Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4 NIV).

I wonder what went through the minds of Jesus’ disciples when Jesus shared this beatitude. For these collection of truths, which we know as the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, seems to go against society’s way of thinking and living. Jesus, however, was not directing these teachings to the general population, but rather to His closest friends. His teaching aims to prepare His followers for His kingdom. Living out these truths will result in a lifestyle radically different from the world’s.

We usually attribute “blessed” to someone who has acquired wealth, good health, power, or prestige. But Jesus challenges our thinking as He calls some people “blessed” who appear quite the opposite. How exactly is the person who mourns blessed? Mourning seems to depict images of funerals and suffering. It’s not a natural thing to view oneself as blessed when struggling, resulting in a bucket of tears, red puffy eyes, and a burdened heart.

Although blessed usually means “happy” in the Bible, the context of Matthew 5 seems to convey more of “an enviable state”. Jesus is distinguishing the world’s image of happiness with true blessedness—spiritual riches—which only comes from a right relationship with God.

GotQuestons.org notes: The term mourn means “to experience deep grief.” In keeping with His theme of spiritual blessedness, Jesus seems to indicate that this mourning is due to grief over sin. The people who agree with God about the evil of their own hearts can attain an “enviable state of blessedness,” due to the comfort they receive from communion with the Holy Spirit.

Jesus called the Holy Spirit the Comforter (John 14:162615:262 Corinthians 1:4). The Spirit comforts those who are honest about their own sin and humble enough to ask for forgiveness and healing. Deep repentance requires deep conviction that comes from deep brokenness. Those who hide their sin or try to justify it before God can never know the comfort that comes from a pure heart, as Jesus talks about in Matthew 5:8 (cf. Proverbs 28:13Isaiah 57:15). This is the difference between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow.

What Does It Mean to be Poor In Spirit?

In His longest recorded sermon, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-11), Jesus begins by describing the attributes He looks for in His followers. He promises something special awaits those who attempt to develop and live out these attributes. Fair warning, however, like a salmon swimming upstream, our sincere attempts to develop these traits will create opposition since each beatitude goes against the current of society’s typical way of life. But as challenging as this way of living may be, God meets us in our humble efforts. For He desires for us to be close to Him and experience His abundant life.

Beatitude #1

In His first beatitude, Jesus states, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). What exactly does this mean? Why would God want us to be “poor in spirit”?

Some people think Jesus is referring to financial poverty with the thought that being poor will keep riches from being a relational hedge between us and God. While it’s true that Jesus warns us of the dangers of seeking riches (Matthew 6:24), this doesn’t seem to be His aim in Matthew 5:3. So what exactly is Jesus referring to?

Jesus is concerned with spiritual realities in the beatitudes, not material possessions. So being “poor in spirit” means being “spiritually poor”. This thought becomes clearer by exchanging the word “humble” in place of the word “poor”. When we recognize our impoverished and utter spiritual bankruptcy before God, we are being humble in spirit. It’s the realization that we have absolutely nothing of worth to offer a holy, powerful God. When we admit that we are completely destitute spiritually, due to our sin, and are personally powerless to deliver ourselves, we position ourselves to receive “the kingdom of heaven”. God’s kingdom is not only eternity in heaven with God after death (Romans 6:23), but also the eternal quality of life with God before death (John 10:10).

The opposite of “poor (humble) in spirit” is a self-satisfied, proud heart. The results of pride may take on different forms, but the worst is spiritual pride. God cannot bless the one who thinks he/she doesn’t need Him. For “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

We can’t earn our way to God or heaven. No matter our position in life, when we acknowledge our spiritual poverty, we can come to God in faith to receive the salvation He freely offers. Often the richer we are in material possessions, or when we place more confidence in ourselves rather than in God, the poorer our hearts’ condition will be. God never forces Himself on anyone. But for the surrendered, humbled heart, He will not only save one from sin, but will also add abundant blessing to his/her life.

Do you see your own need for Christ? Do you recognize that you are a sinner and need God’s forgiveness? By refusing to let pride─or anything else─stand in the way, you position yourself to turn to Christ in humility and faith.

Five Habits of Highly Missional People: Sent

So far in this series, I’ve covered the four habits of highly missional people─ using the acronym BELLS─from Michael Frost’s book, Surprise the World!. These weekly habits include: Bless, Eat, Listen, and Learn. The final habit is to begin identifying yourself as a missionary ─ a Sent one. Frost encourages journaling to reflect how you either demonstrate or announce (describe it, explain it, advocate for it, champion it) God’s universal reign.  

Our English term mission (from Latin missio) means “to send; to be propelled outward”. In the past, this word has been used almost solely to describe someone who travels overseas to spread Christianity. Frost notes that in more recent years we’ve adopted the term to describe all Christians who attempt to glorify God in their daily lives. We are not all called to be evangelists, but if our mission is to alert others to the universal reign of God through Christ, then all believers should see themselves as missionaries.

Trailers are tasters, short film versions of the soon-to-be-released feature, and they usually include the best special effects or the funniest scenes or the most romantic moments depending on the film of the upcoming feature. Now, watch those around you in the theater at the end of each trailer. If it has done its job, usually one person will turn to the other and say, “I want to see that movie.” This is a great metaphor for the missional church. If it does its job well, people will see what it does and say, “I want to see the world they come from.”

Michael Frost

So what does the reign of God look like? As believers, what exactly are we to point others toward? N.T. Wright proposes the following objectives. The way in which we carry out these objectives will vary, but the manner in which we speak and act always needs to be covered in God’s love and grace. Otherwise, we do more harm than good (1 Corinthians 13).

Reconciliation

Reconciliation between God and humankind is the foundation of Christ’s work on the cross. We see this concept woven into Scripture: reconciliation between slave and free, Gentile and Jew. We are instructed to announce reconciliation and demonstrate it. The more we write/journal on how we are agents of reconciliation, the more we will become aware and live it out.

Justice

Christians have a history of living out the Scriptural admonition to defend and uphold the well-being of all people, especially the powerless and poor. Past leaders have campaigned for prison reform, labor reform, the abolition of slavery, and the temperance movement. Leaders such as Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Dorothy Day, John Stott, and Jim Wallis have more recently committed to antipoverty, antiwar, environmental, and immigration causes.

Today, there are many ways we can demonstrate God’s reign through justice: fight homelessness, eliminate sex trafficking, promote fair-trade products, campaign for clean water, or some other specific cause. Many Christians in my church have fostered and/or adopted disadvantaged children. Whether signing an online petition, donating to a cause, or inviting a disadvantaged person into your home, begin journaling ways God has sent you to promote justice this week.  

Beauty

Where do you often feel closest to God? Is it inside a beautiful cathedral? Maybe music or art leaves you with a sense of wonder. Do you sense His presence in the mountains or on the beach? For me, being outdoors reminds me not only of God’s power and creativity, but also that He is the author of true beauty who wants to share His creation with me.

Rudolph Otto, a German theologian listed some responses associated with an awe-encounter with God: a sense of majesty, unapproachability, a feeling of fascination, including both fear and attraction. The feeling that we are important enough to be invited to encounter the Holy, but in its presence are overwhelmed and made aware of our smallness. We need these paradoxical frightening, yet comforting experiences that usher in God’s reign. Consider how you can invite your friends to encounter God’s beauty.

What are your gifts and abilities? Can you create beautiful music, art, craft and/or food and invite others to join you? How can we alert others to the universal reign of God through Christ by an observation of His creation and personally creating expressions of beauty? Remember to write it down.

Wholeness

Jesus healed the lame, the lepers, the blind, and the deaf─even raised the dead─as proof of God’s kingdom coming in glory (Luke 7:22). So wholeness, the healing of broken people, is key proof of His reign today. Beyond the important work of doctors, nurses, psychologists, and counselors, Christians also usher in God’s reign when they provide emergency relief for natural disasters and/or help repair a broken marriage. Is there someone you can pray for supernatural healing? When we see God’s restoration, record it as a reminder of His great work.

Weekly Challenge

  • Bless three people, at least one of whom is not a member of your church.
  • Eat with three people, at least one of whom is not a member of your church.
  • Listen – Spend at least one period of the week listening for the Spirit’s voice.
  • Learn – Spend at least one period of the week learning Christ.
  • Sent – Briefly journal throughout the week all the ways you alerted others to the universal reign of God through Christ.

I wouldn’t be surprised if heavenly bells chime along with angelic chorus when we attempt even one of these following disciplines! Wishing you a wonderful week!

Five Habits of Highly Missional People: Learn Jesus

What kind of living ushers in God’s reign by arousing curiosity among unbelievers, which lead to questions and faith sharing? How can we foster a set of habits that will help shape others’ beliefs and values?

BELLS is an acronym from Michael Frost’s book, Surprise the World! He gives practical steps to help us develop rhythm and accountability as we align ourselves to be more like Jesus while sharing His love and hope to those around us. These steps include: Bless others, Eat together, Listen to the Holy Spirit, Learn Jesus, and Sent.

“Adoration” davidbowmanart.com

Learn Jesus

There are two main reasons Frost places emphasis on learning Jesus. First, there is the devotional value of growing close to Jesus. We sense His presence through His Word and learn to hear the Holy Spirit’s promptings. God also enables us to become more Christ-like when we not only study Jesus’ teachings, but also increasingly submit ourselves to His will. The second, more missional reason to learn Jesus is our need to know Him if we’re going to effectively share Him as the reason for the hope in us.

Frost writes: When we’re living questionable lives, both the devotional and missional purposes for studying the Gospels intersect. I think that if we’re being sent into the world to live intriguing lives, arouse curiosity, and answer people’s inquiries about the hope we have within, we need more than ever to know what Jesus would do or say in any circumstance. And we can’t know that without a deep and ongoing study of the biographies of Jesus written by those who knew him best ─ the Gospels. . . . We need to be students of the whole Scripture, which includes understanding the Gospels in their total biblical context.

Frost also encourages us to go deep with others, in which he terms “Incarnational” Mission. While the term mission (from Latin missio) means “to be sent; to be propelled outward”, the term incarnational refers to another aspect of mission. It describes not simply going out, but also the difficult work of going deep with others. As God took on flesh and made His dwelling among us in Jesus, so we too are called to dwell among those to whom we’re sent. How are we to do this, unless we become devoted students of the life, work, and teaching of Jesus?

Frost suggests learning Christ through the following disciplines:

  1. Study the four canonical Gospels (without neglecting regular Bible devotional reading and/or Bible study.) You can read the Gospels in sections, or with the use of commentaries and/or devotions. Read, reread, and reread again Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
  2. Read about Jesus. Your church might have a collection of reading material, including chapters from preferred books, articles, and blogs. My pastor recently recommended The Challenge of Jesus, Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is by N.T. Wright: “A rigorous historian and true academic, Wright will wash the insecure and pretend foundations of a folk fable version of Jesus right out from under you (me),” (Pastor Cliff Purcell).
  3. Further viewing: Explore a range of films to get a better sense of what the Gospels teach. According to Frost, Godspell and Jesus of Montreal aren’t technically films about Jesus himself, but beautifully capture different aspects of Jesus’ character and action.

Although we’re not all called to be evangelists, every Christian is called to live evangelistic lives and be prepared to give the answer for our hope.

Weekly Challenge

Including our previous challenges, here is one more for us this week: 🙂

  • Bless three people, at least one of whom is not a member of your church.
  • Eat with three people, at least one of whom is not a member of your church.
  • Listen – Spend at least one period of the week listening for the Spirit’s voice.
  • Learn – Spend at least one period of the week learning Christ.

Five Habits of Highly Missional People: Listen

Taken from Michael Frost’s book, Surprise the World!, the third habit of highly missional people is to listen for the Holy Spirit’s voice.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” ~ Matthew 5:14-16

For Christians, the Holy Spirit is our constant friend and endless supply of strength and guidance. Without Him, we are subject to get off course and falter in sin. We need to set apart time to stop talking, quiet our hearts, and ask Him to speak to us. This is no small task in the busy culture we live in, especially for the extroverts among us. But we need to listen to God’s voice, especially if we want to be instruments of His love and peace. Otherwise, how are we going to be salt and light if we are hurried and harried like so many around us?  

The Holy Spirit will never instruct against God’s Word. He often gives us understanding and/or a realization through His still small voice.

Bruce Demarest (Satisfy Your Soul) writes: A quieted heart is our best preparation for all this work of God. . . . Meditation refocuses us from ourselves and from the world so that we reflect on God’s Word, His nature, His abilities, and His works . . . . So we prayerfully ponder, muse, and “chew” the words of Scripture. . . . The goal is simply to permit the Holy Spirit to activate the life-giving Word of God.

So how are we to take this challenge of silence and solitude as a missional habit? Frost gives the following advice:

Set Aside a Designated Time

Start with one designated time block a week for 15-20 minutes. View it as a special time between you and God. Don’t count your designated time when you are on the run.

Eliminate Distractions

Find a place free from noise and interruptions. Avoid sensory distractions: touch, sights, sounds, smells, taste. The quieter your surroundings, the better one can listen to the Holy Spirit. Find a comfortable position in a chair and close your eyes. Allow the distractions in your mind to dissipate, which usually takes 15-20 minutes.

Let God In

Begin your time by simply enjoying God’s presence. Don’t ask questions (something I need to work on!), or tell the Holy Spirit what you need or want. He knows before we do. Don’t listen to the Enemy’s lies either, reminding you of your unworthiness and sins. Remember how much God loves you. I know this sounds cliché, but let his love wash over you. For He’s the One who created you in the first place. His Spirit longs to dwell in your heart, the temple He created for Himself. Try to focus your thoughts with a simple centering prayer: Abba, peace, grace, love or Jesus’ prayer from Luke 18:13: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Frost writes: Centering prayer is different from classic Eastern mediation, which is attempting to empty your mind by pushing thoughts away or by having no thoughts. Christian contemplative practices expert Phil Fox Rose says that when engaging in centering prayer, the key is to “resist no thought.” Most of us simply can’t stop thinking anyway. Our minds are constantly racing. If we make having no thoughts the goal, we’ll get discouraged. In centering prayer, we let thoughts happen, but we don’t engage them.”

Follow God’s Promptings

We need to be governed by the Spirit’s promptings. Frost writes: The Spirit might bring to your mind the name or face of a person you are to bless or eat with. He might convict you of sin or encourage you in your faithfulness. He might prompt you to reengage with someone you blessed last week. . . . If we allow the Spirit to guide us, we will be free to enjoy our appetites in a redeemed, godly fashion.

How do we know if the prompting is of the Holy Spirit? You will sense His presence in your heart. He will reward you with the fruit of love, joy, peace, etc.

Weekly Challenge

Adding to the previous challenges, here is our challenge for the week:

  1. Bless three people, at least one of whom is not a member of your church.
  2. Eat with three people, at least one of whom is not a member of your church.
  3. Listen – Spend at least one period of the week listening for the Spirit’s voice.