Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Audio Transcript

How can I meaningfully bless my children before bedtime? I love this question. It’s from a dad named Wes. “Hello, Pastor John. My question is about blessing my children. I have three boys, six and under. Among the household duties that I regularly assume is bedtime. I have, since each was born, sang ‘Jesus Loves Me’ to them every night, thousands of times, inserting their names into the lyrics. I am stunned at the impact this little song has. Even when a child is melting down and revolting against being put to bed, they will not let me skip the song. Additionally, I pray for each son.

“Now, I have decided to give each of my boys a blessing. It will be given to them nightly and must be theologically rich, since it will be memorized by them through the years. There are so many biblical truths I want them to understand and carry into adulthood. I cannot seem to find the right words or Scriptures to incorporate them all. If you were writing (or selecting) a blessing for your son to carry throughout his life, how would you do it, and maybe more specifically, what truths would you want them to hear every night?”

Well, since Wes seems to me to be so far ahead of most parents here, let me cheat a little bit on his question and back up and give some words of explanation and foundation and encouragement, I hope, before I say something brief in response to his particular question about a content for the blessing of his children. What I mean when I say he’s ahead of most parents is that I would guess very few parents actually have given a lot of thought to what a blessing over their children would look like, or whether they should do it at all, or why they should do it, or what it should include, like he’s asking.

From Me to You — Through God

In answering Wes, I want to encourage parents who maybe have never even thought that this is a good idea to give it some serious consideration — namely, blessing: speaking a blessing over their children regularly, perhaps nightly, as they put them to bed. So, a little background and explanation: the most famous blessing in the Bible is probably Numbers 6:24–26:

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

Now, here’s what’s unique about a blessing like that as opposed to a simple prayer. In prayer, we are talking directly to God, and when we use the word you in prayer we mean: you, God. We’re not talking directly to people when we pray, even though corporate prayer is good, and it’s intended that people are to hear us and say amen when we pray.

But in a blessing, we are talking directly to people or a person. And when we use the word you, we don’t mean God; we mean you — the person we’re talking to. And yet we are intending for God to be the one who acts in response to our blessing. In other words, a blessing is moving in two directions. We really do intend for two persons to hear what we are saying: the one we are addressing directly, and God, whom we intend to hear us and will give the blessing on the person that we’re talking to.

So when we say, “The Lord bless you and keep you,” we are directly speaking to another person or group of people, but we’re asking the Lord to do the blessing. When we bless someone, we’re making plain that we believe God is the decisive actor, but that he uses human means to perform his act of blessing.

If we don’t believe that, we wouldn’t be speaking the blessing. Our speaking, we believe — that’s why we do it — is part of God’s way of doing the blessing. This is what’s unique and powerful and precious about a blessing. In the very act of blessing, we become part of the means by which God blesses the person that we’re speaking to. So, the relationship that such a blessing forges is part of the blessing that God imparts. This is why it can be so powerful with our children. The blessing is coming from God through Daddy. It’s coming from God through Daddy. That’s a very powerful moment as children come to understand what’s going on here.

Bless Like Jesus

So, here are a couple of bridges between the Old Testament practice. You might wonder, “Well yeah, they did that in the Old Testament. Where’s that in the New Testament?” Here are some bridges from an Old Testament blessing like Numbers 6.

For example, you have Isaac blessing his sons by faith in Hebrews 11:20–21, which refers back to the Old Testament. Or for example, Jesus says in Mark 10:15–16,

“Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.

It’s a very Christlike thing to do: to bless children, laying our hands on our children as we speak a blessing over them.

Grace Ahead, Grace Behind

Now, what guidance do we get from the apostles as to what a Christian might say in a blessing on another Christian or on a child or a family? Here are a couple of pointers.

It’s amazing to me that at the beginning of every single letter that Paul wrote, he says something like, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7). And it’s at the beginning of every letter.

And at the end of every single letter — no exceptions — he writes something like, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (Romans 16:20). Now, these are the kind of blessings Paul pronounces over the recipients of his letters. They’re addressed to the readers, to you. He’s saying, “You, readers.” But they are intended to call down grace and peace from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus. So, Paul expects that his words will be part of the blessing that God imparts with grace and peace to the readers.

And I think the reason he says, “Grace to you” or “Grace be to you” at the beginning of the letters and “Grace be with you” at the end of the letters — without exception — is that the divine truth of the letter itself is part of the powerful grace that is coming to them as they read the letter. And then the abiding effects of the truth-mediated blessing coming to them in the letter go with them as they get up and leave the reading of the letter and enter into their daily lives.

From Whom All Blessings Flow

So, the biblical content, you might say, of our blessing spoken over our children is found between the beginning and the end of Paul’s epistles. If you want to know what to bless your children with, you need to read the epistles of Paul. And if we would go to the heart of the matter, I think you would let Romans 8:32 guide the content of your blessing. Here it goes:

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

In other words, make sure that God’s unfathomable gift of his Son to die for us is placed as the foundation of all grace and all peace and all the blessings that come to your children. And then summarize that grace and peace with words surrounding Romans 8:32 in the rest of Romans 8: called, justified, inseparably kept through hardship, through suffering, for the enjoyment of God’s presence forever.

Here’s a little advertisement: I think one of the best guides is David Michael’s booklet titled “A Father’s Guide to Blessing His Children.”

So in sum, look your children in the eye, and speak grace and peace into their lives based on the gift of God in the death of Jesus. And make plain the central blessings that Christ has purchased for his children: freedom from sin, everlasting life, everlasting joy, the personal presence of God — of Jesus — keeping them through all the hardships of life and suffering.