In her book Adventures in Prayer, Catherine Marshall speaks of a family whose household is full of stress and distress largely caused by a hypercritical, generally irritable aunt who lives with them. Catherine’s advice to the mother of the family is that she pray for God’s blessings upon the aunt. The woman had prayed many times that the aunt’s attitude and behavior be changed, but she had not prayed for God’s joyous blessing upon her. Marshall goes on to remind us that someone who is blessed is someone who is happy. The beatitudes in some translations read, “Blessed are …” Other translations read, “Happy are…”
When we pray God’s blessing upon another person – especially a person with whom we find it difficult to be in relationship – it changes our outlook toward that person. It helps us see them in a more positive (or at least not all negative) light. But I believe the power of this prayer goes far beyond a psychological shift on the part of the pray-er. I believe this prayer opens doors for God to work in both people, to open their eyes to see the beauty in one another, and to plant and nurture the seeds of love.
I also believe it changes the way we behave toward the other person. In my weekly prayers from the pulpit, I often ask God to show us how, where, and when we are being called to be the Body of Christ in the world. How are we being called to be part of the answer to the prayers we bring before God when we pray for God to relieve suffering or loneliness? When we pray the prayer of joyous blessing for someone, calling God’s blessing upon them we must also pray asking God how we are called to be a part of that blessing.
Now this all sounds pretty and nice and easy. It’s not. It’s not easy to pray for someone who has hurt you or caused you distress to experience God’s blessing. It’s not easy to let go of our own frustration and bitterness and desire for revenge or at least for pay back, and ask God to bless someone who makes our lives difficult. Not only is it not easy, it is often so difficult that it can’t be accomplished by our own power. We must call on the power of God’s Spirit to even be able to think, much less utter words of blessing for some people. The good news is, God is at work. God is willing even when we aren’t.