Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The 'How to' of Blessing Others

This article is focused on one essential question; 'How do I go about blessing another person'. In a way this is easy to answer. Just follow the 'golden rule' - Matt 7.12, Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. It's a great approach. Almost anything we do from that motivation is going to bless others; whether it's giving someone a lift to church or inviting someone over for a meal. The list is literally endless.

Scripture however gives us a view of how to impart blessing that often has a common pattern. So, without taking away from the golden rule, consider how people in the Bible imparted blessing. Think of Isaac when he blessed Jacob; Gen 27.33-37 (I)have blessed him? yes, and he shall be blessed...... And Isaac answered and said to Esau, Behold, I have made him your lord, and all his brethren have I given to him for servants; and with corn and wine have I sustained him: and what shall I do now to you, my son?

Despite the deceit used by Jacob, he received a blessing from his father Isaac; a blessing that rightfully belonged to the firstborn son, Esau. It couldn't be reversed or undone. It stood firm once spoken. The full effects of the blessing played out generationally but that encounter with his father positioned Jacob and his descendants to inherit the blessing.

We see this authority to bless expressed by Jacob too when Joseph presented his two sons before their grandfather. Unlike his father Isaac, who was blind and deceived, Jacob was intentional when he crossed his hands to bless the younger son with his right hand. He was moving in discernment about the two destinies of these boys and blessed then accordingly, Gen 48. Joseph's protest would not force Jacob to change his mind, Gen 48.18-19. He knew what he was doing.

When we look at the way this and other blessings were imparted a number of key elements come together.

The first is the power of touch. Take a look at Mark 10.13-16:
Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. "Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it." And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.

Jesus was happy to oblige these eager parents. I love the picture Mark conveys of Jesus picking up little children, laying His hands on them and blessing them. Imagine that. This is not quite the formal blessing that Issac gave Jacob but, nonetheless, something of the blessing of Jesus was passed on to these children through this encounter. And Jesus encouraged it.

I remember when our children were small. Most nights I would tell them a bedtime story. Then at the end I would lay hands on them and pray a blessing over them. Sometimes I waited until they were asleep before praying. There was less giggling! None of my children have ever protested about receiving prayer or blessing. They grew to love it. They believed in it's power to influence their lives for good. When they couldn't sleep or had bad dreams we did the usual stuff, sleeping in our bed, staying with them, but we always spoke blessing and peace over them and rebuked any attack from the enemy. It made a difference.

So many people in the gospels experienced the blessing of Jesus through touch. The woman with the spirit of infirmity received her deliverance as Jesus spoke to her and touched her,Luke 13.12-13; But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, "Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity." And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.

He laid His hands on her. You get the picture. Even more astonishing is when we see Jesus touch the untouchables. Leprosy was a feared decease in Biblical times. Some forms were highly contagious. Yet Jesus reaches out to touch and heal these people, Matt 8.2-3; Luke 5.13. Many times Jesus healed people just by speaking words. But with lepers and outcasts He is far more intentional in reaching out to them in this way. I would say that touch, in such a context, suggests four things about what is in the heart of Jesus:

1. Acceptance. Jesus accepted people just the way they were without any preconditions. He did not judge them, despite their problems, whether it was sin or sickness; He received them to Himself, Rom 15.3.

2. Boldness. Jesus was not afraid of the power of sickness to infect Him. He is the Lord of life and sickness and death had no power over Him. Not only that, He would not come under the judgement of others who considered these people as outcasts. Jesus boldly broke with this kind of view and reached out to people. He was fearless.

3. Compassion. Jesus loved people. To be touched by another human being when no one will go near you or accept you is powerful. It is a visible, tangible, concrete expression of love. We call this compassion. It always moves us to action.

4. Value. The worst thing about being any kind of outcast is the way it erodes ones sense of personal value. Even children in our first reference to Jesus blessing them were perceived as a bother. Within my own generation we grew up with our father's telling us, "Children should be seen and not heard". I believed it until I was an adult. Now, having raised six children, I am persuaded that this statement is ridiculous. Children have value and silencing them is a way of censuring the truth and reality that they often perceive.

When Jesus touched people they immediately felt valued. Think of when the media captured the attention of the world because Princess Diana went to the bedside of an Aids victim and held his hand while speaking to him. She touched him. A Princess touching an untouchable. It captured the imagination of a nation. Suddenly the British Monarchy, that she represented, was seen in a new light. She was demonstrating a Kingdom value that Jesus taught and the world took notice.

The power of touch was formalised at times in the Bible with the phrase, "The laying on of hands". This was done on special occasions such as the appointment of new leaders/ministries, Acts 6.6; Deut 34.9; healing the sick, Matt 8.14-15; 9.18-25 or being filled with the Spirit; Acts 8.14-17.

Such an occasion was a powerful statement to those watching. Any combination of the following three things was happening:

1. Identification was demonstrated between the one blessing and the one being blessed. This is why Paul warned Timothy not to do this hastily when appointing elders, 1Tim 5.19.

2. Imputation, as when the worshippers in the Old Testament laid hands on the animal they had brought as an offering to the Lord. Their sins were considered to be imputed to the animal and it died in their place, but only after the had placed their hands on the animals head; Lev 1.4-5; 4.1-4, 13-15, 22-24.

3. Impartation where the Spirit or some spiritual gift is given to another person and becomes activated in their life; Acts 19.1-7;1Tim 4.14.

Whether it is a casual touch like an arm on the shoulder, a simple greeting through a handshake, or a more formal 'laying on of hands'; touch is a powerful means of imparting blessing. But a word of caution. In order to touch someone I must enter their personal space. And to do that I must be invited. Often before I lay hands on someone at a meeting when they come forward for prayer, I tell them I will do so and ask if that's OK. Why?

Let me offer you three reasons that have come out of thirty years of ministry experience:

a) We live in an age of abuse. People abuse substances like drugs or alcohol. But many of them do so to hide their pain of emotional, physical or sexual abuse. The NSPCC, (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children), tell us that more than one third (36%) of all rapes recorded by the police are committed against children under 16 years of age. Three-quarters (72%) of sexually abused children did not tell anyone about the abuse at the time. 27% told someone later. Around a third (31%) still had not told anyone about their experience(s) by early adulthood.

Given this reality we need to be sensitive to the fear that these victims can experience when a well meaning person touches them. I have seen people shut down during a time of prayer to bless them simply because they became fearful as soon as they were touched. Let people know what you are doing and ask for their permission to lay hands on them.

b) Not only is it a good idea to ask people for permission to touch them, tell them where you will put your hands! On the head or shoulder or your hand on their hand. This is really important when ministering to the opposite sex. I have witnessed lots of inappropriate hand placing, even if the motivation was pure.

Often with a sickness it's a good idea to lay hands on the area of pain - but not always. There are some parts of the human anatomy we need to respect by not touching. Let the Holy Spirit do it - not you!

c) My final reason has to do with what I see as overenthusiastic praying. I speak as one who has served for ten years within a Pentecostal/Charismatic tradition. Perhaps it's me but they seem to be the worst offenders. With this model when you go forward for prayer, hands are laid on you, (usually your head), in a forceful way that you are suddenly aware of being pushed backwards! Here's how I've handled that in the past when I'm on the receiving end of such ministry.

In my early days of going to such a meeting I just allowed myself to fall back. Fortunately there was someone to catch me, because these meetings were geared for this to happen. Was it disappointing for me? Yes. You see when I came forward for prayer I was genuinely looking for a touch from God. This felt more like theatrics.

Later, when at similar meetings, I just took a step back (wondering how many steps I would have to take before the person praying got the message I wasn't going down with their help!). I even did a little limbo posturing on one occasion. Well, I thought it was funny. But there have been a few occasions, without any assistance from the person praying where I have gone down, because God touched me. Those occasions were genuine and meaningful for me. I don't go looking for them but I can't deny they happened either.

So my encouragement to all those who pray for people is, lay hands gently. Don't push. Let God do what He wants to do in their life at that moment. In fact if a person starts to fall I often put a hand on their back to keep them upright. The key thing is not to try and produce an effect. We are being channels for God's blessing; not providing a show!

Let's move on to the second way that blessing is conveyed in the Bible; prophetic words. Remember that New Testament prophecy is not characterised by sharp rebuke as it was in the Old Testament. 1Cor 14.3 tells us the three essential ingredients of NT prophecy; edification (words that build up); exhortation (words the encourage); comfort (words that strengthen and console). So when we speak an encouraging word we don't need to preface it with "Thus saith the Lord" for it to carry prophetic weight.

There are a number of reasons for this, but chief among them in my opinion is because of the indwelling presence of the Spirit, who witnesses to the truth, John 14.17. That's what He does. When we get a word of encouragement that is from God, something within us resonates in our spirit and we know it is the truth. Now imagine the power of combining touch with encouragement. That can be a awesome means of conveying blessing. Prophetic words of rebuke should be reserved for those who carry a prophetic office and filtered by those who carry the leadership responsibility for the congregation.

Think of how Jesus did this. He spoke to Peter and called him a rock, Matt 16.18. It conveyed the image of stability, reliability, something you could build on and trust in. Jesus spoke to his destiny. Until that moment in time it did not speak to Peter's experience. Peter's mouth often took him to where his character could not keep him. But Jesus saw past all this. He spoke words of encouragement.

Think of the number of times in a day when you encounter people who are grumpy or having a difficult time or even hiding their pain, but you sense it's there. Try reaching out to God for a word of encouragement for them. Try a gentle hand on the shoulder. We need to use the gifts of the Spirit in the workplace where we can truly shape peoples lives by blessing them. Mark Twain once wrote: "I can live for two months on a good compliment."

Encouraging words build up the lives around us. As you affirm others you will benefit. People who express heartfelt encouragement to others find it easier to express gratitude, feel joy and achieve success themselves. Today, go out of your way to positively affirm another person. It will bless them!

Finally we can bless people through prayer. James speaks of healing the sick with oil and prayer; James 5.14-15. Peter was about to face a sifting trial but Jesus could remind him; "I have prayed for you....", Luke 22.31-32. How amazing to know that Jesus prays for us as our great high priest, Heb 7.25. How wonderful that, often, He puts it on to the heart of one of his servants to pray for us too.

Think of how Jesus chose Ananias to go and minister to Saul (Paul the apostle), after his conversion. He took some persuading! Saul of Tarsus had a reputation and Ananias was wary. But in obedience to Jesus he went to him, laid hands on him, prayed for him to see and baptised him. Through this bold step he gave Paul a clear message; "You are valued and accepted". The obedience of Ananias led to Paul being blessed and through him we have been blessed too. We read his letters today!

When the twelve appointed the seven in Acts 6, scripture records their names and says; "Whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. Then the word of God spread and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith", Acts 6.6-7. This event of recognising and appointing new leaders with prayer and laying on of hands led to more disciples, even priests; those considered the hardest to reach at that time. What a blessing.

As we connect through touch, speak words of encouragement that build up and pray for each other, we are conveying the blessing of the Lord that can lead to many believing and being obedient to the faith. It will make a huge difference to their lives. So let me encourage you to step out in this way and be a blessing to someone today.