“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3
Through a series of convicting confirmations recently, it has become quite clear to me that I value the opinions of other people over my relationship with God. In fact, it may be the primary reason that I choose not to obey Him on a daily basis – and therefore, may be the primary reason that so much of my life is still separated from Him and from the healing and life and joy that He brings.
In my experience, I find that I am most likely to obey God when: 1 – what He asks is something I want to do anyway, and/or 2 – what He asks will bring me some sort of praise from men.
For example, the role of “missionary” carries with it a great deal of praise and applause from other people – whether we’re back at home or on the field (as does being a leader of praise and worship, or leading a bible study, or going on a mission trip). Further, I had wanted to move to Russia for years before we actually made the commitment. I was thrilled when Charlie said that he thought it was time for us to talk about living there full-time!
But, what about when God starts working on my heart to go to bed earlier and to get up earlier in the mornings so that I could have some more time with Him? What about when He asks me to set aside coffee, or chocolate, or television because those things are keeping me from Him? What about when He asks me to embrace the smelly, homeless lady who’s just asked me for a dollar?
Now these types of requests are harder to obey, and would probably draw a few confused stares (I mean, I don’t mind handing a dollar out of the car window. But to get out and actually hug a homeless person? I mean, who would do that??). But, I’m afraid that in reality, I’m still only barely scratching the surface.
Recently our small group went through the book of Matthew together, and re-visited Jesus’ sermon on the mount. Have you read that lately? Do you remember some of the things that Jesus calls us to do in that sermon?
Matthew 5:40 – “And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” Matthew 5:44 – “But I tell you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 7:1 – “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. Matthew 5:30 – “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.”
The enemy has been so effective at seeing these powerful words of Jesus reduced to simple cliches in the church, that we no longer even think about them when we hear them. But in these weeks, I have received them as a challenge in my walk towards life in the Lord: What if I began basing my daily choices and reactions on even just a few of the commands given by Jesus in these verses?
Take the person who steals money from me – do I go to him to write him a check for more?
What about that person who has spoken lies about me? Or that person who questioned my integrity? Do I go tell him, embrace him, and tell him that I love him? Do I pray and ask God to show him the mercy He has shown me time after time?
What about the person at church who was caught lying, or stealing from his company, or in an adulterous affair? Do I judge him and send him out of the church, or do I embrace him, and cry with him, and pray to God for his healing and restoration?
What about the politician from the other party? Or the man screaming for a cause with which I disagree?
Or what about the man who tries to kill me?
I know well how society tells me to react to these people. And that is what I have done. I have spoken loudly my views, and have defended my integrity and reputation, and have worked hard to get back the money that was stolen from me, and have been careful to keep my distance from those who have hurt me or disagree with my political views.
In my desperate attempt to maintain the approval and praise of society, I have walked in obedience to society, and so have remained separated from my God. I have chosen the chains of sin and greed and pride and bitterness over the freedom of obeying Jesus Christ – all so that I won’t be laughed at and considered naïve by those around me. Oh, God, have mercy on me, a broken and blind sinner.
St. Nikolai Velimirovic, a Serbian Orthodox bishop who opposed Nazism and was eventually taken to Dachau Nazi camp wrote the following prayer during his time there:
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Enemies have driven me into Your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.
Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world. Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.
Recently I was praying with a dear friend here in Tallinn, and she prayed the words, “Lord, we want to be the poor in spirit, the meek, the humble children You call us to be. We want to be so obedient to those words that others even see us as strange.”
I have seen this image of myself as I often sit trembling with fear over what God may ask me to give up, clinging to the things of this world that I believe I deserve to have, either because I have worked to earn them or because I was blessed with them at birth.
As those who have received the greatest gift of God’s mercy through His Son, let us be bold in our efforts to be broken. Let us be deliberate to give up the worldly comforts and praise that keep us separated from Him. Let us especially do so when we don’t have to. Let us choose to be aliens in this world, so that as more and more eyes look to us as “strangers”, they may have a greater view of Jesus Christ in us, and that – by His grace – even we may be used to the glory of God. Amen.