Jesus, Religion, and True Spirituality: A Look at Four BeatitudesRelated Media
You’ll be happy to know that Sonny Bono is alright, that he’s doing just fine. You ask me how I know that. Well, I know that because of an interview TV Guide recently conducted with Cher. The actress told the interviewers that she had made contact with her former, now deceased husband. She claims to have spoken with Sonny through a medium—a well known individual—James Van Praagh, author of Talking to Heaven: A Medium’s Message of Life after Death. Sonny was quick to encourage her that he was happy and doing just fine. No one was to worry about him.
Ah yes, my friends, welcome to the New Age—or, in the words of Ruth Tucker, the Occult made respectable.1 To see just how much certain segments of the movement have taken from orthodox Christian categories and reinvested them with Biblically antithetical ideas one need only peruse the book A Course in Miracles.2
New Age religion: a virtual kaleidoscope of “fads, fantasies and follies.” The movement boasts such well-known celebrities as Shirley MacLaine, Judy Knight, and the late John Denver. You may recall such popular selling books as Out on a Limb and The Global Brain. Al Gore himself couldn’t miss out on the chance to capture what these gurus refer to as “global consciousness” when he published his environmentally correct book, Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit. The New Age has been aptly described as “a luscious jungle of exotic spirituality,” including the use of crystals, the channeling of spirit entities, the use of holistic health remedies, and a fascination with UFO’s and astrology.
According to L. A. Times religion writer Russell Chandler, in his 1988 book Understanding the New Age, over 42% of Americans believe that they have been in touch with someone who has died. 67% of Americans said they have had some form of ESP and 14% endorsed the work of spirit mediums (by the end of the 1980s).
In 1988, former white house chief of staff, Donald T. Regan, got the press all up in arms when he revealed in a book that the President and Mrs. Reagan regularly read astrology forecasts and that Nancy Reagan consulted astrologers to help plan her husband’s schedule. But this shouldn’t have upset Americans since, according to Chandler, 67% of Americans read astrology reports anyway and 36% believe they are scientific.
The New Age, with its blend of American marketing, Eastern mysticism, and the inclusive nature of its belief paradigm, is growing rapidly in the US. People are starving for reality and it appears to offer them what they’re looking for. It proclaims definitive answers—in a less than definite world—to profound questions about what it means to be spiritual and to enjoy the spiritual/mystical life.
But if all this New Age stuff with its crystals and spirit mediums is too much for your sensibilities, you can always choose from the myriad of other options in American religious life. The smorgasbord includes Mormonism, Jehovah Witnesses, Christian Science, New Thought and Unity, The Worldwide Church of God, The Way International, The Children of God, The Unification Church, Hare Krishnas, The Baha’i Faith, Scientology, a host of mainline Protestant and Catholic churches, etc.3
All these religions, including the New Age, while they have many differences, promulgate on one common assertion, namely, they claim to offer knowledge about final reality. They all claim to offer true and lasting spirituality. “As scarce as truth is, the supply always seems to be in excess of the demand.” But while the essential tenets of these religions shift with the tides of culture, a fact few people recognize in a history-less America, Jesus speaks into our darkness with the eternal truth of God. There is a big difference, perhaps as large as the Grand Canyon itself, between the “mediums” in Hollywood and the Jesus of Scripture. And it is not just in the realm of ethics.
We live in a country where people’s lives are ripping apart at the seams. Families are in disintegration. “Mom hates dad and dad hates mom.” They sue each other. In certain states the kids sue each other too. And speaking of kids, what are we to make of the school violence, such as Columbine High School and the numerous other incidents before and after that? The list of societal ills infecting our country is lengthy. Sociologists and psychiatrists have much to be concerned about, as well as the rest of us. My point is not to articulate the various socio-economic/political/spiritual reasons for the present state of the union, but simply to point out that people are searching and they are hungry—hungry for a taste of reality. The New Age and other religions are attempting to speak to those needs.
Yet, is it any wonder, in light of the dissolution of the family, etc., etc. etc., that people are longing for true spiritual connections—connections which transcend our hurried existence and from which we secure a sense of the permanent and unchangeable. And we want something personal too. But the problem is, we live in a culture that, though it seeks spiritual realities—as the popularity of the New Age suggests—is nonetheless quick to argue that “there is no truth,” even if that very statement betrays such an illusion. We revel in our openness and relativism—“opening our minds” under the guise of liberality, only to find out that our brains have become more like marsh mellow than muscle. We also found that liberalism wasn’t quite as neutral about its claims either! It was only a shifting of the navet. Should some “prophet, whoever he or she might be, stand up and say that “the truth about us is this and not that,” he/she is branded a heretic and swiftly singled out for a prophet’s “reward.” Yes, for the prophets of the world, we find hidden strength, akin to Popeye after the spinach. The point is we long for a meaningful spiritual experience, but only as our imagination tames it and dumbs it down. We have little time for truth, especially the truth about ourselves. We simply cannot countenance someone speaking to our own sinfulness. But surely in the face of such radical evil in society and in personal relationships we cannot deny such honest indictments any longer. Surely we should want to come to grips with our own personal contribution to the mess.
But we are as hopelessly foolish as we are incurably religious. We seek the light, but when we get close, we protest that the truth is too much for us. So we retreat. We turn back into the darkness in order to feel comfortable. Ah, yes…back in the darkness—where no one can see, not even God—we are busy inventing some new therapy, some new hope, some new concoction or religious belief—a panacea so to speak, invested with divinity and thus guaranteed to give us the relief we incessantly lust. And we’re willing to throw whatever money at it we might have, or don’t have, as the case may be (There’s always plastic!). But when the agony comes to the surface again, like the shark in the movie Jaws, as swimmers within its grasp we are once again caught in the grip of its teeth. We are hauled under by the struggles with family in general, teenagers, bosses, government taxes, etc. Why doesn’t life work like we were promised. We are terrified by the bankruptcy of the gods our own hands have fashioned. But there is another way.
There is someone who knows you and loves you. There is someone who has spoken definitively into our darkness. He knows the games we play and blind alleys we prefer. Nonetheless, for those who want to listen, Jesus wants to speak. His voice is heard by the humble, those ready to lay down the hammer and nails of self construction (or destruction), and hear what he has to say. Those who have an ax to grind concerning their own self-goodness will never hear him speak. So go, put away your ax, if you need to, and listen to him. Ironically, the first words he says are: “You’re right!” “You are right” to turn to spiritual realities to give sustenance to your parched and wearied soul. But you are wrong to skip over your sinfulness. First, I need to talk to you about “you.” Indeed, this is where Jesus begins one of his most impressive sermons, referred to as The Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7. I want to focus particularly on the first four beatitudes in 5:1-6 en route to answering the question about true spirituality. You are right to seek it, but I encourage you to listen to what Christ has to say about it. Buckle your seat-belt. The road is rough, but I think you’ll find it true. Finally, some place to land your heart’s feet.
When it comes to understanding true spirituality, it begins first, at least according to Christ, with a deep understanding of ourselves as we stand before God. For Jesus God is the one who is not only holy, righteous, and distinct from his creation (he upholds and loves it), but he is also the God who is with the humble in heart, the one who loves the unlovable. In Matthew 5:1-2 Jesus saw the crowds so he went up on a mountainside and sat down. The posture of a rabbi sitting down indicated that he was going to teach. Recognizing this, his disciples went to him to listen. Once again Jesus is trying to get an audience with us, to “sit with us” as it were, so that he might talk to us about our condition and the hope he offers. The first beatitude is in Matthew 5:3 and would have hit his original hearers—who suffered under Roman oppression—like a scud missile out of nowhere.
He says, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The word blessed in this beatitude means to possess and participate in the kingdom of heaven, the reign of God in your daily experience. It is to marvel in the “life-giving” transforming power of God in your every day walk-about world. “But,” says Jesus—and this is the part where every good preacher sharing this truth ought to have one foot in the stirrup—this kind of power and personal experience of God comes only to a certain kind of individual. Only those who are poor in spirit participate in the kingdom of heaven. So what does he mean when he says “poor in spirit?” This is the difficult news.
Let me begin by answering that question with a negative. Being “poor in spirit” does not mean being diffident, highly reticent, or lacking in courage. No, not by any means. Courage is that quality that gives allegiance to truth, and brings forth valiant action in the world. No, poor in spirit cannot be translated as “lacking in courage.” Those who take it this way, and many have, make themselves the mouse. These people ought to remember those words of caution from Aneurin Bevan: “Don’t make yourself the mouse, or the cat will eat you.”
But neither is “poor in spirit” a reference to some sort of Christian (or otherwise) false humility. You’ve undoubtedly heard the guy who says he can’t find time to eat, sleep, or even watch TV with his family. All he has time to do is read his Bible and pray. This kind of false humility is not at all what Jesus has in mind by “poor in spirit.”
To be “poor in spirit” is to come to grips with a crucial, yet disturbing fact. It is the very painful recognition of my spiritual condition before God. I might have been made for a garden but I’m living in a desert! Of my own making!
The Associated Press, on June 4, 1961, told the story of a soviet nuclear sub in trouble. The K-19, as she was named, was conducting routine training missions in the North Atlantic when a pipe carrying coolant to the reactor broke. Immediately the temperature in the reactor raised to 140 degrees and was in imminent danger of exploding and causing a nuclear disaster. The captain Nicolai Zateyev immediately called for volunteers. Armed with only raincoats and gas masks the first volunteers went in. After five minutes the first one came out, threw off his mask, fell on the floor, and vomited. Several crews were sent in and eventually the pipe was sealed.
But the radiation had done its harm. The appearance of the men who had gone into the reactor changed. Their skin reddened and swelled. Their faces bloated to huge proportions. Dots of blood appeared on their foreheads. The faces of the sailors were so disfigured that within two hours they were unrecognizable and repugnant to their shipmates. They were disfigured beyond recognition.
That’s what Jesus is talking about. In the sight of God, our spiritual bankruptcy, diametrically opposed to what Shirley MacLaine thinks, is abominable and repugnant. We are not gods. We are the farthest thing from it. We are bankrupt. Sin has disfigured our souls and wreaked havoc in our lives.
The word “poor” here conjures ideas of the blind beggar hiding in the shadows of the streets in the various towns of Palestine. Before God, so go I. I am bankrupt, pure and simple. It is just as the prophet Isaiah agonizingly cried out, “Lord, I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.” Or in the words of the apostle Paul, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is in my sinful nature.” Jesus says that true spirituality and participating and possessing the kingdom of God means recognizing my radical condition.
“If we knew our wretched state we might think twice about the little games we play with God and our self-help programs. The cross—and by that I mean the whole death/resurrection/ascension/coming of the Spirit—is the only solution. God is not in the business of making good men better, but making dead men alive! We see the kind of sinfulness to which Jesus refers in our own experience. We see it in our own personal lives and in our relationships with others which are usually so filled with stress one hardly even wants to call them relationships.
Some time ago one of our friends was in a real jam. She told us of her stepson who had been in a significant amount of trouble. Her husband, the boy’s biological father, realized the thin ice upon which his son walked, but felt impotent to do anything about it. Further, the son had had bad debts as well as an overwhelming amount of credit card debt for a person in their early twenties. Further, he simply could not be trusted. On one occasion he took his step mom’s car without asking and damaged it—all the while claiming it wasn’t his fault. But, he then turned around and went to both of them and asked them to co-sign a lease agreement so that he could get an apartment. Oh, I forgot to tell you that he was evicted from his previous apartment because he had recently lost another job. Would you co-sign the lease? Exactly. Yet he couldn’t figure out, for the life-of-him, why they wouldn’t sign the lease, not to mention the fact that if he had quit on them, they would not have been able to afford the apartment for the duration of the lease. And so goes the litany of examples about relationships.
Our confusion about the nature of true spirituality is just as revealing as the confusion about relationships evidenced by my friend’s stepson. For us spirituality is more a matter of superstition, a la the New Age, or some hocus-pocus religion, rather than genuine faith. Against this transient culture stands the claims of scripture that Christ has risen from the dead and offers life and a truly spiritual experience, but it begins with the realization that not only in my human relations am I bankrupt, but also in my relationship to God. If God were to call his loans, my charade would be exposed for what it really is—a house in ruins. I am in a desperate condition. Don’t let any sense of well-being from living in comfortable, corporate America lull you into thinking all is well. All is not well; something is awfully wrong between you and God, between me and God. Even if you are already a Christian, there is a sense in which you enjoy God now, and you should, but sin, insofar as it still has sway, reminds us that salvation is not yet complete. Its completion awaits a glorious future day when Christ will put an end to sin once and for all.
But true spirituality doesn’t end here. It doesn’t end with the recognition of my hopeless estate before a holy God. This is just the beginning, but an important beginning it is. Get it wrong here, and you’ll get the whole thing wrong. This is why the central tenet of the New Age philosophy with its focus on “we are gods and don’t know it” is so incredibly wrong. It’s nothing more than gnosticism made a little more public. It has no explanatory power when it comes to the shambles of our lives. One wonders if the New Age and popular religion isn’t just another form of escapism. In any case, this is where Jesus begins, but as I said, he doesn’t end there. Thus Jesus moves on in v. 4 with another blessing formula.
In Matthew 5:4 Jesus says, Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Do you see the connection to what Jesus has just said about our bankrupt condition in v. 3? Those who recognize the insidious nature of their spiritual condition before God will mourn. But what in particular do they mourn about? Mourning is consistent too with loneliness or the loss of something. First of all, let it be said, that we are not talking about sadness of the sort that I will have if the Dallas Stars lose in the playoffs…again. Remember Babylon the Great in Revelation 18 and how the world mourns her destruction in the Great Tribulation. This is not the kind of mourning we’re talking about either.
We are talking about the mourning of my spiritual state before God. It is saying Oh, God, don’t look upon me. It’s like Peter, “Depart from me Lord for I am an unclean man!” All of us resonate with the words of the apostle Paul: “O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death. Lord I don’t understand what I do. I do not do what I want and I do what I do not want!” This is the kind of mourning Jesus has in mind.
Dwight D. Eisenhower has been quoted as saying, “There is nothing wrong with America that the faith, love of freedom, intelligence, and energy of her citizens cannot cure.” Someone once said, “When at first you don’t succeed remember the last four letters of American!” We live in a “can-do” world, but when it comes to altering our spiritual condition we are helpless. We can only mourn. No fig leaf will cover the guilt of our sin and yet we’re commanded not to hide. No more hiding. The truth is “We have fallen and we can’t get up!” But note: It’s not simply a matter of being broken, but being broken in the right place, that is, experiencing our corruption in the sight of holy God.
There is a haunting photo by Alain Keler in the October 1993 issue of Life magazine. It is of a boy playing a flute. And though the boy, named Jensen, is only ten years old, he can nonetheless play some very sad songs. For when you look at his eyes—or where his eyes should be beneath his long, dark bangs—you see only redness, empty sockets. Jensen lives in a charitable institution in Bogot, Colombia.
Blindness is always tragic, but the cause of blindness in this case only multiplies the sorrow. In the caption next to the photo, Robert Sullivan explains that the boy was likely the victim of “organ nappers.” Eye thieves.
When Jensen was ten months old, reports his mother, she took him to the hospital with acute diarrhea. The next day when she returned, bandages covered Jensen’s eyes. Dried blood was spattered on his body. Horrified, she asked the doctor what had happened.
He answered harshly, “Can’t you see your child is dying?” and dismissed her.
She rushed Jensen to another hospital in Bogot. After examining him, the new doctor gave the chilling news: “They’ve stolen his eyes.” Undoubtedly his mother was engulfed in sorrow. A truly tragic story.
May I suggest to you that, while we may not have had this happen to us, we nonetheless share in this story in at least two ways. First, we are like the young boy who had his eyes stolen. The fact is we cannot see and sin has robbed of us of that ability. Second, we’re like the mother who undoubtedly mourned for her son, so we too ought to mourn with the same kind of pathos over our spiritual condition. We are spiritually blind and unable to comprehend the extent of our depravity. When we are faced with our bankruptcy and by God’s grace come to see our desperate condition, we should mourn, not rejoice. We definitely should not run and hide behind religion, Christian or otherwise.
You say, “Well, I’m a Christian, God has taken care of all of that and you’re minimizing the cross and the work of the Spirit to deny such a truth!” Really, then, why do you still struggle with sin? Why is it that all of the NT gospels and letters are written to churches who struggled with sinful thoughts, attitudes and ways of relating? Are we necessarily better than they were? Why does church history testify to more struggles than victories? Let me show you something in the beatitudes that perhaps you haven’t seen before. The first and last beatitude in vv. 3 and 10 are in the present tense. As those who have trusted in Christ, those who have admitted their bankruptcy and turned to him, they possess the kingdom of heaven now. But inherent in the concept of the “kingdom of heaven” is its future realization in fullness (cf. Matt 8:10-12). While we possess the kingdom now in a limited measure, we will someday experience the consummation of the kingdom and it is then that every tear will be removed and the old order (under sin) will be finally dealt with (Rev 21:3-4). Thus we still struggle in the present. Certain of the blessings such as “inheriting the earth,” “seeing God,” and realizing our full rights as “sons of God” can be clearly seen to have a significant future realization in God’s kingdom. Indeed, they all do!
Jesus says that those who mourn over their sinfulness will be comforted. When we admit our sinfulness, Jesus says there is “comfort.” To the one who acknowledges his/her sin and spiritual bankruptcy, and mourns over it, this person will experience the first aspect of the kingdom, namely, comfort—comfort from God through the Holy Spirit that truly meets our desperate need. It is here that we find the benefit of the cross anticipated in the sermon on the mount. It is here where the idea of forgiveness enters. “Forgiveness,” says Mark Twain, “is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” We will experience through the forgiveness of our sins. In the Bible, there is no other way.
Let’s review. True spirituality, says Jesus, begins by embracing our spiritual bankruptcy before a holy God. That’s Matthew 5:3. There is nothing we can do to either make ourselves spiritually acceptable to God, nor is there anything we can do to satiate his wrath. Jesus says that mourning befits those in this condition and that then, God will comfort us. That’s Matthew 5:4. Those who know their sinfulness and mourn over it will be meek. This is the point of
In Matthew 5:5 Jesus says blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. But what does meekness refer to? A pastor was greeted at the door of the church after the service by a women who thanked him for the good sermon to which he responded quite piously: “Don’t thank me, thank the Lord.” That’s not meekness. In fact, I think the lady realized that his smuggness wasn’t genuine meekness, for she quickly responded, “Well, it wasn’t that good!” Meekness and gentleness are close ideas as long as gentleness is characterized as power under control. There are several examples of this sought after trait in scripture.
The first example comes from the life of Abraham. In Genesis 13 he and Lot had a conflict. Actually their herds and livestock were becoming too large and the land could not support them both. Besides, the Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time. A dispute ensued between Abraham’s herdsmen and those of Lot. Now Abraham could have gone to Lot, being his elder, and said, “Don’t you know that has God promised this land to me. Therefore, I get this land (i.e., the best land) and you can have whatever I don’t need. But that is exactly what Abraham did not do. Instead, he went to Lot and requested that there not be quarreling between the two because they were brothers (13:8). Abraham basically said to him, in 13:9, “take whatever you want and I’ll have what’s left.” So, naturally, Lot took the well-watered plain near the Jordan. Abraham’s attitude, as a result of his trust in God, was meekness. He chose not to exercise what would appear to have been his prerogatives.
Think also of the example of David when he had ample opportunity to destroy his enemy Saul. Yet he chose not to do it. There is also the profound example of Jesus himself who proclaimed in Matthew 11:28-30:
Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
When Jesus refers to himself as gentle, it is the same Greek term as is found Matthew 5:5. Jesus is meek and humble in heart. When Matthew wants to characterize the person and ministry of Jesus he cites Isaiah 42:1-4 where the text says:
Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight. I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out, no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, nor a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, until he leads justice to victory. In him the nations will put their hope.
What a beautiful picture of our Lord and his way with people. Jesus enjoins this kind of meekness upon us and this is the meaning of meekness as spoken by our Lord in Matthew 5:5. Thus meekness is the result in the lives of those who can be described by the first two beatitudes. And to those who are meek, they will inherit the earth. Ultimately this probably refers to the new heavens and the new earth, as for example anticipated in 19:28, the regeneration of all things. The idea that those who were meek would inherit the kingdom in this fashion would have dumbfounded Jesus’ hearers, as much as it dumfounds us when we hear it. God’s kingdom and his ways are in many respects alien to our thinking.
But Jesus moves on from there with yet another beatitude and the last one we will look at in this discussion: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Hungering and thirsting is a powerful metaphor carrying the richest of fair. It expresses the inward cry of every soul for its very life. Here the master takes an experience from everyday Palestinian life (indeed life common to all ages and times to one degree or another), that is, the painful experience of hungering and thirsting, and uses it as a light with which to elucidate the longings of the soul for meaningful contact with God and his will in their lives. Jesus has already related the desire for food with one’s desire for God in Matthew 4:4. “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” It is a painful experience to really hunger and thirst. But, Jesus says to the person who has realized their bankruptcy, mourned over it and received forgiveness, that person will be meek and hunger for more of the same, more righteousness, both in their own lives and the in lives of others. The psalmist cried out “My soul thirsts for the living God (42:2; 63:1) and Amos in chapter 8 talks about hunger for the Word of God.
We see this attitude in the apostle Paul in Philippians 3:7-11:
3:6 In my zeal for God I persecuted the church. According to the righteousness stipulated in the law I was blameless. 3:7 But whatever was gain to me, I consider these things as loss because of Christ. 3:8 More than that, I now regard all things as loss compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things—indeed, I regard them as dung!—that I might gain Christ, 3:9 and be found in him, not because of having my own righteousness derived from the law, but because of having the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is based on Christ’s faithfulness. 3:10 My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, 3:11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
What passion for God! What zeal to know him through his Son! What a hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness, the righteousness that comes through Christ and is imputed and imparted through faith.
After two years of marriage my wife and I were ready to have a child. Like every new couple we learned later that we only thought we were ready to have a child. Anyway, it wasn’t long before our seven pound, two ounce bundle of joy came into the world. I’ll never get over watching the birth (and the other three since). What a miracle of God! We named our little pink-cheeked-individual Emily. Well, one day—a Saturday actually—“mommy” needed a break so she decided to go shopping with her mother-in-law. I stayed home to watch Emily, now a thriving three week old!
Now don’t misunderstand me, I love my kids; I have since the day they were born. But this was my first child. So when my wife wanted to leave me alone with her, I thought to myself, “I don’t know if that’s such a good idea. I mean, I’m not an expert at this sort of thing, you know.” But my wife calmed me down and eventually I reasoned, “What could it hurt?” After all, Emily sleeps all the time anyway. Surely I can’t mess up and do something wrong. So my wife gave me all the instructions, bid me farewell, and left me alone with Emily. I pulled the tiny bed she was in near my chair, clicked the TV on, and proceeded to watch golf. It was a slow Saturday afternoon and I thought that I would just sit there and watch golf. I love to watch golf. Doesn’t everyone?
Anyway, about 30 minutes after my wife left, I heard a little chirp come from Emily’s bed. A chirp like newborns make, I guess. About a minute later I heard another chirp. Soon the chirps were coming closer and closer, one on top of the other. They began getting louder and louder, and sounding more like full-fledged cries. I reached down to pick up Emily to console her. I held her in my arms and gently motioned up and down. Well, that made it worse. So I motioned side to side. Well, that didn’t work either. Soon she was crying so hard, her lips were purple, and they were actually “doing the wave.” Finally it dawned on me what was going on. She was hungry (da?). And there was nothing I could do for her. My wife had fed her earlier thinking that Emily would be fine until she returned from shopping. But she wasn’t and in Emily’s eyes, I was affectionately named “not-the momma.” I wasn’t going to do.
I look back on that experience, glad to say that both Emily and I lived through it, and I remember the passion Emily had for her “food” from “mommy.” I wonder how many of us have that kind of passion when it comes to longing for “food” from God, to hear his voice and desire that he create in us a righteous heart. Peter says that we should be like newborn babies craving the pure spiritual milk of the word so that by it we may grow up in our salvation, now that we have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:1-3). Let us hunger and thirst for righteousness that we may receive God’s ample supply. He will fill us with righteousness if we desire it (cf. Matt 6:33).
So what is true spirituality according to Jesus and his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, i.e., the first four beatitudes? Well, in short, it involves a relationship with a holy God who loves us. But, this love cannot be experienced apart from certain recognitions. First, we must embrace our helpless condition before him. I am not saying that you cannot be a good banker, lawyer, doctor, engineer or whatever apart from Christ. You can. But you cannot enjoy knowing God personally except through Christ (John 14:6). And, this comes by first recognizing our spiritual bankruptcy. I cannot take God on my terms. I must come to him on his terms.
Second, according to Jesus, the spiritually natural thing to do when I recognize my sinful estate is to mourn over it and not to try and hide in some way—i.e., being a good person, going to church, giving up on the whole thing, dismissing Christ, or whatever. God help us to face who we are and respond appropriately in faith.
Third, the embracing of who I am before God leads to meekness and a further hungering and thirsting after righteousness. We cannot divorce true spirituality from ethics of meekness and personal and corporate righteousness.
This is true spirituality. At least the beginnings of it. Jesus also goes on to talk about being “pure in heart,” “showing mercy,” “being peacemakers” and “being persecuted for the faith.” Perhaps we can discuss these next time.