Preparing to teach the Beatitudes, I am trying to live my way into their truth by carrying them around on 3×5 cards and struggling to understand a Kingdom in which you are pronounced “happy” :
- If you know that you are spiritually bankrupt.
- If your poverty of soul makes you sad.
- If you realize that you are not the center of the universe.
This image of need and hungering stops me in my tracks and re-orients my values. John MacArthur puts it this way: “Jesus went into the great display window of life and changed all the price tags.” Could it be that the positions of influence and symbols of power that we covet are not all that valuable after all?
Reading, I see that although The Twelve squandered precious moments of their last days with Jesus squabbling over who should get the corner office, Jesus demonstrated no interest in the trappings of power.
A God who valued power over all else would not choose to identify Himself with a tiny nation of tent-dwellers.
He would not take on the space-and-time limitations of a body and then show up in the midst of an era of oppression, taxation, and poverty.
He would not “see the crowds,” then “sit down and open his mouth,” with the kind of power-bashing, establishment-alienating statements that we read in His Sermon on the Mount. In fact, just reading the Beatitudes can be hazardous, because I’m looking at the Christians I know — and, most of all, I’m looking in the mirror — and I’m realizing that most of us love power and everything that goes with it more than we love dealing with our sin or hungering for more of God. The economy of my own heart leans toward a set of pronouncements that have nothing to do with Christ’s kingdom:
Blessed are you if your voice is heard in committee meetings, for then you shall have the last word.
Blessed are you if your ideas are recognized and see the light of day, for then you shall receive the credit.
Blessed are you if people respect your time, your boundaries, and your position, for then you shall experience no inconvenience in this life, and your heart may remain private and small.
Blessed are you if you are known, if you are read, if you are heard, and above all, if you are appreciated, for then you may point to your resume and feel validated.
Jesus let go of all this.
His servant, the Apostle Paul, was also cautious about the trappings of power. In reminiscing about his days with the Gentile believers in Thessalonica, there was no hint of glory-seeking, no cushy expense account, no claim on apostolic privileges. He worked with his hands to earn a living, and then ministered the gospel among them, “just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children.” Now, there’s a metaphor for self-emptying service!
The currency that Paul valued, and that he spent with all his heart, was the power of godly influence, of building up a body of believers who could persevere in their faith through hard times. This is where Jesus placed the big price tags!
We have a pretty way of measuring “relevance” in our culture, and a pretty way of disregarding those we deem “irrelevant.” With the “key demo” for media advertising spanning the ages 18-49, can I find courage to ignore the relevance clock and fill my life with people who don’t make that cut? I want to be reminded every day of the power of wisdom that resides within a graying head. I need to hear the truth that Jesus’ kingdom-demo treasures the very old and the very young.
Pondering that kingdom with the help of my 3×5 cards, I am absorbing a value system that edges me toward a different world. As I read and write, as I make lists and perform the duties of “the keeper at home,” some days I wonder: How did my hands, my brain, and my calendar get so full? Wistfully, I speculate:
Is there something here that I can I let go of?
Jesus let go of power to gain freedom and life for the world.
Do I let go of freedom and life in order to gain power?
God, form my priorities and values around Truth, and teach me the precious value of vulnerability, of need, and of the still heart that has learned to say “enough.”