If the Beatitudes list the qualities Jesus finds most important, then I ought to ponder and pray about them.
I am nothing of an expert on the origins of the Bible. I haven't taken any classes or read any books about the nuances of the ancient languages the Scriptural authors used, and I don't think I will — not because I don't love God enough, but because I seriously doubt I would understand it. In fact, I rarely finish Christian books — which is why I rarely begin them. Pretty hypocritical for an aspiring writer, huh?
I'd love to dazzle you with words like hermeneutics and exegesis, but even the basic understanding I have of their meanings comes from having looked them up just now. Until I checked, they were really just a grouping of phonemes that I was only pretty sure were stored correctly in my memory.
What I don't know about Scripture is almost as scary as what I can't know (and not nearly as scary as what I do know). But I still have to try.
So one thing I do know is that in the first third of the fifth chapter of Matthew, in a section of text not even long enough to qualify as an article for Boundless, Jesus lays down a set of qualities I think I could spend the rest of my life meditating on and attempting to cultivate in myself:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
If this little snippet known as the Beatitudes was all I had of the Bible, it really could take all my willpower throughout all my years to understand and live it. Which makes it kind of daunting that I do have the rest of the Bible to work on, but that way I also get the promise "all things are possible."
At the beginning of this year I took the Beatitudes and did that exercise some preachers encourage and others denounce; I wrote it in my own words. I thought, if these are the qualities Jesus finds most important — most blessed — I ought to ponder and pray about them. I did my best to get closer to the heart of His intentions with each point, which a person like me needs more words to do.
There have already been days in my life when this prayer would have been so helpful, yet I'd forgotten all about it. So I'm writing this out in no small part to benefit myself, but I hope it will help you also to meditate on the person Jesus really is, and the soul foundations upon which He intends to build the brand new, authentic, everlasting you.
Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit
To be poor in spirit: To acknowledge my dependence on God for everything; to accept that I own and have offered nothing; to be intentional about gratitude and recognizing that the life I have in Christ is a gift, one I am free — and called — to enjoy.
I don't know a lot about the doctrine of Total Depravity, but I do know some people try so hard to hate themselves that it's just annoying. How much brooding must we do about our own sin?
In 2nd Corinthians chapter 7, Paul points out that he places no intrinsic value in being sorry, only in repentance. Once we repent — choose to see or do something God's way — sorrow becomes obsolete. Yet we are still so often encouraged by the books we read and the songs we sing to see ourselves as lowly wretches, filthy and unworthy. It could almost be called a masochistic narcissism, one that puts sin on the seat of worship — because that's what we're really in awe about.
And I hate it when people say, "God doesn't love you for you; He loves you because that's who He is." I'm sorry, but this is baloney. God loves you because He made you on purpose and He has deeply invested Himself in your existence. There's tons of stuff about you that God loves because they were all His idea, and making you come to life to be who you are was what He wanted all along.
Yet people talk as though God only treats us kindly to show off to somebody else how loving He can be. News flash: If God doesn't love you, He doesn't love you.
God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. (Ephesians 1:5, NLT)
I dreamed I saw myself as a little child, sitting in the bathtub, covered in bubbles. Jesus was leaning over the tub, piling bubbles on my head and laughing.
He is not begrudged that He had to save us — He didn't have to, after all. He is not surprised or offended that we must be made clean. This is what He wants to do, and He loves doing it.
Piety and religious shame are such a waste of emotional energy. I call it being "phonier-than-thou." It's like a homeless person going into a soup kitchen only to willfully starve himself.
The essence of being poor isn't showing off our poverty. It isn't the depth of our need that makes God's giving so great. Poverty of the spirit is receiving, rejoicing, saying thank you, sharing. It gives Him great pleasure.
Blessed Are Those Who Mourn
To mourn: To embrace the loss of all things for the sake of knowing Jesus; to feel and share my pain instead of masking it; to be ever more fully divorced from self-serving and sinfulness so that I can know what it means to be Christ's bride.
So much of the sin in my life has been committed in attempts to escape pain, to hide it. Running from the pain never heals the wound, we soon discover. All too often, we discover this after our flight from pain has led to some grisly dependence, or simply to developing a shallow façade of a self with which to relate to the world.
God is all about being relational, which is about being real. Pain is real so we have to feel it, but it's unbearable to face our pain in a void. I don't think God wants that for us, nor the consequences of doing anything and everything to avoid pain.
God desires to be known, and if we are to know God we have to be grieved by what grieves Him. This isn't because God wants us to suffer for suffering's sake. Consider 2nd Corinthians 7:8-10:
I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while — yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance.... Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
The sorrow of our own sin and the pain of breaking away are only good if they are useful in bringing us out. Embracing shame and regret serve no purpose. And I wonder if even our tendency towards pious shame isn't just another way to avoid the cross we are too untrusting to embrace.
God doesn't just want us to embrace His sorrow, though; He also desires to taste the tears we shed for the loss, frustration and injuries of this life.
If you've ever truly mourned with someone, you know what it does to the bond between you. If sorrowful feelings have any intrinsic spiritual value, it's there.
To be honest, sometimes I'm scared to look into my own pain, even if I think God is going to be there. I worry, "Will He be enough to make it bearable? Will He really pull me out the other side of this?"
Other times, it's the pain He's calling me to that's frightening, and there are regions of my heart that still don't trust Him to do what's best for me. I guess it's all about trust. The Bible says that "perfect love expels all fear" (1 Peter 4:18). If I can trust God to love me in the inexplicable way He promises, I'll know there's nothing I can't make it through.
Blessed Are The Meek
To be meek: To be a servant in every situation, every relationship; to recognize that the love God has for me, He also has for every other person on earth; to know that, because all my concerns are on God's heart, I don't have to worry so much about me.
Humility is a concept I think a lot of religious people don't understand. As I addressed with the "poor in spirit" concept, I think there's a sneaky aspect of pride that puts on a self-deprecating façade and calls it being humble. So many sermons and books and seminars about humility left me feeling not quite right. Face it, we love saying to people, "Get over yourself!"
Yeah, it's my pride that really resists that. Well maybe it isn't just my pride.
My current pastor put it this way, which I found intriguing: "Humility is not thinking less of yourself; humility is thinking of yourself less."
So much of the talk out there makes it seem like humility is all about talking yourself down, comparing yourself unfavorably to others, etc. One of the things that bugs me the most is when someone does something good or right, or they experience success in some area, and they say, "That wasn't me! It was all God." People will really talk as if their consciousness gets temporarily overridden and God becomes puppet master, and that's the only explanation for the good things we do.
I finally spoke up when Amber, a good friend of mine, repeated this pattern one day. She has a heart for ministry to young women, and she had just stepped into it in a huge way and blessed a lot of ladies who were in the process of healing. We were talking about it when she insisted, "Amber couldn't have done a thing like this! It's not me, it's all God."
"No, it was Amber," I argued. "The separated and sinful you couldn't have done it; but this is the God-made Amber. This is the real you." I believe that about her and I believe that's the way God loves to do His thing: passing it along to us, bearing His distinct signature.
Today Amber is still doing good work and she's a blessing to others because God has blessed and is blessing her — and she's finally becoming herself.
Giving God the glory doesn't mean writing ourselves out of the story and talking ourselves down with put-on humility that doesn't serve others the way real humility does.
This is going to sound almost heretical, but I can't embrace the idea that I just don't matter that much, that nothing in life is about me. I have a suspicion that nobody really believes that anyway, no matter how they try to make it sound.
My goal is to keep pressing into the reality that God cares so much about me and the wonderful plans He has in store that my own anxiety and self-concern are insignificant and superfluous (1 Peter 5:7). They are an insult to His inexplicable love! The Creator of the universe keeps an unblinking eye on me, and values me highly among His vast array of wonderful creatures (Matthew 10:31) — with worry and fear expelled by this love, our hearts become readier and roomier.
Perhaps, in the process, I'll suddenly find one day that I am indeed "over" myself.
PART 2: Blessed Are Those »
Copyright 2009 Mike Ensley. All rights reserved.