By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
It’s arguably the most common hashtag used among Christian cowboys and bull riders but it’s also arguably the most misunderstood.
We place first, we get good results from the doctor, we celebrate an anniversary with our wife or girlfriend or we receive a gift worth sharing with everyone on social media and we immediately tell everyone with the accompanying hashtag or a comment about how blessed we are.
Let’s be clear, it’s not wrong to do that. Our friends care about us and, when we’re walking in Christ, they can celebrate with us. There aren’t too many bull riders or rodeo cowboys who don’t celebrate another guy’s win and they’re going to watch the video you post with the status: “God blessed me with a win tonight. My slump is over.”
There’s a hidden danger here that has greater impact than we realize because of how often we associate material successes and rewards with blessings.
The same beliefs we follow in Scripture are the same beliefs that are followed by Christians living in Nigeria where members of the Fulani people now outpace Isis and Boko Haram for attacks on Christians.
Where is the blessing if members of your family were murdered in their church by a group of Fulani raiders that came through your village and burned down your homes?
It’s there. It’s in hardship that we actually find a deeper understanding of what it means to be blessed.
James 1:12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial.
Throughout scripture, we see blessings associated with hardship or lower standing compared to our culture, not success.
But when we associate blessings with success, we are unintentionally creating a false idea that when we’re struggling, God is somehow not there for us. It creates questions for people. Where is God when you your cancer is healed but I’ve got three weeks to live?
It’s here that we need God the most, when the cancer comes, when the bills are due and you lost your job and haven’t won money at a rodeo in weeks or your girlfriend empties out the house and leaves while you’re on a three-day run two states away.
In our culture, we’ve taught ourselves not to feel very blessed when life isn’t going our way and other cultures, that observe ours, are taught to pursue God to receive the gains we have when our country’s poorest are still seen as rich compared to them.
The misunderstanding of what blessings are can actually take our eyes off of God but when we understand what they are, they show us how much we need and depend on Him.
When we remain steadfast, refuse to waiver or back down as we fight through a trial, we have an opportunity to rely on God for that strength. It is in that dependence on God that we are able to grow closer to Him, become more Christ-like and it is in that way that we are blessed.
A very quick look at part of the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus delivers as seen in Matthew shows us more of this dependence on God and shift away from material blessings. (We’ll get into more detail on these verses in a later part of this series.)
Matthew 5:3-12 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
For example, in verse 4, we see a blessing come when we are mourning or grieving—that in those hard times, our blessing can come in the comfort we find in relying on God.
Even more, we are told we can rejoice in being persecuted for our faith because the greatest rewards aren’t in material blessings here but in what is yet to come as we prepare for an eternity and perfect life in Heaven.
It’s on that understanding that we have to rely on when standing up for our faith costs us our job, a more common form of persecution in western culture right now, or when our African village is destroyed by another religion that hates us.