Last week our church hosted a sports camp for the children in the area. It has become a beloved tradition for us to provide a free morning camp with Bible instruction and fun Vacation School Bible-like music. This is the first year I have been able to participate as a volunteer. I signed up, not really knowing what to expect and I have left feeling amazed by the gifts freely offered by the team of volunteers and the gifts received by these precious children.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3
As I begin to understand what message God has for me in The Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), I have to take some time to understand the context of the message. Remember, I’m no theologian, just your average Christian taking courses and studying the Bible in order to understand and grow. I do, however, think it is important anytime we delve into the word, especially something as rich as these passages, to have some common understanding. So for this series, this is how I understand the words given in a language many of us struggle to understand.
The Sermon on the Mount, those words given to us from Jesus represent his instructions on how to live our lives as his followers. They were intended to be taken as a whole, not ones that we would pick and choose to import into our lives. That said, healing, recovery, and living a life with purpose is a journey of learning and growing. My hope is that by starting with the eight The Beatitudes (Matthew 5: 3-10), I will be inspired to make changes in the way I think and live my life.
Blessed—having God’s grace, his favor, and his forgiveness. The Beatitudes represent the conditions of our lives and give us hope that God is with us. Even in the darkest of our times, we have not been abandoned. I know what that was like in the past and even today I have those moments. I have to remind myself that God is aware of and involved in every aspect of my life. Does it mean life is rosy and perfect now? Hardly. What it does mean for me is that I trust God will see me through to the other side and I will experience personal and spiritual growth as a result.
The New Living Translation interprets this passage as: “God blesses those who realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.” In today’s society I think we all have a tendency to say, “I can do it—leave me alone,” until we can’t do it. Then we find ourselves calling out for God to fix our mess. Today I want to start by saying I need God. I need to pray and wait before I run ahead with my own ideas. One of the ways I pray when I find myself at a crossroad is to ask God to firmly close the doors that should be closed and to show me an open door through which I should pass. I say firmly because I am known to keep opening doors just in case there is a sliver of a chance that I can make it work out my way. And I take time to wait before I cross into something new.
In my previous profession I was required to prepare somewhat technical briefings about military systems. I was not a technical person and so instead I worked to develop processes to help others do their work. The problem was, I had to present the information, usually in front of some very technically educated people. And it scared me to death. After I retired I continued to dabble in the area in academia. The fear really never went away there either. At the same time I was looking for a program of study to become a life coach or a counselor. Nothing I tried seemed to work. And so I prayed for the closed/open door and boy did I get it. After two years of struggling, my work with defense programs ended abruptly. I was working another job part-time and it filled the financial and work void for me. And I found a program that seemed to fit all the things I wanted and that I could finance. God opened a new door. Additionally, I found a spiritual director who helped me see that what God had placed on my heart years ago and here I am writing about it.
And just as I thought things were going my way, something happened at work to make me uncomfortable. Again I prayed about it, trying to discern if I should stay or go. Within two weeks I was “relieved of my duties,” I kid you not. I was on the fence but when I was willing to ask God to show me, he did just that. Then last night I went to bed wondering what I was going to do next and if I should consider going back to doing what I had done with before to I could bring in more income and get out of debt fast. I went to sleep praying and worrying. Now I don’t know if it was just the prayer or because I was reading about theories related to dream interpretation but in my dream I was giving a presentation and it was HORRIBLE! I literally woke up shaking a bit. And I had my answer. Don’t go back, keep going forward.
I am blessed to understand my need for God in my life. I am blessed to be able to pray and to have learned to wait before acting. It isn’t easy but it is a whole lot better than making bad choices and going in the wrong direction. Today I want to align my will with God’s will and in doing so I will find a piece of God’s heaven on earth.
This morning I find myself asking: “What do you want me to do?” In my time of meditation I almost feel a crushing desire to be more, but I’m not sure what that looks like or how to get there. I have ideas. I know that I can’t get there without help. I know I can’t get there without dedication. I know I can’t get there without turning my will over and letting God direct my steps. I see a glimmer of his vision for my future and I realize that I have to make a plan and take the steps to get where I believe he is calling me. But how do I do that?
Just as I am sure that God led me to Psalm 25 for healing, I believe he is leading me to Matthew 5, specifically a study of The Beatitudes, to learn how to live a transformed life. These eight principals are complex guidelines given to us by Jesus on how to live our lives as people of character and purpose. I’m no theological scholar and my intent here is not to develop some new understanding of what Jesus meant. Rather, my goal is to gain a better understanding of what these principals mean for my life as his follower. Join me on my journey as I ask questions and hopefully motivate you to think about what Jesus wants from you at this point in your life.
I’m the first to admit that I wondered aimlessly through most of my life with no plan or direction. I was fortunate to have many doors open for me professionally but my private life was a mess. I had a bit of a hippy “go with the flow” attitude and was up for anything that looked like fun. That fun put in me in some situations that I wish I had been smart enough to avoid and might have avoided if I had a better plan. Nothing really inspired me except trying to avoid feeling pain. The only thing that really motivated me was to prove to others they were wrong about me and to paint a bright picture that I had it all together by living a lifestyle someone else told me I should. After I crashed and burned, I rose from the ashes ready to transform the person I was into the person God wanted. It is a slow ongoing process, but I am now willing to listen.
The Beatitudes are that for me. A time to sit at the feet of God made man and to listen to how he says I can be happy. The Sermon on the Mount—the complete teachings that day on the mountainside—are the words I need to inspire me. As we hear and pray on those words, I hope we will all be motivated in a new direction. I pray that at the end of this series, we will all feel that we are transformed by God’s grace.
Matthew 5 New International Version (NIV)
Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount
5 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
I believe in a God of second chances because I have seen that in my own life. I know forgiveness through first-hand experience. I know the freedom that comes from confessing my negative and harmful behavior. I know what it is to live a new life every day because of that forgiveness and a second chance to do it better the next time. My spiritual journey and growth are constant factors in my life as I continue to pray about ways to improve my behavior and actions. Some days are better than others, but when I mess up, I know where to go and I know I can start over.
Jesus gave us a prayer to pray (Matthew 6:9-13) and as part of that we pray: “forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us (NLT). The Message version translates the prayer to: “Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.” I like this version because it reminds me that just as I am forgiven through Jesus, I must forgive those around me. This commandment isn’t something to take lightly and in some cases it may be very difficult for us to do. But with forgiveness comes freedom to move forward in our lives and a first step toward breaking the ties to the hurt and pain someone may have inflicted on us.
It took me a while to forgive my father for his behavior toward my mother. I had to come to understand that in his time there was no one to teach him that it was wrong. I had to forgive him for ignoring me and putting me in a position to seek out another male figure that would later abuse me. I had to find a way to let God deal with the person who hurt me and to stop letting them influence my behavior many years later. I have forgiven my mother for not being who I wish she was and accepting the wonderful things she passed on to me—including how, as a Christian, to forgive those closest to us. I have had to learn how to forgive those who have hurt my daughter and allow her to forgive them and show me how to forgive as well. That one is probably the hardest but I am thankful to see her model a forgiving behavior passed on from her grandmother.
With forgiveness comes a requirement for change. If we are inspired by the words of Jesus to seek forgiveness and to forgive others, then we must also be willing to make changes in our lives that will keep us from making the same mistakes. The Message version says: “keep us safe from ourselves and from the Devil” (Matthew 6:9-13). It may mean that we remove ourselves from people who are not good for us or who might influence negative behavior in ourselves. It may mean holding others accountable for the way they treat us and setting appropriate boundaries. It may mean that we who forgive also mentor and pray for those who hurt us when they seek our forgiveness. And when we see change in another, then we must be willing to give them a second chance at living a new life. We must release them from the bond of shame and allow them to become the new person Christ has made. If we only remember the fault and don’t see the transformation, we end up carrying a burden that no longer exists and we hold back those forgiven and transformed.
Forgiveness and second chances are probably two of the hardest things for us Christians to live out in our lives. We want forgiveness for ourselves and we see it in our lives, but we refuse it to those closest to us. When we refuse to see that God has created something new in the forgiven, we miss the blessing of Jesus lived out on earth. Who are you holding a grudge against that you have not forgiven? Who do you say you have forgiven but have not reconciled with? Who do you know needs your forgiveness and your help in building a new life forward? How can you model what Jesus told us to do for another? Who needs you to give them a second chance?
“You are blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.” (Matthew 5:5 from The Message)
Acceptance and contentment; these two words might seem to be at odds in our lives. I may accept my circumstances but I don’t have to like them, right? Or, I might be content having reached my goals but I am not willing to accept that I am where I need to be. And yet Jesus said in his sermon that those of us who are humble or respectful of our situation are blessed or have joy in accepting all that God has given to us.
We, who have walked through the refining fire, or are smack dab in the middle of it, are right where God wants us to be at this time in our lives. When we are willing to accept the work needed to transform our lives, we will find that we have everything that we need to be content, especially if that transformation brings us into a closer relationship with God. Jesus calls us to change our character to one that accepts all things, good and bad, to lay down our self-will, and to trust that God is walking with us and meeting all our needs. Accept where we are, what we must do, and that God, through the Holy Spirit, will guide us on our path. Set aside our anger and disappointment for what we wanted and ask what it is he wants for us instead.
When I look back at my life and the decisions I made that led to the turmoil in my spirit, I am humbled by what God has done and proud that he has made so much out of my lowly life. I am ecstatic that he has filled in the chip on my shoulder and lighted the burdens of the past that I was carrying. I am happy with whom I am today and excited for all that I get to be in the future. No matter the circumstances of my life today, I can be glad knowing that God will use me if I just quit whining and seek out his plan for the day. I can accept that the changes in my life today are for the good, knowing I will grow if I keep my focus forward.
What is keeping you for being content today? What piece of your life are you not accepting needs to be changed? What steps can you take today accept the changes God is calling you to make that could lead to greater contentment? I urge you to ask these questions or to seek out someone who will help you to find God’s peace and hope for your future.
My search for something meaningful or purposeful about my life led me down many paths, and not all of them were roads I should have traveled. I tried devoting myself to work and taking jobs that I thought would make me feel important or relevant. I tried relationships that I thought would meet all my needs but they never filled all the gaps. I tried a different sort of ‘religion’ in Scientology, and that only confused my life more. I tried drinking and drugging in my younger days to fit in and that was all pretend living too. I tried just being “spiritual” but failed to find any real direction and ended up listening to my own messed up self for guidance. It took me several tries over the years to come to a new point in my life:
“God blesses those who realize their need for him” (Matthew 5: 3—The Beatitudes, NLT)
I was looking in all the wrong places! The NIV version says “Blessed are the poor in spirit” while the Message says, “You’re blessed when you feel you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” I was like a beggar trying every new spiritual movement out there in the hopes of feeling fulfilled in my life. I knew Jesus. I grew up with Jesus. I just didn’t think he was enough for me and I hungered for something more to make me feel relevant in this universe.
I didn’t need to be one with the universe—the same universe that God created. I needed to be one with the creator. I didn’t need to empty my head; I needed to breathe in the Holy Spirit and divine inspiration. I didn’t need to draw energy from another human; I needed to draw inspiration from God’s word to us and through a quiet time of prayer with him. I didn’t need a new religion, I needed to grow in my own faith—the one passed down through generations of believers. My dedication to hearing God’s word spoken for me led me to a spiritual awakening like no other.
I need God in my life. I need Jesus in my life. I need prayer and meditation in my life. I came to the end of my rope and God was waiting for me. Waiting to pick me up, dust me off, forgive me, and set me on a new course. For me, there is one God in whom I trust. Today I only look for ways to grow in that relationship and if work, relationships, spiritual groups, or things I put in my body don’t lead me in that direction, then I don’t need them.
Do you need something more in your life—something other than your own voice in your head? Are you looking for a new spiritual life? Do you want to experience a transformation that brings you peace and joy? Are you ready to step into the light and feel the warmth of the Holy Spirit? I encourage you to reach out to someone today that can guide you in that direction. Find a life coach, counselor or religious leader and tell them you are ready to start exploring this kind of spiritual life. I promise you will never be the same.