In the April, 2018 General Conference, President Nelson made a reference to a man who blessed his baby, but failed to give his child a blessing. He called it a “missed opportunity.” Priesthood blessings are not the easiest things in the world to give, being easy for some and most difficult for others. Let’s look at what is involved in the process of giving a priesthood blessing. This article is just as important for the sisters in our midst as it is for the brethren.
Two parts to a blessing
Sometimes blessings are given where that is all that is done, just the blessing. Other times the blessing comes at the end of an ordinance, or as part of a setting apart for a calling, or some other occasion where something is being done with the priesthood authority. I have a whole series of short articles on how to perform priesthood ordinances, along with printable cards for each ordinance. You can find them here. That series of articles addresses the mechanics of performing the ordinances. This article addresses the what and wherefores of just the blessing part.
Some blessings are administrations to the sick which require consecrated oil. What we are talking about here is what happens after the administration part (see the link above). Some blessings are given after a setting apart for a calling or after an ordination to an office in the priesthood. Again, this article talks about what happens after all the mechanics of priesthood have been addressed.
Once all other considerations have been dealt with, and it is now up to you, as the voice for the blessing, to pronounce a blessing upon the head of the person sitting or lying down before you, it is up to you to exercise your faith in the priesthood you hold. I am going to speak from personal experience here because I have never heard any prophet or apostle speak this specifically about giving blessings. We know that there are two types of blessing, blessings of comfort and blessings of healing. But there is actually a third type that is probably used more than both the other two combined, and that is the blessing of need. This last type is the kind of blessing given when someone is set apart for a new calling.
The point of a blessing
Why do we give blessings? President Nelson said that the father who gave his child a name that Sunday, but failed to bless his child, only asked prayers in behalf of his child. So what are we supposed to accomplish when we give a blessing? We use the phrase “to pronounce a blessing.” What does it mean to pronounce a blessing? When we pronounce something we make an authoritative statement of fact. A judge pronouncing sentence on a convict is an example of a pronouncement.
Do we have the right to make pronouncements in the name of God? Yes, we do. Scary, huh? What gives us the right to make such statements? The purpose of the priesthood is stated many times over in the scriptures and in the General Conference talks. The whole point of the priesthood of God is to bless the lives of his children. It is through God’s priesthood power, shared with his worthy sons, that he blesses the lives of all his children. We recently had a special stake conference in which Elder Soares gave his first apostolic blessing in a stake conference. I noted that in every apostolic blessing I have ever heard there are no requests made for blessings. The blessings are pronounced upon our heads.
You will never hear statements like the following in a pronounced blessing: “We pray the Lord will bless you with good health.” We ask the Lord’s blessings to guide you in your time of trouble.” These are not pronouncements, but requests. A pronouncement looks more like this: “We bless you with the ability to sense the needs of those whom you have called to serve.” We bless you with good health.” “We bless you with wisdom to know which course of action you should take.” These are pronouncements.
Blessings are meant to bless the life of the one being blessed. It is very direct and to the point. This is the point of the blessing. The one giving the blessing is expected to use the priesthood authority of God to pronounce, with authority, the will of God upon the head of that person. It could be a pronouncement unto life or a pronouncement unto death. It could be the bestowal of needed gifts for their calling or for the duration of a special time in that person’s life.
Where do these pronouncements come from?
Having to make a pronouncement is the most difficult, and frightening part of giving a blessing. We do not have the wisdom, nor do we have the foresight to see into that person’s future to be able to know what they need. Only the Holy Ghost knows such things. If we do not receive His prompting at the time of the blessing then we are left to question if we are saying what is right.
Being the receptacle for revelation opens up a very sensitive subject and question: How do I know what the Spirit wants me to say? When we first start to use our Melchizedek priesthood to give blessings, this is as close to a public bed-wetting experience most of us will ever have. Sorry for the crudeness of that last comment, but it seems to be the most honest description of how many of us feel when we were first called upon to act in the name of God and pronounce a blessing upon the head of someone. It is a terrifying experience. The weight of such a demand upon us is palpable. This is something the Sisters don’t ever have to worry about, as only the Brothers are required to do it.
The nature of revelation
Most of us don’t understand the nature of revelation. We often think that revelation is what Joseph Smith had where the words formed in his head and he spoke them to translate the Book of Mormon. Revelation is also visions, like Joseph F. Smith’s vision of the redemption of the dead at the end of the Doctrine and Covenants. His mind was opened and he saw with his spiritual eyes the advent of the Savior into the spirit world after his crucifixion. How is a hick from the sticks supposed to measure up to such revelations when they are but 18 years of age? The answer is actually quite simple.
Both of the examples given above are only extreme examples of what we have all experienced on a smaller scale. Remember that the nature of the gospel of Christ is to progress line upon line, precept (teaching) upon precept. The first thing we must have in order to give a blessing is faith, faith in God that he really does want to bless this person on whose head we have placed our hands, faith that the priesthood represents the power by which the universe is created and governed, and faith in ourselves that we can open our minds to the Spirit and actually hear what he wants to tell us.
That is a lot, yes. But that is the first step. And we have all done it to one degree or another before we ever step up to give our first blessing. Let me state here that no one expects you to offer up a new revelation for the next edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. Leave that up to the prophets. All you need to do is to deliver God’s loving words of comfort or direction to the person right in front of you.
What to look for
When you get to that point of no return, that point that comes after stating their name, the reason for the blessing, and by what authority you are giving them the blessing, there is often a moment of silence. I think of this moment as the point where I reach out beyond myself into the infinite in search of the voice of the Spirit. Sometimes the words come quickly, and sometimes there is silence. I fill that gap with a couple of general statements, like expressing something I know to be true, but that aren’t necessarily specifically given to me by the Spirit. It may include an expression of God’s love for them or his awareness of what they are experiencing at this point in their life, etc.
Sometimes that is what it takes to start the process of the spiritual flow. I have learned that this is done by many patriarchs at the beginning of their blessings. If you were to look at a number of their blessings you will see that almost all of them begin in the same basic way with the same basic statements then there is a sudden departure that takes them into the specifics for that person. It is okay for this to happen.
Have you ever had the experience where you are talking to someone and a thought pops into your head, seemingly out of nowhere, but you feel strongly that you need to say it, even if it seems to make no sense or doesn’t really fit into the conversation at this point? This is what you are looking for. Those thoughts that come from outside of yourself. If you have made a promise to the Lord that you will say whatever comes into your mind or heart to say, the first time it enters your mind then you will be on the road to receiving revelation for that person. And it is only when these thoughts present themselves to your mind and you say them that you are actually pronouncing a blessing.
This is spiritual flow. This is how the Spirit will speak through you to that person. Leave yourself open for promptings, but be sure that whatever comes into your mind you are willing to say, no matter what. There have been times when I have lost faith in myself and tried to just say things on my own, but was suddenly as dumb as a rock. I couldn’t find the words to say. Only when I apologized and resubmitted my promise to only say what I felt came into my head, and not from myself, that I was able to proceed with the blessing. And yes, those were awkwardly long pauses in the blessings.
This is a thrilling experience, and about as scary as it comes the first few times you do it. After you have had a chance to practice by giving blessing after blessing, after blessing, you will find that the words come to you more quickly than they did the first couple of times. You are able to make that connection with the infinite more easily. It is all part of that line upon line concept. You do actually get better at it with practice.
I can’t speak for anyone else but myself, but when I have given a blessing by the Spirit, I remember very little of what I said afterward. I have been told on many occasions that what I said about xyz was an answer to their prayers. It was like they were just revealing something about themselves, because I didn’t remember saying that. I just thank them for the opportunity to help.
One of the emotions of having given a blessing by the Spirit is that you feel an increase of love for that person. Consider it a perk. Sometimes we are required to give blessings to people who don’t particularly like us, and vice versa. This increase of love helps us be more forgiving, tolerant, and patient with those whom we serve.
Blessings are meant to bless the life of the person upon whom you have laid your hands. We are not there to plead their cause before God, but to pronounce God’s blessings upon the head of that person. As his authorized representative we have the right to pronounce blessings on the heads of his children and expect (yes, I said it) that he will honor that blessing and do what we, as his servant, pronounced on their head.
Does every aspect of every blessing come about? No. Many of us are still learning how to do this whole blessing thing. We do make mistakes. The sisters need to know that, like everything else in the gospel, giving blessings is a spiritual gift and a skill that we must learn and earn. Some will show greater aptitude than others, but all brothers in the priesthood should be given the opportunities to give blessings. How else are we to grow if we are deprived of the experience of blessing God’s children, the very purpose for which we hold the priesthood in the first place?