Ever since I studied the life of Mary of Nazareth, Jesus’s mother, and wrote a 31-day devotional study, I choose my words with care around the concept of blessing. I think twice now before using the phrase “I am blessed” or the hashtag “blessed.”
In the western world, blessings typically refer to our good fortune or whatever makes our lives comfortable. We feel blessed when a new countertop graces our cabinetry, the trip goes without delay, our children make us look good, or the Wi-Fi is strong.
However, problems arise when we equate material blessing with God’s favor. If we are blessed because we possess physical comforts and live in a wealthy nation, we communicate that those who do not have these same things are not loved by God. And what about believers in poverty-stricken nations or those who suddenly fall ill? Does this mean they are not blessed?
We keep using this word—blessed—especially at this time of the year. But as Inigo Montoya famously said in the movie, The Princess Bride, “I do not think it means what you think it means.” At least not according to the Bible.
One of the two1 Greek words translated as blessed in the New Testament is makarios and means “happy or fortunate, truly well off.”2 This word refers to those for whom everything is good. Makarios speaks of life in the kingdom of God and never refers to material or physical benefits.”3
Mary of Nazareth is called makarios several times in Scripture. Keeping in mind that she also experienced much pain, she teaches us what it means to be blessed.
To be blessed is to believe
We know that God gave Mary an honorable task, but we learn the true source of her good fortune and happy state when Elizabeth, her cousin, declares, “Blessed is she who believed that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled (Luke 1:45).
[Mary] was blessed, not because she had the privilege of birthing and raising the Son of God, but because she believed God’s word proclaimed through the angel—that God could do the impossible by giving her a son and that son would be the Savior.4
Jesus spoke this same truth to all of us when he said, “Blessed are the people who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
To be blessed is to be in the kingdom of God
Jesus spoke his Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3–11) to a society that defined blessedness by wealth, health, religion (Jewish), and gender (male). By these standards, Mary would not have qualified to be The Blessed Mother. “But Jesus turned that thinking upside down” and “invited women, the handicapped, the penniless, the half-Jew, the marginalized, and immigrant into his kingdom.”5 By doing so, he redefined the whole concept of blessing.
Jesus invited Mary into his kingdom. And we know that Mary accepted the invitation of her son—the Son of God—because she attended the prayer meeting that birthed the church (Acts 1:13–14).6
Like Mary, we too are invited to become a citizen of God’s kingdom no matter our pedigree, education, or social status.
To be blessed is to obey
Jesus added yet another dimension to blessing when he replied to a random fan in the crowd who tried to exalt Mary by shouting, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts at which you nursed!” But he replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” (Luke 11:27–28).
Mary was blessed, not because she was Jesus’s mother, but because she heard his word and obeyed. And she indicated this when she responded to the angel’s commission, “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38 ESV), and she became a disciple of the kingdom of God.7
Scripture tells us more than once that we, too, will be blessed if we obey what we read in God’s Word (John 13:17, James 1:25).
If this is what blessed means, then what do we do with #blessed?
Be grateful. One of the words for thankful in Greek is “charis”8 which means grace. Therefore, to be thankful is “to have grace,” to acknowledge that all we have is from the gracious hand of God.
Now, instead of telling others “you are a blessing to me,” I try to be more specific and choose my words with sensitivity. In doing so, I don’t imply that God loves me more or less than someone else because I have been given different material possessions or relationships. I tell them, rather, how they have encouraged, challenged, or inspired me. I tell them I am grateful for them.9
According to the biblical definition, in what ways are you blessed?
Gracious Father, thank you for the good life you give to me out of your generous grace. I have many comforts which I did not earn, nor do I deserve. I am so grateful. But I acknowledge that I am blessed even when things do not go my way, when I suffer, or go without because I am a member of your kingdom. I am blessed to be your disciple, and as that, I strive to believe your word and obey you.
1 The other word is eulogeo and means to speak well of. Scripture associates this word with spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3), benedictions (Luke 1:42), prayers (Mark 8:7), and God himself (Mark 14:61, Luke 1:68).
3 Eva Burkholder, Favored Blessed Pierced: A Fresh Look at Mary of Nazareth (Richardson, TX: Pondered Treasures Books, 2019), 57.
4 Ibid., 57.
5 Ibid., 59.
6 Ibid., 60.
7 Ibid., 64.
9 Ibid., 72.