Open Hands: How to Appropriately Respond to God’s Blessings
If we think we deserve God’s blessings, we will be disappointed when He does not provide them, thereby causing us to question His sovereignty and goodness. However, when we realize that we sin incessantly and immediately deserve God’s eternal condemnation, we will understand that every breath is an undeserved gift of God.
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
-Matthew 6:31-33, ESV
In Christian circles, we often talk extensively about trials and how to walk through them by faith. This is the right emphasis, as our lives are filled with various trials. There are numerous books, seminars, and other media to prepare people for suffering in various ways and teach them how to endure any number of trials. But that emphasis can come at the expense of adequately preparing us for blessings. At first we may think such preparation would be unnecessary. After all, who really needs to know how to prepare for good times? But blessings bring temptations that trials do not, so we are wise to prepare for them just as we prepare for trials. In good times, we are tempted to rely on ourselves and neglect God (Proverbs 30:8-9), give into thinking that we deserve these blessings and therefore receive them without thankfulness (1 Corinthians 4:7), and let our guard down and thus leave ourselves susceptible to temptation to sin (2 Samuel 11). I talk more about that last one my leadership paper when describing how successful people are more prone to compromise ethically in good times than hard times. That alone should be enough to cause us to approach good times with caution. Indeed blessings are often a test just like trials—and I would venture to say that more people fail tests of blessing than trials (Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, Luke 18:25). When facing times of blessing, I want to focus on two opposite but serious temptations we face: claiming for ourselves what God has not given us and stiff-arming them out of fear of disappointment.
Don’t “Name it and Claim it”
On the one hand, it is tempting to think we deserve blessings from God, claiming any pleasant promise in Scripture for ourselves. We read these passages and assume that God is promising to provide us with wealth, family, health, and a myriad of other blessings just because a verse refers to them. In reality, many of these verses are not specific promises to everyone. In some cases, they are not promises at all but general principles. This is true of most of Proverbs and many blessings in the psalms. Here are a few examples:
“He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers”
-Psalm 1:3, ESV
“Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart”
-Psalm 37:4, ESV
“For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but whoever listens to me [wisdom] will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.”
-Proverbs 1:32-33, ESV
“Long life is in her [wisdom’s] right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed.”
-Proverbs 3:16-18, ESV
Other examples include Psalm 91:10 and Proverbs 12:21. All of these link righteousness and wisdom with blessings like wealth and long life, but we can all think of numerous examples where upright people suffer from poverty, disease, and early death. These verses are general statements and thus are not promises for every person. Additionally, there are promises that are for specific people, even if their subject is not immediately evident. For example, Hillsong’s “You Said” includes a line about asking God to give us the nations, but that is from Psalm 2:8, which is a promise to Jesus not us. Therefore, we cannot claim that promise since we are not Jesus. God is not some cosmic vending machine where we insert our coins of faith or good works and thus compel Him to bless us. This means that we must not view God’s blessings as somehow owed to us. If we think we deserve God’s blessings, we will be disappointed when He does not provide them, thereby causing us to question His sovereignty and goodness. However, when we realize that we sin incessantly and immediately deserve God’s eternal condemnation, we will understand that every breath is an undeserved gift of God. Then, when God takes away blessings or withholds them from us, we will not question Him but say with Job: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).
While we often avoid the temptation to openly claim God’s blessings as if we deserve them, the greater temptation lies in secret. When we lack a certain blessing or when that blessing seems imminent, we can be given to fantasizing about that blessing. In that sense, we are mentally claiming that blessing for ourselves and therefore displaying a lack of contentment with our current situation. It is certainly true that God can give us earnest desires for these blessings. It is also true that some level of imagination is often required in the godly process of discernment. But if we allow those desires to take center stage and fail to rein in our imaginations, we can easily cross into the sin of covetousness. Years ago when a friend was struggling with such thoughts about whether to pursue a romantic relationship, he came to a realization through study of Scripture that there are only two biblical was to think of women in the church: wife or sister. There is no third category of “future wife”. She was not his wife, so the only biblical way he could view her was as his sister in Christ. Later, he met and eventually married a different woman. Looking back now, he can be thankful that God withheld the blessing of the relationship in that moment and helped him be content in his situation until God eventually did give him that blessing.