A Mixed Up Minister?
What insights does the book of Jonah have for ministers today?
Led by The Revd Tom Stuckey, a former President of the Methodist Church.
Blessed to be a Blessing
Every week, on the eve of every Shabbat, Jewish families gather for a meal together. The father places his hands on the heads of his children and blesses them. This is usually followed by a kiss and a word of praise or encouragement. The blessing for the sons is to ask God to make them as Ephraim and Manasseh - Ephraim means ‘double fruitfulness’ and Manasseh means ’to be able to forget’. As he places his hands on his daughters, he asks God to make them like Sarah, Rachel, Rebekah and Leah. This prayer is followed by the beautiful blessing in Numbers 6 spoken over the entire family:-
‘The Lord bless and keep you,
The Lord make His face to shine on you and be gracious to you,
The Lord lift up His countenance towards you and give you His peace.’
What a beautiful thing for Jewish children to hear and experience each week.
Words have amazing power. As my husband, Nick, and I have listened and prayed with countless people over the last 23 years of ministry, we have seen that words can hurt and destroy and hold people captive and they can inspire, enlighten and uplift, helping people to fly. Proverbs 18:21 tells us that life and death are in the power of words. ‘You’ll never be any good at art’. These words from a teacher, for instance, kept the writer of this article from following a hobby for many a long year. Many words we have heard and have spoken have been far more damaging than that. Our communities may have been damaged by words written about them through the media, so gaining reputations that are hard to shake off.The word ‘bless’ can mean a number of things. One meaning is ‘to come on bended knee.’ The image here is of a lover coming to their loved one and entreating them. Is that not how our Father God comes to us in the face of His Son, born humbly as a servant king, to seek relationship with us? How wonderful it is to have the glory of God’s face to shine on us and to know His gracious dealings with us. As ‘He lifts up His countenance upon us’, the imagery here is that it is as if we are spotted in the middle of a crowd and His shalom is poured out upon us. Imagine a film of a football match. The camera is on the crowd but quickly zooms in to highlight one particular face. That is the blessing upon each one of us who loves Him, and that includes you.
Some Jewish theologians will tell us that, in their understanding, an outworking of being made in the image of God is that we can ‘create through words’. The phrase ’ the man became a living being’ (Gen 2.7) may also be translated ‘the man became a speaking being’. If that is so, it is important for us to think about what we may be creating through our words. How often do we find ourselves speaking negatively over ourselves, our health, our family members, our church families and our communities? Yet God’s words are full of power, creativity and life and we are called to be His priests here on this earth. We are called to be a people who bless with both our actions and our words.
We are an amazingly blessed people. We have a Father in heaven whose infinite love for us is beyond all understanding, whose power is indescribable and yet who knows us and cares for us as individuals. We are His beloved people. He loves to pour out His love and blessings upon us and touch our lives in a profound way. He does that purely because He loves and IS love and we are called to know Him and enjoy Him forever. He loves us with Agape love – his unconditional love. But He also loves us with ‘Philio’ love – unbounded affection. We surely need to know and experience that, not just as head knowledge, but in our inmost beings.
Jesus was coming up out of the waters of the river Jordan after his baptism when the heavens opened, the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove and He heard the words ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.’ What an amazing moment that must have been for Jesus, as he receives the love and affirmation of His Father. I wonder how many times He would have thought back to that moment when He was going through the struggles ahead. I wonder how many times those words would have given him courage and tenacity and a sense of belonging and identity. He modelled for us the relationship we can have with our Father, where we speak what He speaks to us and ‘only do what we see the Father doing.’ One of the things we know about Jesus is that His words carry incredible authority, whether it be stilling the storm or speaking health and life into a diseased body.
So we are called to understand the power of blessing and be a people of blessing to our communities and to the lost. We can pray and speak out blessings that will affect our communities and bring change. Our challenge is to believe that, as individuals and as church together.
In his book ‘The life of the beloved’ Henri Nouwen tells of a time he was working with disabled people. One of the handicapped women in his community asked him for a blessing and when he started to perform a prayer ritual she said, ‘No I want a real blessing.’ Later 30 folk were present when he gathered her in his arms and said, ‘Janet, I want you to know you are God’s beloved daughter. Your kindness to others, your lovely smile show what a beautiful human being you are. Even though you feel sad at times, I want you to know you are a special person, deeply loved by God and all the people who know you.’ On seeing this all the other disabled people came forward for a blessing, closely followed by the care worker who was with them!
There are many blessings and prayers in the Bible you can use to bless your communities. Hopefully you have a clear understanding of the special issues that affect the community in which your church is situated and you know something of the needs of the people living there. In other words, under God’s leading you know what they need to bless them! There are creative ways we can bless them. Why not try writing out a blessing for the families around your church and leafleting them with it, or giving out a written blessing in the local shopping centre. Why not have a blessing prayer at the front of your church rather than a ‘clever’ saying or something similar. A book I have found helpful in thinking about and praying blessings on others is ‘Blessing your Spirit’ by Sylvia Gunter and Arthur Burk. (ISBN 1931379114) Actually a new friend blessed me with it! It contains 40 days of blessings to speak over your own spirit and that of anyone the Lord puts in your mind. I find it very helpful for those times when you struggle to articulate what you really want to say.
By the way, after recently having had two people bless me with prophetic words about God using my hands in art to speak to and encourage people, I am now really enjoying my new hobby! I may not produce pictures that are artistically great but I know my Father likes them!