The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.
This most famous of the Biblical blessings is often used in formal ceremonies like weddings and graduations. Besides sounding beautiful, what is the point of Biblical blessings? And what is their place in our ordinary lives?
Labels that free us
This blessing from Numbers is included in the instructions that God gave to Aaron and his sons (the new priests for Israel). Along with vows and practices unique to the Levitical priests, God tells these leaders that they are to bless the people.
In verse 27, God says through Moses, “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” In some ways, a blessing is a label. In Western culture, we usually think of labels as being a bad thing; they seem to restrict us and make us less than we really are. Examples of labels include being identified by our hobbies: “I’m not only a dancer or a soccer player.” Or being identified by our struggles: “Being bipolar is not the definition of who I am, it’s just something I’m going through right now.”
But blessings from God are labels that free us. “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel.” When you are blessed in the name of God, you are identified as belonging to him. You’re being reminded that you are part of his family, he is committed to you, and he will take care of you.
Using choice words
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21).
Sometimes it’s easy to feel the power of death in people’s words. Sharp accusations or criticisms can wound us for life. They say it takes seven positive comments to balance a single negative comment made.
Blessing is a way of using the power of the tongue to bring life.
Just as hurtful words are more painful when the person delivering them is important to us, blessings are more meaningful when the person pronouncing them is coming from a place either of authority or of close relationship to us.
Blessing from a place of authority
God instructed the priests to pronounce this blessing from their place of intermediating between God and his people. They were messengers and human stand-ins for God, helping Israel to know how to live for and with God.
Jesus would use his priestly authority to bless people as well. For instance, in a significant moment of awareness about who Jesus is, he gave Simon a new label:
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:17-19).
Jesus used choice words to label Peter as a founding leader in the church, one who would have powerful and lasting ministry.
Blessing from a place of relationship
In the Beatitudes (“blessed are the poor in spirit,” for example), Jesus was placing labels of “chosen, happy, and destined for good things” on people who usually would be thought of as down-and-out, lacking, or discarded by God. This is one reason we should consider using blessings in our daily lives, not just at weddings, graduations, and the like.
We often reserve blessings for times when people are already experiencing the joy of being favored by God and by others. It’s more like an observation than a proclamation. This is probably because blessings feel a little formal, so we keep them safe in the context of prewritten ceremonies.
But what about the times when people really need to be reminded that they are favored and chosen by God? This is where we find Jesus, saying things like, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” To those who don’t seem to have much going for them, Jesus declares that God honors meekness and loves to lift up the humble.
We can bless those we love by reminding them of the truth of who they are to God and who God is to them.
Sometimes blessings don’t use the word “bless.” When my husband and I were raising funds to become missionaries, we visited numerous small churches. Often the pastor would call everyone up to pray for us and in that one summer, at three different churches, someone prayed this blessing over us, “The Lord will prepare for you a table in the presence of your enemies” (Psalm 23:5). We desperately needed to be reminded that God was going to go with us, provide for us, and protect us in this unknown land we were entering.
This story has a prophetic element to it; miraculously, God led three different people to pray the same thing over us. But did those people realize they were participating in a prophetic word? They didn’t seem to. They were just stating fact; this is the God we serve, and you belong to him. So you can be sure that when you are in a strange place, with strange people, he will do what he promised to do in Psalm 23.
Whether or not your blessings for someone include the word “bless” or end up being a prophetic word for someone, you can remind people of the truth in critical moments. This does require a bit of courage and might sometimes seem a little awkward. But your simple blessing can breathe life and strength into someone who needs it.
Blessing to forgive
Another form of blessing has to do with those who deserve to be cursed. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).
Blessing can be a powerful tool for forgiveness. When you are hurt, your natural inclination is to retaliate in self-defense. Although such a response may be justified, Jesus calls us to stop the cycle of retaliation by blessing those who curse us.
One way we can practically implement this clear instruction from Jesus is to pray blessings over those with whom we’re angry. I don’t know about you, but I find myself rehearsing people’s wrongs in my prayers sometimes. Especially when I set out to forgive someone, I often get stuck in a complaining session with God.
The very best way I know to actively forgive someone is to regularly pray for God to bless them. In fact, every time feelings of anger or jealousy rise up inside, we can turn those feelings into blessings for that person.
For instance, “God I’m remembering those hurtful words said to me. But I know you’ve granted that person a powerful tongue for a reason. Bless her with life-giving words to share with others. Bless her with an ever-increasing understanding of your character. Bless her with a wonderful day today and bless me too while you’re at it.”
Reading scripture aloud
Another simple way you can incorporate blessing into your daily life is to read scripture aloud in the presence of others. Again, this can be a little awkward, but it is meaningful to remind people what God has said. Written blessings can be helpful too.
I know parents who pray the “May the Lord bless you and keep you” passage over their kids every day on their way out the door. I’ve held onto a card written by my campus pastor where she wrote out Psalm 20 as a blessing over me (look it up, it’s wonderful!) Around the world, countless blessings are being declared over God’s people every day as we keep reminding each other of the goodness of God and labeling one another as belonging to him.
Suggested blessings from the Bible
Photo credit: Unplash/Rosie Fraser
Allie Boman is a wife, mom, follower of Jesus and freelance writer in the Chicago area. She served for fifteen years with Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship and studied classical piano in college. She loves to cook ethnic food and explore new places with her family. Her personal blog is QuickReads.blog. She’d love to connect with you!