I never knew his name, but, even now, nearly 30 years later, I can see his shining face, radiant with joy, and hear his words: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
I didn’t know it then, but that old man, dressed in a Salvation Army uniform, who stood at the entrance to the supermarket, ringing his bell and blessing everyone who put their spare change in the red kettle, had more of an impact on my life than I realized at the time.
At first I classified him as a “religious nut.” But he didn’t stand on street corners with a black leather-bound Bible, preaching doom and gloom for sinners. All he did was smile and bless. His entire face radiated a joy I couldn’t understand. How could he be so happy when all I put in the kettle was a quarter?
Years later, I realized his words were the priestly benediction God told Moses and Aaron to bless Israel with (Numbers 6:24-26). I was being blessed! I went from snickering to feeling embarrassed to coveting his blessing. Now, I find myself repeating his words when I’m standing on a curb at a crosswalk and someone stops so I can cross the street. Or when another driver signals me to go first. Or when the cashier actually smiles and acts as though I’m not an interruption. Whenever someone does something kind for me, I bless them.
I also find myself praying for others who don’t seem so cheerful. Perhaps that tired-looking salesperson was up all night with a sick child. Perhaps that snippy receptionist at the other end of the line is having a bad day. You just don’t know what worries and troubles folks are enduring. It’s easier to condemn and criticize than to show compassion and understanding. It’s more natural to pout than to pray, to curse than to bless.
But that old man showed me just how simple it really is to bless.
“Whatever is in your heart,” Jesus said, “determines what you say. A good person produces words from a good heart, and an evil person produces words from an evil heart” (Matthew 25:34-35). James tells us that blessing and cursing should not come from the same mouth. “Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water?” (James 3:10)
I still find myself at times wanting to curse rather than bless, especially when someone does something that hurts me. But then I remember that old Salvation Army man, and I smile and begin, “The Lord bless you and keep you . . .”
Because I know, like me, that person needs a special touch from God today.
Dear God, when I find myself wanting to criticize or curse, remind me that prayer and blessing work much better. Amen.
Special-Tea: Matthew 12:33-37