BR pastor says life is about joy not stuff

At the close of Sunday worship services at First Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Gerrit Dawson asks the congregation that if they will receive the name of the Lord upon their hearts and lives to please stand for the blessing.

He lifts his hands, opens wide his arms and proclaims an expanded version of what is known as Aaron’s Benediction or Blessing, recorded in the Old Testament book of Numbers.

“Now the Lord, I AM, Yahweh, the one true God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make his face to shine upon you, And be gracious unto you,” Dawson says as many in the congregation lift their own hands to receive it. “The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, And give you peace, now and always.”

The congregation replies, “Blessed be the Lord, I AM, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Dawson, 55, is one of thousands of pastors who declare a similar benediction, but he’s taken the concept of blessing to a deeper spiritual level in a new book, “The Blessing Life: A Journey to Unexpected Joy.”

“A blessing life is not about stuff — getting my stuff my way,” Dawson said.

It’s not about so-called health-and-prosperity gospel, or name-it-and-claim-it pseudo-theology.

“It’s not about, ‘God will bless you if you do this,’” he said. “It is about relationship — getting connected to God.”

The 200-page paperback, published by Intervarsity Press, is divided into three sections: Receiving Blessing from God, Returning Blessing to God and Reflecting God’s Blessing to Others.

“It is different than ‘the blessed life’ — how do I become the receptacle for stuff I want,” said Dawson on a sunny afternoon in the church library. “The blessing life is how do I give to others.”

Filled with personal anecdotes and emotional stories of congregants and friends, the 18-chapter book begins with God’s original blessing to mankind through Adam — and his fall from grace — in the Garden of Eden. Divine blessings of Abraham, Ruth and Boaz, David, Jesus, Paul and others are described via 165 Scripture references. The book ends with the return of the Tree of Life described in the Revelation.

The Blessing Life is also a detailed and comprehensive 40-day Bible study and prayer program the church undertook during 2011 Lent.

The congregation’s response was “wonderful,” Dawson said. “People started to live intentionally to bless others.”

Last year they studied “The Blessing of the Cross,” and this Lenten season the church will study “The Blessing of the Resurrection,” Dawson said, themes that may become books.

Several hundred pages that could not fit into the book or study guide, and a leader’s guide, are posted at the church’s website, fpcbr.org.

The power of blessing

“I love to give Aaron’s benediction, and I began to notice that by the end of the third service I was feeling reluctant sometimes to give that blessing because of fatigue. And I realized there is a lot of energy required to give that blessing and a lot of power that comes through it,” Dawson explained.

“In Numbers chapter six, the Lord says, ‘In this way I will place my name upon the people.’ That blessing that the priest gave in the Lord’s name was a way of binding God to his people and his people to God.”

Dawson links the Numbers story to the scene in Luke where Jesus lifts up his hands and blesses the disciples as he ascends to Heaven. He believes Jesus probably declared the same Aaronic Blessing.

“The (Old Testament) priests hoped for the Lord to show favor, and here was God in the flesh actually doing that — here was his actual presence,” Dawson said. “Blessing is a very deep theme in Scripture, and it is all about entering communion with the Triune God in one way or another.”

Dawson coined a term, “the Blessing Dynamic,” which, he explained, is a three-part process or cycle of receiving God’s blessing, returning blessing to God via worship, and reflecting God’s blessing by blessing others in loving service. And when all three components keep recycling on each other the result is joy.

Finding blessing in suffering

Joy, however, was far from the tragic situation Dawson describes in his book’s introduction.

Claire and Steve Wilson lost their first son, Van, 23, who’d nearly completed a U.S. Navy SEAL program, in a car accident several years ago.

“I was very challenged by ‘blessing’ after that happened,” Claire Wilson said in an interview for this story. “I am blessed because of God giving us life and faith in Him.”

“Joy means to still be able to live and function when you have great loss — because it is hope that this isn’t all there is,” she said, wiping away tears. “The blessing is in having the relationship with God that helps you persevere. That is essential.”

Persevering with joy is also described in the book by Susie Tucker, who was diagnosed three years ago with stage four ovarian cancer. Now in remission, following an exhausting but successful regimen of treatment, Tucker exudes joy to all around her.

“Happiness depends on circumstances, and my circumstances were terrible,” Tucker said in an interview. “Even though my circumstances did not change, my attitude toward my circumstances was in my control. I chose to trust the Lord.”

“We think of blessing as material things, but that’s not where joy is. It is with a relationship with the Lord,” Tucker said. “Cancer can’t steal it. Nothing can steal it. That’s what I clung to!”

Discovering the blessing level of God in the midst of suffering is one of the book’s main themes, Dawson said.

“Difficult circumstances are not a barrier to experiencing joy or God’s blessing,” he said. “But, in fact, may be the very means by which we do that.”

Dawson said he hopes the book will energize Christians by opening their eyes to the treasures in Christ and open their hearts to others.

“Once we get into God’s blessing dynamic, it changes our lives and gives us purpose,” he said.

The book is available at the church, 763 North Blvd., and Dawson hopes to soon have it available at local bookstores. It can be ordered from Amazon and Intervarsity Press: ivpress.com.