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Bless Your People

If you sneeze and someone is nearby to hear you, you’ll likely hear them say, “Bless you!”

According to grammarist.com, Gesundheit is an interjection used to wish good health to someone who has just sneezed. It comes from the German language, where it means, literally, “Health!” In German it is used as the equivalent of the English, “God bless you” or “bless you.”

In my experience, that’s about the only time I ever hear anyone intentionally blessing another. We talk a lot about God’s blessing. We bless others by our service and acts of charity. But the art of blessing others with touch and words is all but dead. Most people have never known the consistent presence of someone speaking blessing over them. The need for blessing is real, but we don’t know what we’ve been missing until we experience it. This happened for me when I was about 21 years old.

My dad grew up under the thumb of an abusive alcoholic father. Although Dad never touched alcohol when I was growing up, the affects of being raised in that environment spoke to his parenting. He was a good provider, but never knew how to express himself emotionally. I knew he loved me. He just never said as much.

I was home on summer break, about to start my third year at Ozark Christian College. I needed to know how my dad felt about my educational choices and potential vocational path. He’d been deeply hurt years before by how folks in our home church had handled some family issues we’d had. He was still a man of faith, but I wasn’t sure what he thought about my decision to enter full-time ministry.


“My dad grew up under the thumb of an abusive alcoholic father.”


I was in the kitchen getting some ice cream. My dad and stepmom were sitting at the dining room table. Dad was reading the newspaper. I stuttered, “So, Dad, what do you think of me continuing my education at Ozark? I mean, are you okay with me maybe working in a church or something like that?”

I was watching him not look up from his newspaper, and he mumbled something that I couldn’t hear. He shrugged his shoulders and kept reading. I remember thinking, Well, that’s about as good as I’m going to get. I hadn’t hoped for a whole lot more, and in that moment, I figured that approval from Dad wasn’t as important as obedience to God. At least he hadn’t objected.

What I hadn’t noticed was how my stepmom’s face was getting red. It startled me when she pounded her hand on the table, her voice trembling as she nearly shouted, “That’s all he gets?! Your son is asking for your blessing on the call of God on his life, and you can’t even look up from your newspaper?!”

My dad looked like he’d been shot. I wanted to run, but instead I quietly sat down beside my dad as he tried to process what just happened and what I really needed. After some difficulty, he was able to say how his dad had never given his approval on anything he ever did. My Dad had lived his life without the blessing of his father, so he never knew how to bless his own children.


“My Dad had lived his life without the blessing of his father, so he never knew how to bless his own children.”


He proceeded to say what he could to give me the green light on following where I felt God was leading me. We stood up and he gave me a hug, something that didn’t happen very often at that time in our relationship. That’s what I needed. Some words from my dad and a touch of affirmation

Fast forward about 15 years. I’m married, have four kids, and am preaching in a church in southeast Kansas. Before Christmas one year, my wife encouraged me to carve out a space on Christmas Day for me, as a father, to individually bless our kids by touch and intentional wording. Our girls were young—preschool to early elementary, and our son was a young teenager.

I was stuck between fear, shame, and a desire to be for my kids what my dad struggled to be for me. I loved my kids. I made a habit of showing them affection and telling them that I loved them. But to have a formal time set aside on Christmas morning to take each child aside, in front of the others, to pronounce love and blessing over them created a lot of anxiety in me. But my wife was right. I needed to do this.


“My wife was right. I needed to do this.”


Christmas morning came. We have Christmas morning traditions just like any other family. But then my wife gave me the gentle nudge and asked me if I was still okay with doing this. I was extraordinarily nervous but I said yes. We sat the kids down and I explained what we were about to do. I had some handwritten notes to prompt my memory. I started with our oldest and worked my way to the youngest. I didn’t ask my teenage son, but I did gather each of the younger ones on my lap one at a time. I looked each of my kids in the eye, and told them how much they mattered to me, how they were loved by God, and something uniquely special about each of them that I noticed and appreciated.

I got through that, took a deep breath, looked at my wife, and she was smiling. And I knew she had helped me start something good.

The next year on Christmas morning, we did it all again.

The next year, my oldest daughter, probably seven years old at the time, excitedly sat down on the floor in front of me with happy, eager eyes and asked, “Are you going to bless me again this year, Daddy?” That’s what she needed. Some words from her father and a touch of affirmation.


“Are you going to bless me again this year, Daddy?”


Kids may not know it, but they are hungry for face-to-face, eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart connection. They long for parental guidelines and approval. They need us to see for them what they cannot comprehend about themselves. They need our blessing.

Fast forward a few years. I’m standing on a sidewalk in front of our church building talking to one of our young deacons on a summer evening. He’s married, has a few young kids, and has really made great strides in deepening his faith, strengthening his marriage, and serving the church. There was a time when he was far from God, but that was then. Trouble was, when I stood there with him, it was clear he didn’t feel he was doing enough. I could sense a lot of regret in him, self-doubt, and fear. The Holy Spirit nudged me in the moment, so I stopped him, grabbed his shoulders, and said, “Look, I know this seems really hard right now. But you’re a good father to your kids. You love your wife. I just want you to know that I’m really proud of the man you’ve become.” And then I just wrapped him up in a bear hug.

Sounds cheesy, I know. But when we both finished wiping our eyes, he just looked at me like he almost believed what I said. I walked home that night realizing I had crossed a line from needing the blessing of my father, to blessing my children, to being a spiritual father to other young men who need to hear what their fathers never told them. He needed some words of blessing and a touch of affirmation.


“Look, I know this seems really hard right now. But you’re a good father to your kids.”


Fast forward almost ten years to the spring of 2022. I am preaching through a series called “Prayers of Scripture,” and one of the sermons is on words of benediction. Benediction is a word that just means blessing, often describing words of invocation at a worship gathering. It didn’t take me long to collect many of the prayers of benediction found in Scripture. I kept a copy of those prayers by my desk so I could use them frequently as I prayed with people or sent a text or email.

And then I received a copy of a book called Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. Every day’s meditation ends with the same four lines:

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you wherever He may send you
May He guide you through the wilderness, protect you in the storm
May he bring you back rejoicing at the wonders he has shown you
May he bring you back rejoicing, once again, in through our doors.

So, one Sunday last fall, instead of the usual, “See ya’ll next week!” I decided to end the service with that blessing. It was received with smiles and some curiosity. I said it again the next week. Not much feedback. I said it for four Sundays straight. Folks began to notice. After six months, it’s become part of the rhythm and expectation of our gathering. For some, it’s one of the best parts of the morning. People long for a blessing—not from me—but the blessing of God from the mouth of their shepherd. I’ve said it so often now that I have it memorized. This enables me to make eye contact with some. They smile back. Others stand there with eyes closed and faces lifted to heaven to receive God’s peace. It’s very powerful—sometimes I have trouble finishing because I’m getting emotional.


“After six months, it’s become part of the rhythm and expectation of our gathering.”


Every once in a while, I use the Aaronic blessing in Numbers 6. I’ve used other passages of benediction such as Hebrews 13:20-21 or Romans 15:13.

One Sunday, I intentionally just said something “normal” like “Have a great week!” I didn’t even make it to the back door of the sanctuary before one of our men playfully grabbed my arm and said, “Hey, where’s my blessing?!”

Whether you’re a preacher, elder, teacher, greeter, or someone on your church’s coffee team, bless your people. Bless them and be a blessing. Pronounce over them the peace and presence of the living Christ. And if they’ll let you, give them an appropriate level of physical touch. People of all ages are hungry for it, and most don’t even know it.

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