This week's question comes from a Sunday School teacher. It seems a question arose about the act of blessing. "What is the difference between blessing your children and simply praying over them?"
To answer the question we first have to define what it means to "bless." Now, most of us who "bless" people right and left whenever they sneezed can offer some sort of a reply. But when I asked a couple people what it means to be blessed and I got a variety of responses. "To wish good things on people," was the gist of the most common definition. But when I began to do some research I found that the word bless means much more than a simple wish.
The English root of the word "bless" is from an Old English word relating to blood. Originally the word was related to blood sacrifices and the "cleansing" of the altar by sprinkling blood on it (cf. Leviticus 16.18-19). In modern Christendom, clearly the thought of being blessed was somehow related to the cross-resurrection event of Jesus. But surprisingly, in the original languages the words used for bless have no roots in either blood or sacrifice.
The Hebrew word for bless is berakah which comes from the word meaning to kneel. The word seems to carry with it the thought of elevating, or honoring another above ourselves. In a very real sense, the Hebrew understanding of bless pictures a humble serf bowing before the king. Thus, the notion of "blessing God" (Psalm 68.26) indicates our obeisant attitude towards God in all things. On the other hand, scripture contains many, many more instances of God's promise to bless us and to bless others. In this case, the picture is more of the king honoring and elevating a peasant, a sign of the true humility of God and evidence of a servant's heart.
In Greek the word for bless is eulogeo from where we get the word eulogy. The word seems to carry with it the thought of speaking well of someone, honor, and even flattery. In this case, the Greek understanding of bless pictures someone offering an unsolicited recommendation or building someone up with compliments. In Luke 6.28 when Jesus says, "Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you" he literally is suggesting we say good things to be complimentary about those who say evil things about us. In this case he seems to be making the point my mom used to hammer home, "If you can't say something nice about someone, don't say anything at all." The Greek's understanding of blessing God in Psalm 68.26 would be to recommend God to others and to speak highly of God and God's work.
So, back to our original question, what's the difference between praying for our children and blessing our children (or praying for or blessing anyone else, for that matter)? The word prayer comes from ancient roots meaning to ask. Praying for God to bless someone is to ask God to lift up or honor someone. On the other hand, to bless someone is to get involved on a personal basis, to do or say something that honors, lifts up, and helps another.
When it comes to blessing children there's more to it than praying. Prayer is a great place to start when it comes to child rearing, but blessing our children takes much more than that. In Mark 10.13-16 we see Jesus blessing a group of little children. According to the gospel writer when he put his hands on them he blessed them, literally eulogizing them. Imagine how these children must have felt to have Jesus, the great rabbi of the day, taking a special interest in them, spending time with them, and praising them. Yes, he might well have prayed for them (Matthew 19.13 so indicates), but in the immediate moment what certainly caused the greatest joy in those children was his blessing-the words of comfort and praise he shared.
Now imagine the reaction of our own children if instead of criticizing and punishing, we chose instead to take a special interest in them, spend time with them, and offer words of comfort and praise. Now that would be a blessing.