Friday, April 28, 2017

Being In The Beatitudes

After I had finished spending forty days contemplating, meditating and studying more deeply Christ's time of temptations in the wilderness, the Spirit led me to spend the month of April immersing myself every day in the Beatitudes. This wasn't just a morning Bible study where I read a passage and then go about my day. What I discovered was that I focused on one of the Beatitudes, read it, prayed it, and then focused that day around living that passage out. One cannot read and live out the Sermon on the Mount without being transformed and transfigured. Gandhi studied the Beatitudes every day for forty years, which is more than a majority of those who profess to be Christians do (including myself). Of them, he said, "Christ's Sermon on the Mount fills me with bliss . . . Its sweet verses have the power to quench my agony of soul." He lived his life according to what he found in Matthew 5-7.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa described the Beatitudes this way:

Beatitude is a possession of all things held to be good,
from which nothing is absent that a good desire may want.
Perhaps the meaning of beatitude may become clearer to us
if it is compared with its opposite. Now the opposite of
beatitude is misery. Misery means being afflicted unwillingly
with painful sufferings.

The Beatitudes may be a "possession of all things held to be good" but they are daunting. This was not a message to build a mega-church on. Instead, the Sermon on the Mount seems to be a weeding process by Christ as he presents what appears to be a topsy-turvy, upside-down perspective on how the kingdom of heaven should work, not in some far off other land, but in the nitty gritty, down-to-earthy daily life that each of us leads. But he doesn't start off easy or palatable. "Blessed are the poor in spirit," Christ states, "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

If I were to go out on the street and survey a great number of people and ask them what it means to be "blessed," it would be a pretty safe bet that none of them would say that is being "poor in spirit." They would, instead, equate blessings with financial gain, good health, a life with no problems or major bumps in the road. 

When I meditate on the Mount, I find myself challenged by my preconceptions and misconceptions of how not only the world should work but how God should work in it. Oswald Chambers wrote that the Beatitudes have the "dynamite of the Holy Spirit" that "explodes when the circumstances of our life cause them to do so." Yes, the Beatitudes are not only meant to comfort, but to challenge us, startle us, shake us up, and wake us up to the ways of the kingdom of God. Proving that His ways are definitely and clearly not our ways. "This is not the way the world works," we like to point out to God and Christ tells us, "No it isn't. That's exactly the point." 

More often when one tries to live the Beatitudes out in their daily life, one will find, even among other followers of Christ, that they will say, "I don't think Jesus meant those literally." We want to wiggle our way out of them. We don't want to love our enemies. We don't want Christ to go past our outward actions to our inner motivations, to our hearts and what is really there beneath the skin. We prefer our holy masks.

I am one of those who would prefer that the Sermon on the Mount not exist. It's like the Ten Commandments on steroids. It is amped up and will not allow a person to stay as they are and to live as they have. To spend a month on the Mount is challenging, but a whole year? A whole year of meditating on and memorizing the Beatitudes - to say this is intimidating is an understatement. By nature, I'm a person who likes to be left alone, but the Beatitudes will not, ever, leave a person alone or as they are. They are to form and shape us into being more Christ-like. Nothing about Christ was easy or comfortable or safe. They push one into the unexpected. I hate the unexpected. I'm like the character in William Stegner's The Spectator Bird when he says, "Enter the unexpected - and I dislike the unexpected, as the man said, unless I had a chance to prepare for it." 

We are called to do more than process the Beatitudes, we are called to practice the Beatitudes. the Beatitudes are a revolution to all who undertake them. Christ is calling each of us to be "blessed" by:
- Being poor in spirit
- Mourn
- Meek
- Hunger & thirst for righteousness
- Merciful
- Pure of heart
- Peacemakers

Do you see an easy one on that list? 

I don't. 

And that's the point. 

The Beatitudes can be threatening to those who don't like or want change. The Beatitudes upsets the status quo. This is not the conventional wisdom of this world that we like to cling to but the counter intuitive wisdom of God on how the kingdom works and of God's very nature. When we approach the Beatitudes, we are approaching who God really is. That's intimidating.

It's also means that this is not a private, personal faith but one that is meant to be lived out in community. It means that I cannot turn a blind eye to what others are going through. An example, this morning when I went grocery shopping, I brought my filled cart to the registers to check-out and pay. I asked the woman at the register, "How are you doing today?" Her response was, "You don't really want to know, do you?" There may be many who would say, "Yup. You're right. I'm busy and have a lot of things I need to do . . ." and there may be days where I feel that way, but in that moment, God had me there to be grace to someone, so I answered, "Actually, I do. I really do want to know." She then unfold the circumstances of her morning and what she was going through. I listened. I saw her not simply as a clerk at a grocery store but as a human being created in the image of God who was hurting and needed to be heard. Following Christ, living out the Beatitudes,  means I cannot view someone else as disconnected from myself or not my responsibility. It means she is my neighbor. For a shy introvert, this means leaving myself and being present to someone else and their needs. 

Christ has not called us to what is easy, simple, or safe. He's calling us out to what is holy, sacrificial, and transformative. Transformations require reformations. It's a process. It's a daily dying to self. It's overwhelming. I would love to ignore the call of the Spirit and say, "No thanks, I would prefer to go about my life as I have in the past, as I choose," but I can't.  So, beginning in May, I will spend the rest of the year solely focused on the Beatitudes and discovering even more in-depth what it means to follow Christ through this central part of his ministry. 

"Sermon on the Mount" by Gerald Shepherd

I  will be studying the Beatitudes in many different translations: King James, NIV, The Message, and the New Oxford Annotated Bible.

I will also seek out theology books that cover the kingdom ethics that are encapsulated in the Sermon on the Mount. I will be climbing this mountain of God every day. This is the "Mount Everest of the gospels" as Brian Zahnd coined them. The Beatitudes are a revolution ("a revolution of the heart" as Dorothy Day describes it).

The Beatitudes are not a checklist for me to work through to earn God's favor. They are a way of being and becoming. To follow the Beatitudes is choosing, not the politics of the day, but the principles of the eternity. It's laying aside selfish love and striving for agape love. It is choosing the path of trust and surrender.

For anyone who wants to prayerfully consider joining me in forming this daily habit for the remainder of this year, let me know and we can work together, sharing insights and books that we are discovering. If you're interested, you can either comment below, message me on Twitter or Facebook, or e-mail me at  If you blog, you can share about your experience.

How might the world be changed if each of us undertook to live the Beatitudes out?  I can't wait to see.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds wonderful, Elliott. I am going to join you in this pursuit -- not quite sure what that will look like yet, but maybe I will write some poetry about the Beatitudes and do some reading on the topic. Looking forward to seeing what comes of it.