Some soul filling thoughts to consider this holiday season.
If someone were to ask, “Are you blessed?”, you would likely start taking an inventory of the stuff you have: friends, family, fortune, food , fun. I know I likely would.
After examining your material and immaterial possessions, you may find reason to concur that yes, you are indeed blessed. Perhaps you could even validate your blessed life by scrolling through your phone to post some of your #blessed photos to Instagram.
However, what if you aren’t rich? What if this holiday season you find yourself alone or just more socially distant than you prefer? What if you are a Christian under persecution without family, friends, or earthly possession? Does that mean you aren’t #blessed?
In Matthew 5, we find a record of the first message Jesus shares with his followers. Beginning in Matthew 5:1, Jesus does not stand on a stage with a microphone and fog machine next to a Rockstar band. Instead he walks up on the side of a hill, sits down, and begins to teach.
Could you imagine the moment? People have been awaiting the arrival of this messiah for centuries, and now we get to hear his first lesson. What does he say?
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Are you serious? Blessed are the poor, the mourning, the meek, the hungry, the persecuted? What is he talking about? All the anticipation for a messiah and his first words sound a bit nutty.
Does Jesus not know the definition of a blessing? We define a blessing as anything that gets us closer to our goals and dreams: health, wealth, prosperity, and happiness. If you get a new house, it’s a #blessing. You climb the social ladder or get a job promotion, it’s a #blessing. You get a good report from the doctor, celebrate the #blessing. Did your kid get a trophy? #blessed. Jesus needs to get with our program.
Truth is Jesus’s definition of blessing should rattle us. I am sure it rattled those that heard him teach his first message. Why in the world would Jesus say, “Blessed are the poor, sad, meek, hungry and persecuted”?
In my 20 years of being a Jesus follower, I have had the opportunity to be a part of the lives of Christians from different parts of the earth. From time to time, I have had the privilege to go with mission teams to serve the Lord in different parts of the world. These trips are typically to places that lack the modern conveniences we often enjoy as Americans. Inevitably, nearly every trip concludes with someone remarking about their thankfulness for the things they possess in comparison to where we visited as a mission team. They feel they have the blessed life in America, but do they?
Recently my family has become more acquainted with followers of Jesus in Uganda. Do you know Uganda is considered the third poorest country in the world? The average median income is around $750. Yes, per year! Did you also know Uganda has one of the highest percentages of Christians out of any country in the world? Astounding. Are these Christians #blessed? I think so, and more importantly I think Jesus said so. In fact, I think they could be more blessed than we know. HOW?
Today you will probably drink fresh water from a clean cup you pulled from your wonderful dishwasher. You will not worry about your next meal because even if your fridge is empty, you can get in your nice car and pay someone else to make a meal for you. At the end of the day you will go to bed on your soft mattress in a heated house. And the truth is, because of this we find ourselves spending our day praying very little. Without acknowledging it, we have subconsciously convinced ourselves that we don’t really need God. All our needs are met through our hard work and bank accounts, not through the Lord.
Convince me if I am wrong, but I bet your most faithful times of prayer in life have also come through some of the hardest seasons you have endured. Your wealth and possession don’t usually draw you closer to God. In fact, they typically take us away from him. We may not even recognize it. It is subtle, but we start to believe we don’t even need God.
It is for this reason Jesus says you are blessed when you are mourning, broken, and totally out of control. Why? In adversity, you find yourself coming back to God in ways that you didn’t when everything was smooth sailing. I think this is what the apostle Paul is getting at when he says, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Or, “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
The early followers of Jesus were not the wealthy and popular of society. They were the outcast and the broken. They were the ones desperate for a rescuer, and they were the ones Jesus called #blessed.
Don’t get me wrong. It is not a curse to have things. You should be thankful for them. However, it is important to recognize that those things can easily own us rather than us owning them. Things exist for the glory of God and for us to use them for his glory. Our primary focus in life should be for the Lord and his Kingdom and glory, and recognition that we are desperate for him. If you have that outlook, then yes, you are blessed.
Don’t measure your success by the things you possess, your beauty, or your intellect. Measure your success by your proximity to Jesus.
Maybe you do need to purge some things form your life. Or maybe you need to give things to the Lord. Either way, I want to be blessed. I want you to be blessed. I hope we all see Jesus as our great prize this holiday season. No matter where you find yourself for the cause of Christ, please be blessed in Jesus.