Thursday, August 7, 2008

Blessed Are Those Whose Hearts Are Pure

If you grew up in a Sunday school that took Bible memorization seriously, the Beatitudes were probably among the verses you learned early. "Blessed are the poor in spirit... the meek... the merciful... the pure in heart... the peacemakers." It sounds beautiful, but how many people really believe it? Thousands of church members recite that passage on Sunday and then go out to live the next six days according to the world's principles, which seem to be the exact opposite: "Blessed are those who demand their rights, who grab what they can, and who consider themselves the most important people in the world; for only they will get ahead in life."

For that matter, how many of us really consider what "blessed" means? Most of us think of it as meaning "healthy and wealthy." We say we are "blessed" with loving families or "blessed" to get money when we need it; but who ever says, "God blessed us with cancer" or "with bankruptcy"? But Jesus could hardly have been promising a "health and wealth" blessing, since in verse 11 He says, "Blessed are you when people... persecute you," which presumably includes the inflicting of financial and physical damage. Another definition of "blessed"--"worthy of worship"--is even less likely to be what He meant, because the Bible repeatedly emphasizes that only God is worthy of worship; the rest of us don't even come remotely close!

So what does Jesus mean when He says we are "blessed" if we prove compassionate, patient, and willing to suffer for God's honor? Simply that those who live such lives are Christlike and especially close to God, and as such, enjoy His favor and goodwill. Where we usually get into trouble is in trying to dictate to Him precisely how we want to be favored, an attitude which in itself indicates we are slipping away from Beatitude living. If we aren't careful, we can quickly start behaving like the four-year-old who failed to get a motorbike for Christmas and railed against Santa Claus: "I paid for it! I was good for two whole weeks!!!"

If we really wanted to "pay for" God's blessing, we would have to live up to the Beatitudes perfectly and completely every moment of our lives. If you know yourself half as well as I know myself, your probable reaction to that was "then it's no use even trying." You're right; in our own strength, we wouldn't last fifteen minutes. Knowing that should make us appreciate how helpless we are without Christ, and how generous He is to give us His strength to help us "grow into" Beatitude living. Many, perhaps all, of the events we consider anything but "blessings" are His tools for perfecting us.

The reason the process is so rough is that we're a lot further from perfect than we suspect. Just as most teenagers want to "grow up" just enough to drive and set their own curfews--but not so much as to cook their own meals and work for a living--most Christians just wanted to get rid of the habits that initially made us feel guilty, and we balk when we get past the obvious and God keeps calling our attention to additional imperfections. We think that "honest and hardworking and loving those who love you" is good enough for Heaven.

He loves us too much to leave us half-finished.

Blessed are those whose hearts are pure,
Who allow no wrong thought in the mind;
It is they whose faith will prove strong and sure,
And their God they will surely find.

Blessed are those whose faith is strong,
Who look doubt in the eye and who say,
"Though my flesh so easily steers me wrong,
By God's grace I will find His way."

Blessed are those whose hope is set
On the One Who for love gave His all:
When the world is dark, His own light shines yet;
He will not let His children fall.

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