When we get up in the morning, what is motivating our choices? Jamie Smith suggests that our vision of “the good life” is a key driver. But how do we envision “the good life”? What do we think will make us happy? Fulfilled?
Our culture provides all kinds of answers: being young; being skinny; having the latest model luxury vehicle; wearing the latest fashions; going on phenomenal vacations; an amazing spouse or significant other who adores us; a successful career; a beautiful home; free time and the money to enjoy it; high-achieving children. Fame and fortune. Sex, money, and power.
When put that bluntly, we often reject these things as our priorities. Our heads know that things won’t make us happy. They won’t fulfill us. But is it possible that deep down these are still the things motivating us? Aren’t these often the very things that we describe ourselves as being “blessed” with?
I don’t want to suggest that when God provides for our material needs or surrounds us with loving people that we haven’t been blessed. We have been! But Scripture offers us a different picture of blessing than may immediately come to mind. While modern culture often equates material prosperity or well-being with blessing, scholars have actually concluded that in the Bible blessing is fundamentally referring to a favorable relationship between two parties. We can see this idea in Numbers:
22 The Lord said to Moses, 23 “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:Numbers 6:22–27
24 The Lord bless you
and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.
27 So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.’”
In these verses we see that blessing is fundamentally related to the Israelites’ relationship with YHWH. The focus isn’t on material things, but on God’s presence, protection, and peace. That doesn’t mean that God’s blessing can’t involve material goods. It means that material things aren’t the center. Instead, material provision can simply be understood as one possible manifestation of the people’s relationship with YHWH.
Blessing isn’t only discussed in the Old Testament. Jesus described those who are blessed in the beatitudes. While those in Matthew are probably familiar, do you know the ones recorded in Luke?
20 “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.Luke 6:20–22
21 Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
According to NT scholar Joel Green these beatitudes describe the way things are from God’s perspective rather than prescribing characteristics we should seek out. He comments that “by asserting that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor, then, Jesus is redefining the working assumptions, the values that determine daily existence.”
Realistically, though, do we see things the same way? Is belonging to the kingdom—which is fundamentally tied to our relationship with Jesus—what we think of when we think of blessing? Is this how we envision “the good life”? Can we honestly say that belonging to that kingdom is what motivates our choices and actions? If we can’t, maybe Smith provides part of the answer. Last week I commented that
Building on the formational role of our habits, Smith explores the ways that the habitual practices (liturgies) of Christian worship can re-shape our desires and our understanding of what comprises “the good life.” Fundamentally, Smith suggests that Christian worship has the capacity to reshape our vision, creating in us a desire for God’s kingdom. By changing our perception of what is good, we wind up changing our actions.
This week, will you join me in thinking through what things are actually motivating my choices—good and bad? What needs or desires motivate our obedience to Jesus’ teachings? What about those places where we fall short? Bottom line, what vision of “the good life” is driving our words and actions?
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