Have you ever thought about what the word “blessing” really means? It’s said all the time in Christian circles. And it kinda makes sense. But at the same time, it feels like something’s missing . . .
Growing up, I was taught from prosperity gospel churches that “blessing” mainly meant something material and financial. But too often people who didn’t get every material blessing they wanted felt like God didn’t love them. And my parents worked hard to give me more opportunities than they had. This was all well-intentioned, but it pressured me into focusing just on succeeding financially.
This started to change when I became part of InterVarsity in college. I learned more about how Jesus calls us to live and how material blessings aren’t everything.
I’m not saying that the material things aren’t blessings . . . because they are. James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above.” God gifts us with ALL the good things we have. But sometimes I think we take this verse to mean that God will give us what we think is good.
The Blessing of the Non-material
There are so many non-material things in our lives that are blessings! What would happen if we saw our friends and family as more of a blessing than material things? Maybe they’ve helped you grow spiritually, maybe they were there for you when you needed to talk, or maybe they just make you laugh. Take time this next week to tell people how they’ve been a blessing in your life.
With following influencers on social media, we can unintentionally begin to want everything they promote. I fall into this all the time, thinking my life needs to look just like theirs. But God has even greater blessings for us than the material things we see on Instagram, things like peace, joy, and comfort that remind us that God is with us and loves us.
For us to see these other things as blessings, God has to shape our hearts and desires. Psalm 37:4 reminds, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” This doesn’t say ignore the Lord, and we’ll still magically get what we want. And often we want things that aren’t good for us. But the more time we spend with God, the more we’ll want the things he wants for us, and we’ll be able to see those things as blessings.
The Blessing of Jesus Himself
In Luke 10, Jesus visits the house of two sisters, Martha and Mary. Martha’s really stressed and concerned with serving him well. Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
For many of us from more hospitable cultures, this passage can be challenging. Serving people is such a natural and good thing to us. And even in our American culture, we’re taught that working hard, not just sitting around, is the most important thing. But Jesus says that he himself is the one blessing we should want more than anything else.
When I was in college, I went on a summer mission trip with InterVarsity in Panama. After watching Dancing with the Stars with my host family, I’d spend hours with Jesus, recapping my day with him and reading the Bible. These moments were essential because I was in an unfamiliar place, far from my friends and community and without many material things I was used to. But I felt God’s presence like never before.
God himself is the biggest blessing. And we have to recognize that to see everything else he gives us as blessings.
The Blessing of Suffering Like Jesus Did
But what if you’re going through a hard time and struggle to see any blessings in your life? I’ve been there. But even in suffering, we’re blessed because it can help us understand Jesus even more. Paul, Peter, and James all talk about suffering being a blessing in the letters they wrote in Scripture.
On that same trip to Panama, I heard this passage for the first time:
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish . . . that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. (Philippians 3:8–10)
Jesus suffered when he was killed, so we could have access to God and have life in him. He was lonely, mocked, betrayed, and felt extreme physical pain. Jesus suffered, and it’s a blessing to participate in suffering too. Suffering makes us desperate. And when we’re desperate, we more readily rely on God. Suffering also helps us relate with Jesus more, to know what he had to go through.
So if you’re going through any kind of suffering––whether problems in your family, loneliness or depression, or struggling in a class––suffering can be a blessing.
Sometimes Jesus may ask us if we’re willing to suffer embarrassment or insecurity by telling a friend about him. Or we might experience some suffering if he calls us to somewhere new.
When I felt called to join InterVarsity staff and move across the country, it required sacrificing what I was used to, even blessings like an amazing community, to work for a ministry that I love. But in that comparably tiny sacrifice, I better understood what Jesus experienced giving his whole life for us.
Suffering like Jesus did is a blessing.
As we enter into a new year, after a season so focused on getting and receiving lots of stuff, may we keep in mind the many more significant blessings God gives us. Take a few minutes to journal through these questions or talk to a friend:
What non-material thing does God want you to acknowledge as a blessing? Is there any material blessing that you’ve been consumed with that God’s calling you to give up?
What’s something you can do to go deeper in experiencing the blessing of Jesus himself? (Consider things like daily Bible study, regular prayer, listening to worship music.)
How is God calling you to suffer, even in small ways, so more people can experience his love through you? If you feel like you’re suffering now, how might God want you to draw closer to him?
Ashlye works as the Managing Editor for InterVarsity's Communications and Marketing Team in Madison, Wisconsin. She enjoys deep conversations with friends and adventures with her husband (a Video Producer for InterVarsity) and their corgi, Penny. You can support her ministry here: donate.intervarsity.org/donate#21368.
Similar to many other InterVarsity chapters this past year, InterVarsity at UW–Madison adapted to meet the most critical needs of today’s students—focusing on topics like self-care and mental health during a time that has left many students feeling isolated.