This coming weekend is Penn State Graduation and as we enter into the graduation season for colleges and high schools we will hear once again the debate over the role of prayer at graduation. Several years ago the Washington Community HS in Washington, Illinois was forced to remove the invocation and benediction from their graduation ceremonies, but a group of students found a way around the prohibition. Ryan Brown, a graduating senior who was scheduled to give a speech, paused before he went to the podium and bowed his head in silent prayer. That prompted the audience to stand and applaud, but Ryan wasn’t done. During his speech Ryan sneezed and right on cue all of his friends shouted God Bless You.
When people graduate we ask God to bless them. When people get married, which happens often in May, we ask God to bless them. On Mother’s Day we ask God to bless our mothers and all the women who have loved us and been part of our lives – so in many ways the month of May is a month filled with requests for God to bless people, so today we are going to look at a psalm that asks God to bless us and we are going to learn from this psalm what the blessing of God is really all about. Psalm 67
The first thing we learn about God’s blessing is that it is neither earned nor deserved, look at 67:1. God’s blessing comes from God’s grace. Other translations says God be merciful to us and bless us, which shows us that God’s blessing comes from God’s mercy. Mercy means compassion given to us when we didn’t deserve it, so again we see that God’s blessing is really a gift given to us. God’s blessing comes from God’s grace and not our obedience. It comes from God’s love for us and not our love for God or our desire to live for God.
Think about some of the blessings God has given you. Now ask yourself, did you deserve these things? Did you earn them? One of the blessings of my life has been my family and there is nothing that I did to be born into my family. I didn’t earn it and I did nothing to deserve it, but it has been a significant way that God has blessed me. Another blessing God has given me during the past 23 years of my life has been the church families God has given to me. Each church has helped me grow and given me amazing support, love and opportunities that I didn’t earn or deserve – these have been the blessings given to me by God. There are so many things I can point to in my life and say, this is God’s blessing. I did nothing to either earn or deserve these gifts. It is simply God’s grace and mercy at work in my life.
One of the things that can help us see that God’s blessing in our lives is as an act of grace and mercy is when follow through on one word often find in the psalms but we tend to ignore, the word Selah. This word appears 71 times in the book of Psalms and while an exact definition isn’t known, we believe it is some kind of musical direction. The word might indicate that at this point in the psalm there is to be some kind of musical interlude but the best definition for us would be the word – pause. When we come across this word in the psalms we need to stop and think about what we have just heard or read.
That the psalmist chose to place this word in the middle of a sentence tells us that we can’t overlook what we just read and what we just read is that God’s blessings come from God. They are gifts of God’s grace and reflections of God’s unconditional love. We need these moments of Selah in our lives to reflect on God’s grace and blessings because it helps us keep the right perspective and it helps us stay grounded. When the world is shouting that we deserve more and we have earned the best, we need moments to pause and remember that all the blessings in life truly are gifts from God.
This week I want to encourage us all to create some moments to pause and reflect on what God has done and what God continues to do in our lives. We need to consider how God has blessed us and where we want to experience God’s blessing. We also need to think about what God’s blessing means for us because it might not mean what we think it does. For example, God doesn’t bless us so that our lives will be better or pain and problem free, God blesses us so that God can be lifted up and so God can be glorified.
Look at – Psalm 67:2. The psalmist doesn’t ask for God to bless him so he can get what he wants in life he asks God to bless him so that God would be lifted up and so that God’s ways and God’s salvation might be known in all the earth. This is a very different way of thinking about God’s blessing.
Many times we associate God’s blessing with some kind of benefit to us or others. At graduation we ask God to bless those moving into a new stage of their lives and part of what we are asking is for God to help them find jobs and have success in their future. When we ask God to bless a newlywed couple we are thinking in terms of them living in peace and finding ways to work through all their problems in the years to come. When we ask God to bless our mothers we are asking for their lives to be filled with health and strength and love and many good things. Now there is nothing wrong with all of this. These are all good things to pray for and they are part of God’s blessing in our lived and in the lives of others, but what Psalm 67 is trying to tell us is that God’s blessing isn’t always to benefit us. God’s blessing in our lives needs to glorify God. God’s blessing needs to be a benefit to God and build up God’s kingdom on earth.
What is so important about this verse is that it shifts our thinking about God’s blessing so we don’t just see it as asking God for some gift of help. First and foremost we need to see God’s blessing as something that glorifies God. When we ask God to bless us or others the focus needs to shift from what we need and want to what will honor God and what will lift up God’s name in the world. This is an important lesson for us today because we live in a world that teaches us to focus on ourselves.
We are living in a selfie world. While self portraits with a camera can be traced all the way back to 1839, selfies have become popular in the last decade with the ability of cell phones to take digital pictures anywhere and everywhere. Now everywhere we go we are taking pictures of ourselves and posting them on social media which is also there to promote ourselves. One of the interesting things about a selfie is that when we take a picture of ourselves in any setting, we usually become the largest object in the picture.
Let me show you some of my pictures from Israel that you will not see anywhere else and that’s because my head is the largest image in the shot.
|Selife at Masada|
These are some selfies from Israel. As amazing as the locations are, what you see when you look at these pictures is me. I’m the focus. I’m the center of attention and we are living in a selfie driven world where we think everything and everyone is here for us and so when we ask for God’s blessing what we think about is God doing something to benefit us, but that is not what the psalmist says.
The psalmist seeks God’s blessing knowing it won’t be something to just help him in life but something that will honor God by having God’s will be known. The blessing isn’t for him to be saved but to have God’s salvation lifted up for all to see. The blessing isn’t for him but for God and this needs to be part of what we think about when we ask for God’s blessing. When we ask God to bless us or when we ask God to bless others the focus shouldn’t be on what we need but on what God wants and what God wants is for His glory to be revealed and for His love and salvation to be shared with everyone.
That God’s blessing shouldn’t be focused on us is also shown to us by Jesus. In the days before his death, Jesus is talking to his disciples and he tells them that he is going to die and then he says this: John 12:27-28. Jesus doesn’t ask for God to bless him and save him from the coming struggle of the cross instead he asks for God’s glory to be revealed. When we ask for God to bless us we should first think about what it would be like for God’s glory to be revealed in all the earth. When that happens, it is a benefit to us all.
Psalm 67:3-4. When God is lifted up and people see God’s grace and glory and power – people praise God. When people praise and give thanks to God then the earth is given life. Psalm 67:6 Then the land will yield its harvest, and God, our God will bless us.
So instead of asking God to bless us with good things we need to ask God to bless us so that the world can see God’s goodness, grace and power because when the world sees the fullness of God and when we come together as one to allow our life together to reflect God’s goodness and glory – not only is God glorified but we all benefit. Life is given to us all.
So this month as we ask God to bless graduates, newlywed couples and all our Mothers, let’s remember that the blessing God seeks to give isn’t just to improve our lives or the lives of others but for God to be lifted up in this world. God’s blessing in our lives means that God is honored and glorified and when that happens our lives and our world are so much better and know that God shines upon us.
Shine Upon Us
Read Psalm 67.
1. Think back to a time when you experienced God’s blessing.
• How did you know this was a blessing from God?
• Did the blessing benefit just you or others?
2. God’s blessings are a gift, they are unearned and undeserved.
• Pause this week to reflect on what God has given you.
• Thank God for his mercy and grace.
3. God’s blessings should not first focus on us but on God.
• What would it look for God to be glorified in your life?
• How can God’s blessing in you help reveal God’s will and salvation in all the earth?
4. The month of May is filled with opportunities to ask God to bless others (Graduates, Newlyweds and Mothers). Pray for God’s blessing to bring these people the fullness of God’s glory and not just earthly benefits and gifts.
5. As we continue through this presidential campaign and election season, we need to remember that God is the one who rules the people justly and guides the nations of the earth. God is sovereign over our elections and over our nation so we can praise God and ask for God’s continued blessing in our lives and in our land.