Recently, I read a beautiful book called The Grace Outpouring by Roy Godwin. This and a similar book called The Way of Blessing emerged from the Christian community of Ffald-y-Brenin in Wales. This Christian community has discovered the simple power of blessing people in Jesus’ name. They have seen many lives changed through blessing them. Blessing someone is somewhat different to praying for them. Praying for a person is to request God to do something good for them. A blessing, on the other hand, is to speak to the person in God’s name about the gifts and good things God wills for them. It is not a wish but a performative speech – it does something and accomplishes something.
A prayer might go something like this: ‘Father, please would you give your peace to my brother-in-law at this difficult time for him? Would you give him peace, clarity, and a way forward through what seems an impossible situation?’
However, a blessing might go something like this: ‘[Person’s name], I bless you in Jesus’ name, that you will dwell in the peace and clarity of God. I bless you in Jesus’ name that you will see and walk in the way God has opened for you.’
Can we really do this? As people who belong to Jesus, yes! The risen Jesus has given us, as his people, the privilege of blessing, healing, forgiving, reconciling and bringing the kingdom of God in his name – and his full authority to do so! This is part of being the priesthood of all believers that was one of the great rediscoveries of the Reformation.
Scripture says in many places that the people of God are priests. Isaiah 61 says, ‘You will be called priests of God’; 1 Peter picks up the Deuteronomy promise of God that ‘You will be a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people declaring the praises of God’.
We are all priests, not just the pastors amongst us. Maybe more accurately, we are all a priesthood.
What do priests in this royal priesthood do? Priests do two things:
- They represent the people to God through prayer and worship.
- They represent God to the people through proclamation and blessing.
So, this Advent, I bless you, people of God, that you may bless others.
How can this blessing happen in daily life? Especially during Advent, how can we bless those around us?
We can bless people in deeds – through acts of hospitality, charity, kindness and love. As a small example, I heard of one Christian family living in a residential tower in Sydney. Together, the family made Christmas biscuits and packed them in a little gift parcel with a gift card that said something like, ‘May you have a blessed Christmas season. From the family in apartment 45’. Then, they hung the little packages on the doorknobs of all the apartments on their floor. This simple act of Christmas blessing generated a huge response of gratitude from the people on their floor, which led to the planning of a Christmas party for their building, where many people met their neighbours face to face for the first time.
Another example was last Christmas Eve when the combined churches in the Whitehorse Council region of Eastern Melbourne put on a Christmas lunch for homeless people. Over 150 people came, including Christians who served the meals and also Christians from local churches who simply sat at tables, made conversation with people and shared lunch with them. There were puzzles, games, costumes, and no distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’ – we were all enjoying a Christmas lunch together. This day was one of the deepest experiences of the presence of Jesus I’ve ever had.
What would a simple act of Christmas blessing look like in your neighbourhood?
What could your family do among the people you know?
At this time of Advent and Christmas, we can also bless people by inviting them in some way to hear the good news of Jesus’ birth and incarnation. At Christmas, Australians are more likely to favourably receive an invitation to a religious event, such as a community carols night, a church Christmas Eve nativity play or presentation, or a church service. There is no greater blessing than knowing the good news of great joy that the angels announced for all people at the birth of the Saviour! If you invite someone to a service or nativity presentation, ensure you are at the venue early, looking out for your friends or newcomers and welcoming them in what may be an unfamiliar situation for them.
We can bless people in words of blessing, words that come with the full authority of Jesus himself. You can bless your family members. Recall that a blessing is not a prayer but is spoken to the person, performatively bringing the goodness of God into a tangible reality in the person’s life.
You can bless your family members. Here’s an example of how that could happen in my own family.
‘I bless you, Sylvia [my daughter], in Jesus’ name this Advent. I bless you that you know the presence of Jesus in your own heart this Christmas. I bless you as you prepare to go on a beach mission over the new year and that you will see God work through you. I bless your relationships that Jesus be present in each conversation.’
You can bless people at your church. ‘I bless you that God’s peace is released in your life in this area of difficulty. I bless you that God’s healing is evident in this time of sickness. I bless you in Jesus’ name.’
Especially at Christmas, non-Christians will be more open to receiving blessings. ‘I bless you that you may know the peace and joy of Jesus, the Christ-child, this Christmas’ could be a simple way to phrase such a blessing. You can bless people explicitly in writing by giving Christian Christmas cards, too.
You can bless strangers. Do this only with gentleness and humility, after a conversation, and with their permission – ask, ‘Is it okay if I bless you?’ The people of the community of Ffald-y-Brenin have seen great joy as they have blessed people who come to their community. I recently had a long conversation with a stranger on a plane. At the end, I said, ‘Mick, blessings on your calling of being a single dad and your search for a new job’.
This may seem quite strange to us at first. But remember that the risen Jesus gave his full authority to his people to bless, heal, forgive and reconcile as a royal priesthood and a holy nation.
And so, I conclude with a blessing!
I bless you, people of God, this Advent, in Jesus’ name. I bless you that the presence of the incarnate Son of God permeates your relationships and conversations. I bless you that the Christ-child finds a welcome place in your heart. I bless you that you may bless others and live in the fullness of being a royal priesthood, a holy nation. I bless you that the Spirit of God gives you a focus on Jesus amid the busyness of Advent and Christmas. I bless you that Jesus, the word made flesh, may dwell among you.
Nathan Hedt is the Pastor for New and Renewing Churches.