Posts Tagged With: Romans 6:23

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit (Matthew 5:3)

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Image via Pixabay.

I saw the following quote in an article I read online a few days ago. It offers the following words of encouragement to Christians who may be struggling with discouragement, remorse, or other “negative” feelings:

“You’re perfect just the way you are! Be true to yourself! Or maybe you’re one of those church types and need to couch it in some spiritual language. How about: God isn’t judging you, so stop judging yourself! Jesus calls you to just accept and love yourself! You only need to repent of not being true to the person God made you!”

Some of those statements may sound familiar to you. You might have heard them in Sunday morning sermons, seen them on social media, or read them in a devotional guide. Maybe you have said them yourself.

So, what is the source of these profound words of encouragement? The Christian satire website The Babylon Bee. The wise theologian sharing these words of wisdom? Satan. You can read the entire article here.

The Beatitudes are countercultural. It rejects this message of self-esteem and self-actualization. The world tells us to believe in ourselves. It encourages pride. Society and media tell us to pursue personal independence, be self-confident, and rely on ourselves. They tell us that we can accomplish whatever we imagine if we only believe in ourselves.

Jesus presented a completely opposite message. He began the Sermon on the Mount with the radical statement: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” He did not say, “Blessed are the ones who think they have it all together, the proud, self-reliant, and self-confident.”

Many recovering alcoholics and drug addicts in Twelve-Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous speak of the moment in their lives when they “hit bottom.” Circumstances became uncontrollable. They could not figure out how to solve their problems, and they could not imagine how life could become any worse. Even more tragically, they could not believe that it would ever get better either. When they acknowledge their spiritual poverty and powerlessness, they discover that they need to look to “a Power greater than ourselves” to restore them to sanity.

Those who are poor in spirit, as Jesus put it, have often hit some kind of bottom. They realize they are not the masters of their fate. They cannot take charge of their own situations and rely on their own strength, wisdom, or other resources to keep their lives under control.

Photo by Hoshvilim, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In some way, we have all hit bottom. Sometimes it is obvious: the alcoholic who cannot hold down a job; the homeless drug addict; the person in prison; the tormented soul on suicide watch in a psychiatric hospital. Sometimes it is more subtle, and life almost looks good. However, sin produces spiritual death in all of us:

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1-2).
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

However, with God, death is not the final word. Centuries earlier, when prophesying Israel’s forthcoming restoration from exile, Isaiah wrote:

“For thus says the high and exalted One
Who lives forever, whose name is Holy,
‘I dwell on a high and holy place,
And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit
In order to revive the spirit of the lowly
And to revive the heart of the contrite’” (Isaiah 57:15, emphasis added).

He twice uses the word “revive.” It is a popular word in some Christian circles. It simply means “to receive or give new life” or “to restore life.” God promised to revive the spirit of the lowly and the heart of the contrite. To those who are poor in spirit—empty, defeated, discouraged, feeling like they are light years away from God or hope—He offers new life. God invites us to live again. He offers the kingdom of heaven as our reward, inheritance, and eternal destiny.

Revival does not mean we will never face challenges again. It just means we have an abundant life with Christ and can rely on His resources to bring us through difficulties. While we may remain poor in spirit, we can draw on God’s strength:

“Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded…. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you” (James 4:7, 8, 10).

This passage gives us several keys to obtaining God’s strength in temptation. When spiritual poverty can destroy us, we can take the following actions:

  • Submit to God: Let Him take control of your life and place yourself under His guidance.
  • Resist the devil: You will be tempted to try to solve your problems in your own strength. Resist those urges.
  • Draw near to God: Keep following Him. Spend time praying, worshiping Him, and reading His Word. He will draw near to you. In fact, He is with you always (Matthew 28:20); it only feels like He is far away when we do not seek Him.
  • Humble yourself in His presence.

The truth is that we are all poor in spirit. We need God’s resources to survive. Admit your need, draw near to Him, and surrender to Him. As you humble yourself and place your faith in Jesus Christ, He will give you the kingdom of heaven.

Have you ever “hit bottom” or recognized yourself as “poor in spirit”? How did you draw near to God and receive His riches to get you through? Share your thoughts, experiences, or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2022 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Sermon on the Mount | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ash Wednesday: Fasting to Celebrate Christ

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23, ESV).

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (from the liturgy for Ash Wednesday, from the Book of Common Prayer).

I have posted several articles about Ash Wednesday and Lent on this blog over the years. I find this season helpful in my spiritual journey. It is easy to grow complacent and just go through the motions of the Christian life: go to church, read the Bible, pray every day, and try not to get caught doing anything too bad.

Lent is a season of fasting with a purpose. The ceremony of imposing ashes on a believer’s forehead imitates the ancient Jewish custom of covering oneself in sackcloth and ashes as a sign of mourning or penance (Jonah 3:6; Job 42:6). While using the ashes to mark a cross on the forehead, the priest or minister will usually say, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This statement reminds us that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and the wages of sin is death.

That soul-destroying sin is washed away through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and death is conquered in His resurrection. While Lent begins with acknowledgment of our sin and need of forgiveness, it ends with Good Friday and Easter, when we celebrate our new life in Christ. From repentance to rejoicing; from sin to salvation; from death to new life.

I expect Lent to take a slightly new angle in 2017. I can get into a rut with spiritual disciplines and lose focus on a greater goal. I have pretty much done the same things every Lent over the last few years, but in addition to “more prayer” and things like that, I hope to renew some aspects of my relationship with God that may have been pushed aside by busyness in recent years.

Fasting works best when it goes beyond denying oneself of food or pleasure and opens one up to drawing closer to God. I will cut back significantly on Facebook (I spend too much time online these days, and it has become a virtual wasteland). I will also add some activities that have slipped by the wayside: My guitar and bass have been collecting dust lately, so I plan to spend some time worshipping the Lord through song. Instead of focusing only on things to give up for 40 days, I will also look for renewed ways to spend time with my Lord during this season.

If you have never observed Lent before, I urge you to give it a try. For 40 days (not counting Sundays—most traditional churches recognize Sunday as a day to celebrate Christ’s resurrection, not to fast) between March 1 and Easter Sunday, make the following simple commitments:

  • Give up one food-related pleasure. In the past, I have given up coffee (that was a tough one!), Snicker’s bars, or other favorite snacks.
  • Perhaps devote one or two days per week to a more intense fast. Many Catholics abstain from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent. You can go that route, or choose one or two days a week for a more extensive fast that works for you.
  • Give up a hobby, or an activity that really has become an unproductive waste of time for 40 days. Most of us have something that weighs us down. I mentioned Facebook. Some people may benefit from giving up sports, or television. If you are willing to be honest, you will think of something that you would benefit from giving up for a while.
  • Do it in communion with others. If your church does not observe Lent, perhaps you can find some friends (such as a Bible study or prayer group) to embark on the fast together. Accountability and camaraderie have a way of strengthening us.
  • Most importantly, in the midst of “giving stuff up,” fill the empty space with more of God’s presence. As you abstain from physical bread, feast upon the bread of life, which is Jesus Himself. Spend extra time in prayer and Scripture reading. Read some of the devotional classic writings that will renew your zeal for the Lord. Find new ways to worship and serve God.

If you are thinking that it’s too late to commit to Lent: do it anyway. The Ash-Wednesday-to-Easter schedule is purely traditional. Feel free to do a 40-day (or whatever length) Lenten-type fast whenever the Spirit moves you. God is not bound by the calendar, but we are freed to experience His blessings and power when we surrender our hearts, souls, minds, strength, and time to Him.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

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