Has anyone ever told you how amazing or strong you are? Inside, you’re laughing (or maybe crying), because you know how just the opposite is true?
You remember just yesterday when you were telling God how you couldn’t go on. Definitely without His help! Or how you blew it so badly when the opportunity came to rejoice with, or for, someone else. Instead of rejoicing, you compared, and allowed the enemy to tell you how you’ve been ripped off and robbed of life? Maybe you even accused God of things that, when verbally spoken, you know are not true?
Obviously, the only way I can come up with these examples, I’m sad to say, is from my own experience. I am humbled to realize that, in spite of my ‘self-absorption’ God still chooses to use me to touch another life. I know this is because He is all-merciful, all-loving, and cares about the humans He created to love; and NEVER gives up on us.
Very Human Heros of Faith
Reading the Bible, the Old Testament, in particular, the Holy Spirit illuminates this truth as I read the accounts of “heroes” of the faith. Many of these stories showcase the flaws of human weakness, and in many cases, downright sin. And yet, God still chose to carry out His plans through these very people. It’s encouraging to read how God changed these people and brought them to new places spiritually because His Love is too powerful and too merciful to leave them the same.
Abraham, the “Father of many nations” lied about his wife, and then laughed at God’s seemingly impossible promise of a son. But, once he received the very promise, he trusted God, where many of us wouldn’t have when asked to place him on the altar. Then there’s Jacob, who followed in his Father’s deceitful ways, but through many losses and struggles, God renamed him to become Israel, a new man. David, “A man after God’s own heart”, certainly did not have a perfect track record either. But, after repenting and having to live with pretty intense consequences, determined to love and worship God. David was blessed and found favor with God because he was poor in spirit.
Hopping over to the New Testament, we find Peter falling asleep when Jesus invited and then asked him to watch and pray. Then, after boldly declaring that he’d lay down his life for Jesus, he denied him not once, but three times. Peter, too, fell prey to fear and human weakness. This is the same man whom Jesus called “the rock on whom He’d build His church.”
I see similarities and keys to Kingdom living in all these stories, which is quite counter-cultural to the world we live in. One is obvious – and that is that God uses weak, imperfect people to carry out His plans and purposes. Another key to unlocking this new way to live is presented to us in Jesus’ sermon on the Beatitudes.
Learning from the Beatitudes
In Matthew 5:3, Jesus tells us that “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” The Greek word for poor is ptochos (toe-kas), meaning one who is reduced to begging dependence, or someone who is bankrupt. God’s kingdom is not for religious people who know how to say and do all the right things. Neither is it for those who find comfort in their own deeds and goodness. But it’s for the ones who lay aside self-reliance and see their need for God.
Realizing our need for God leads us to the next Beatitude. Verse four says “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” The Greek word for mourn is penthos (PEN-thos) and means an “external expression of an internal reality, an inner sorrow or condition that you express outwardly.”
Everyone Grieves, but not all Mourn
A friend of mine heard a trauma specialist speaking on grief. She said that if a person does not mourn their losses, and there can be many, trauma can build up in their inner life. This, of course, will not only stifle the quality of a life but will also rob you of the blessedness and favor Jesus is talking about in the Beatitudes.
It’s so important to enter into our losses (grief) whatever they may be. By entering into, I mean becoming acquainted with your pain and allowing it to transform you. This is actually a part of what blessed are the poor in spirit means. All grief has something in common, and that is a loss. Everyone grieves because everyone loses something, but not everyone mourns. Grief happens to us, but mourning is something active and intentional that we do. Jesus tells us in the Beatitudes that to be comforted, we must mourn. We must get out what’s inside of us to truly mourn.
Loss by death, sickness, finances, relationship, disappointments, and unfulfilled dreams are common situations that cause grief. God is very concerned about and wants us to mourn these losses so He may bring comfort and wholeness to our lives. But the sorrow (mourning) Jesus is talking about in this passage is Godly mourning over our SIN. True mourning is not just feeling bad or sad from the results our sin produces. Authentic mourning is realizing, admitting, confessing, and turning outwardly to receive TRUTH and LIFE. I believe ALL mourning involves the death of or to something that we love. And it is through this mourning that we can receive new life THROUGH Jesus.
Digging a Grave
Someone recently shared with me a picture of what she envisioned of a couple she knows whose 22-year-old daughter was killed in a car accident. She saw that as they were digging a grave in the natural for her daughter’s body, the Lord was digging deeper into their hearts. And that is exactly what our losses do. They dig and then leave a void or gap in our hearts, creating a space for the Lord to fill us with Himself! Mourning (repentance), over our sins produces this same kind of space.
When you experience ptochos mourning (brokenness), you step over the threshold of grieving (internal pain) into penthos mourning (repentance), releasing it to the outside. When we release to the outside what is going on inside, we will receive comfort, grace, forgiveness, and joy from God. Again, we see the reality of Blessed are the poor in spirit.
The Psalms show us the importance of being honest with ourselves and then with God. “The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth” (Ps. 145:18). “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18).
It is only after realizing our spiritual poverty before God that we can genuinely mourn and then receive His comfort. The fruit of each Beatitude opens revelation to the next one. In other words, when we see how desperate and weak we are, prone to wander as the hymn says, the fruits of meekness and humility (Matt.5: 5) will naturally blossom. Hungering and thirsting (v. 6) for more of God will grow out of our need as we extend the mercy (v.7) we have received. Purity and peace (v.8) will become evident characteristics, but again, only as we see our need.
A Foundation to Intimacy with God
The Beatitudes were given at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. This tells me they are foundational and essential to everything else He taught. “The goal of the Beatitudes is to pierce the heart of a religious, works-based, self-righteous culture and replace it with an intimate, abiding relationship with a living God.” (1) They point the way into that intimate place with a pure and holy God. Religion will keep us on the outside, always striving in our own strength to be good enough. If it were ever possible for us to be “good enough,” Jesus would not have had to die. But these truths, if received (not worked for), will draw us into the heart of the Father where there is favor, and continued JOY in His presence.
As we see, each Beatitude begins with “Blessed are…”. We tend to think blessed means happy, but that view is lacking in definition. I know God wants us to be happy, and we may eventually be, but “blessed are” goes far beyond mere happiness. It means God’s favor and willingness to be near and His presence dwelling among His people.
Jesus Calls us Deeper
Jesus continually calls us deeper than our natural way of living. Life his way (kingdom living), turns human logic upside down. Kingdom life is indeed a divine paradox. You may wonder how blessed can you be if you’re poor in spirit? But, when surrendered to God, sorrow DOES lead to joy, brokenness to healing, suffering to glory, and death to life. Of all the paradoxes though, I find the biggest, most puzzling, to be that He chooses to use human jars of clay to display the excellency of His power.
In speaking of his weakness and thorn in the flesh, Paul asked the Lord three times to remove it. God said to him, “MY grace is sufficient for you, for MY power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9). I’m so glad the Holy Spirit prompted Paul to record his response because it has become my anthem. “I will gladly boast about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
Displayed for His Splendor
In conclusion, I know that any strength people see in my life (story) is the power of God’s redeeming love. The minute I begin in my own strength, which is feeble, I begin to falter and slip into my human default mode of introspection and fear. But God is looking for those surrendered to Him, who know that in themselves, they cannot do it all right.
He plants His people as Oaks of righteousness to display HIS SPLENDOR and GLORY (Is. 61:3). This is where the glorious light of the gospel shines through the cracks of our weak, earthen vessels of clay. I desire the blessedness and favor of the intimate relationship with the Lord that the Beatitudes speak of. The Beatitudes are a process (just like life) of lessons and principles to grow in as we daily “take up our cross.” But it has to start with the first Beatitude.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”
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Remember there will be no end to God’s love for you!