Two and a half years ago, pastor Mark Batterson’s wife, Lora, was staring down a breast cancer diagnosis. The Christian minister said that kind of trial “is scary and makes the compass spin a little bit.”
“But I really believe joy isn’t getting what you want,” Batterson told Faithwire. “I think joy is appreciating what you have, whether that was Lora’s bout with cancer or even the year of my life that I went through surgeries and more surgeries for my ruptured intestines. I wouldn’t want to go through it again, but when you’ve had a near-death experience, I really do think you live your life a little differently. Every day is a little bit more cherished, I think, in part, because it’s not taken for granted.”
Batterson, founding pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C., is the author of the new book, “Double Blessing: How to Get It. How to Give It.” In the book, he makes the case for finding daily blessings in our lives and passing them on to those around us through a practice he calls “flipping the blessing,” which is forwarding God’s provision for you into the life of someone else, whether that’s with your money, your time, or through your testimony.
There are times, though, when the blessing seems elusive, when the benefit is hidden so deeply within a trial, it’s hard to fathom it’s there at all.
The 50-year-old pastor explored those very seasons in his new book’s seventh chapter, “Blessings in Disguise.” Batterson began the chapter by calling readers’ attention to the words of former President Abraham Lincoln, who, in a letter, wrote, “I am now the most miserable man living.”
“If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth,” Lincoln continued. “Whether I shall ever be better I cannot tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me.”
Lincoln penned those words in 1841, just shy of 20 years before he was elected president of the United States, ultimately becoming the nation’s leading abolitionist.
Batterson also noted the sufferings of the 19th century pastor and theologian Charles Spurgeon, who, exactly two weeks after Lincoln’s inauguration in 1861, moved his congregation into the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. Just before that journey — a blessing in disguise — began, Spurgeon was plagued by doubts, anxiety, and depression. The timing of that difficult season for Spurgeon, Batterson explained in the book, was not a coincidence.
“In 1650,” he wrote, “an English theologian named Thomas Fuller wrote a religious travelogue in which he said, ‘It is always darkest just before the day dawneth.’ Over time, that idea became an axiom: things often seem to be at their worst right before they get better!”
Learn to recognize blessing
In AD 170, Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote, “The impediment to action advances action. What stand in the way becomes the way.” What that means, Batterson wrote, is in times of adversity, “God is increasing my capacity.”
When trouble arises — and it is guaranteed to come in this life — Batterson argued Christians should be ready to “flip the curse” to see the blessing.
“I’m not sure what obstacles you face,” he wrote. “I’m sure some of them seem like unscalable mountains, and it’s awfully tempting to try to go around them. My advice? Go through them, with God’s grace. And when God gets you to the other side, the mountain will have become a level path. The obstacle will have become the way!”
Complications — both those forced by our own mistakes and those that result from the sin in this world — will without a doubt arise. And then, even in the midst of blessing, there will be complications.
In fact, there will be times, Batterson noted, when it’s hard to differentiate between a future blessing and a present curse.
“I think we have to be humble enough to admit upfront that we don’t always know what a blessing or a curse is,” he told Faithwire. “Sometimes, what seems like a curse is that blessing in disguise and sometimes what we think is a blessing, if we don’t steward it the right way, it actually becomes a curse.”
Make gratitude a habit
The best way to see the blessings in our lives — no matter how difficult our trials may be — is by understanding the will of God, which Batterson said is perfectly summarized in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, which reads, “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”
Aware of how difficult it can be sometimes to rest in God’s blessings, Batterson created what he called “the gratitude challenge,” which is inspired by the traditional Jewish teaching to recite 100 blessings every single day.
Batterson’s challenge, though, is not that involved. Instead, he encourages believers to pick three new things every day for 40 days they are grateful for.
“See if that doesn’t change your heart and change your perspective on life,” he said.