Summary: Much of our anxiety and stress grows out of our attempts to live according to worldly standards. We will find peace when we are grounded in our God-given identity, Christ's new creation.
There was a New York Times article making the rounds on social media this week called “Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me.” This article was written by Kate Bowler, who is a historian of the American Prosperity Gospel, and the author of the recent book, Blessed. To oversimplify it a bit, the Prosperity Gospel teaches that faithful followers of Christ will be blessed with material riches, and author Kate Bowler explores the history and practice of the Prosperity Gospel in America in her book. The article in the New York Times, though, is about something a little different. You see, Kate, who is 35, found out a few months ago that she has stage 4 cancer. In light of this discouraging diagnosis, her New York Times article reflects on blessedness, and how we Christians in America tend to essentially “throw the word around” without any thought to it’s true meaning.
Listen to this reflection in the article: “Over the last 10 years, ‘being blessed’ has become a full-fledged American phenomenon. Drivers can choose between the standard, mass-produced ‘Jesus Is Lord’ novelty license plate or ‘Blessed’ for $16.99 in a tasteful aluminum. When an ‘America’s Next Top Model’ star took off his shirt, audiences saw [blessed] tattooed above his bulging pectorals. When Americans boast on Twitter about how well they’re doing on Thanksgiving, #blessed is the standard hashtag. It is the humble brag of the stars. #Blessed is the only caption suitable for viral images of alpine vacations and family yachting in barely there bikinis. It says: ‘I totally get it. I am down-to-earth enough to know that this is crazy.’ But it also says: ‘God gave this to me. [Adorable shrug.] Don’t blame me, I’m blessed.’”
If we are so “blessed” as we Americans tend to say we are, it begs the question, “Why are we still so miserable?” Why do we worry? Why are we anxious? Why does peace seem so elusive? Last week, we began our journey to find peace by trying to let go of those things that cause us worry and anxiety, and to focus instead on being grateful for all the good that is around us. As we continue to seek peace this week, I hope we can find a fresh perspective on life by discovering our true, God-given identity.
So let me just quickly begin by answering this question I’ve just raised. If we Americans are so “blessed,” then why are we still so miserable? The short answer here, which is also basically the conclusion of Kate Bowler’s article, is that we measure “blessedness” by the wrong standard. For us, “being blessed” often means achieving the American dream and all that goes with that. But listen to what Jesus says about being blessed: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Just give this a little thought with me for a minute. When was the last time you said, “My sister died. I’m blessed!” Or, “I’m so blessed! I got to break up a fight between some democrats and republicans today!” Or how about this one, “Someone got in my face today and told me what horrible slimebags Christians are, especially me. I’m certainly blessed!” We don’t say these things, do we? Such experiences don’t seem like blessings to us, and yet Christ tells us these are the ways of the blessed. So, as we seek peace, what are we to make of all this? Well, in short, we’ve got to realize that we’ve “got it all wrong.”
So much of the stress and anxiety we experience today is a result of the fact that we measure our lives against worldly standards. We consider “blessings” only in the American way. We want the great life our neighbor seems to have, or the promotion that our colleague just got, or whatever. And we drive ourselves crazy trying to achieve these empty goals. Or as Mark pointed out in his book, Finding Peace in an Anxious World, we criticize others to make ourselves look better. So, as Mark suggests, one step to finding peace in our lives is humbling ourselves; not criticizing others, not boasting about our so-called blessings, and not comparing ourselves to other people—in particular people who have achieved only worldly success. So humility undermines all the worldly trappings, but in order to be humble and really find peace, I think we have to take this one step further and ground ourselves in our God-given identity.