humbling thought. In reality, are we not all just beggars, showing other beggars where to find bread?!
Brad offers up practical, scriptural advice from a perspective borne out of everyday life encounters. As we live and move and have our being…it’s the individual life lessons that most often present the greatest challenges, but can yield the richest blessings. We’ve all, as Christians had those faith-affirming moments, where we’ve had an overwhelming sense of God’s spirit, or his very presence “at a particular but, maybe random time”.
Brad was born and still resides in a small community in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia, where he and his wife Karen raised their 3 children. Brad & Karen fellowship at the Greenland Bible Chapel, where Brad serves as an elder.
Brad loves meeting and engaging with people. His background in sales has provided opportunities to travel throughout the US and Canada, networking with people from all walks of life. Brad is a singer/songwriter and has recorded 3 Christian albums. Songs from his “Brighter Day” release, have aired on Christian Radio stations across Canada and two of Brad’s albums are on HopeStreamRadio’s playlist.
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