Every now and then while I’m channel surfing on TV, I pause to listen to a preacher. It’s not uncommon to hear televangelists talk about how faith is the key to being blessed by God. “If you will only believe,” they insist, “then God will bless you.” Often that blessing is given material form: if I just have enough faith, I will have a fancy home, fast cars, and all the electronic devices my heart desires. (Well, okay, the TV preachers generally don’t talk about electronics, but that’s how I fill in the blanks.)
So, are these preachers right? Is faith the key to God’s blessing? If I just have enough faith, is God obligated in some way to bless me?
Elizabeth’s response to Mary seems to suggest so: “You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said” (1:45). Mary was indeed blessed to be the mother of the Messiah, even God’s own Son, because she received the angel’s words with faith. She said, “Yes, Lord,” and God used her just as the angel had promised.
Yet, we must remember that Mary’s blessing, however wonderful it was, came at a considerable cost. Though Joseph, with some divine help, believed her story about the cause of her pregnancy and took her as his wife, it’s surely true that most others did not buy her tall tale of spiritual impregnation. Mary lived with the stigma of sexual impurity, which in her culture was rather like wearing a large, scarlet letter “A” on her chest. Moreover, we have no reason to believe that Mary’s faith in God led to financial prosperity. She and her family lived simply, in a manner we would associate with poverty. Finally, we know that Mary’s heart would be broken beyond what we might imagine as her son was crucified.
So, did Mary’s faith lead to blessing? Yes, indeed. But it led to what we might call a mixed blessing, a mix of tremendous joy and terrible sorrow, of eternal honor and everyday shame. Thus, Mary reminds us that if we obey God, we will be blessed. But the form of our blessing may or may not fit our expectations. When we trust God, we may not get all the things we desire, but our hearts will be transformed so that we will, indeed, receive the desires of our hearts. Moreover, we will experience the joy of participating in the work of God’s kingdom, knowing that our lives have true and eternal meaning.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have there been times in your life when you trusted the Lord and experienced his blessing? Have there been times when God has blessed you wonderfully, but in ways you did not expect or that included considerable pain? How is God asking you to believe him today?
PRAYER: O Lord, I thank you because you do bless me in more ways than I can count. Your blessing is a reflection, not of my worthiness, but of your amazing grace. You bless me because you are a merciful, loving, generous Father. Thank you!
Yet, it is true that when I trust you, my faith opens the door to further blessing. My faith isn’t some sort of claim upon you. Nor is faith some magic formula for blessing. But when I trust you, when I walk in the ways you have designed for me, then I am ready and available for further blessing.
As I seek your blessing, Lord, may I be open to whatever forms of blessing are best. You know which these are. They may or may not fit with my expectations. So give me an open heart to receive the blessings you ordain.
All praise, glory, and honor be to you, God, from whom all blessings flow! Amen.
Mark Roberts is the author of eight books, including No Holds Barred: Wrestling with God in Prayer. He lives in Boerne, Texas, with his wife, Linda. Their children spend most of the year away at college on the East Coast. Send a note to Mark.
“ … we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:4-5).
Every now and then (or perhaps more often than that), it might be hard to find hope in this world. Even in the midst of celebrating the birth of Christ, we may struggle to see the silver lining. At the height of all the revelry, it may be difficult to find a solid foothold or a ledge to hang onto. And so, Jesus joins us in the center of it all, acknowledging the dark and dreary and not requiring us to “buck up” or “get a grip.” Instead, he lies in a manger, a star over his head, and silently invites us to look up. Christ is at work in the world, despite evidence to the contrary. In this series, Advent Hope, join us as together, we take a deep breath and dare to look up.