“Great blessings belong to those who know they are spiritually in need. God’s kingdom belongs to them.” – Matthew 5:3, ERV
Sunday morning at WFPC was vibrant, dynamic, challenging, inspirational, encouraging, and refreshing; it was a similar experience to stepping outside on a cool, inviting fall day – a full, fresh, invigorating, deep breath of God.
Our beatitude in my discipleship class was Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (NRSV). And – in one of those God-ordained confluences of grace – Rebekah preached on Job 19 (23-27).
I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth. – Job 19:25
POOR IN SPIRIT: There was a turn of discussion in my class that really opened my eyes to the theological mess we’re currently stuck in as a nation.
I’ve always spoken out, strongly, against the “Prosperity Gospel,” especially as “sold” by many televangelists and megachurches. But it wasn’t until our conversation around the Beatitudes that I realized how deep this deception runs, and how it has become a nationalistic, secular, religion.
One of my friends told the story of a man she fell into conversation with who – long story short – couldn’t reconcile his faith in God with the hardships and heartbreaks of his life. His theology (God-thought) was stuck in the “what have you done for me lately?” mode and he couldn’t understand why his life could possibly be difficult if he was a Christian.
He had been told that the problem was with him; “If you had more/better faith then you would be happy and blessed.” “God wants to bless you (make you rich and happy), but your lack of real faith ties God’s hands.”
Let me make a few observations:
- Happiness and joy are not the same idea. Jesus offers “fullness of life” (John 10:10), the “life that is truly life, (1 Timothy 6:17-19) – not the counterfeit imitation of “rich and happy.”
- Jesus says that we are blessed, regardless of poverty, or persecution, or loss, or lack of power and influence. “Look at you all!” Jesus says, “welcome to the Kingdom, you are the blessed ones!”
- Here in the USA we have made a god of materialism, fame, and the acquisition of personal power. In fact, many Christians like to say that we have all this wealth, influence, and power because we are specifically blessed by God. Yay, us!
- The “Prosperity Gospel” scam has actually become a nationalistic, secular religion, where its tenets are embraced by political candidates, the practice of its principles run to the heart of our economy, and where wealth, power, and might are seen as evidences of divine favor.
- “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me” (Psalm 23)…
- “I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:27)…
- Jesus said, “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not be served” (Matthew 20:25-28).
God promises to be with us in the mess, not to organize a detour; Jesus doesn’t bless us according to the standards of the world; the Gospel is all about humility, about service, and about self-sacrificial love.
HOW TO LIVE: We have to understand what it means to live the fully engaged life of faith, and what the repercussions are. The results of this kind of walk with Jesus are wonderful, transformational, and joyful – but not necessarily comfortable all the time.
I’d rather live with the presence of Jesus guiding every step than to try to leverage faith to give me everything this culture says I should value.
I asked everyone in my discipleship class to paraphrase Matthew 5:3 in their own words. Here’s what I came up with: “The blessing of knowing God comes most clearly to those who – in contrition and humility – realize they have nothing to bring to the altar other than their essential lostness, their profound need, and their spiritual poverty.”
I’m looking forward to working our way through the essential teachings of Jesus, at the Sermon on the Mount. Stay tuned for more – DEREK