Blessed? Part 2: Hopeless

Aside

Imagine this:

A good friend calls to say “I wanted to let you know how blessed I am. Yep. I’m in a womanonphonereally good place. Happy even!”

“Why?” you ask. “What happened?” You know she’s been struggling financially, as well as with some serious family problems. You wonder if she’s won the lottery, or received some other out-of-the-ordinary help.

“Because I’m hopeless! I have no answers for any of my problems!” she responds enthusiastically.

Do you drop the phone? Suggest your friend might be feverish? Call for the men in white coats?

 As crazy as it sounds, our imaginary friend may have a thoroughly Biblical perspective on her situation.

Last week, I invited you to join me on a “blessed quest”—a search for understanding of what it means to walk in God’s blessings. I figured we’d start our quest with the words in red—what Jesus said about being blessed.

Most of what Jesus says about what it means to be blessed is contained in Matthew 5, in a 10-verse long section of the Sermon on the Mount called the Beatitudes, which means—drumroll please—the Blessings!

The Beatitudes are one of those parts of Scripture that many of us think we know, so I thought I’d check them out in a newer, less familiar translation. See how the Common English Bible translates the first of Jesus’s list of blessings, from Matthew 5:3:

“Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

In case you don’t recognize this verse, the NIV translates Matthew 5:3 this way:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

I’d read the NIV version before, but hadn’t thought much about what it means to be poor in spirit. I wondered: does it really mean “hopeless?”

When you look at the Greek text, “poor in spirit” is a pretty literal translation. One who is poor in spirit is one whose spirit is in absolute poverty—a beggar in spirit. It is one who has to plead for help from others because they have no resource on their own. In other words, one who is hopeless.

(So the scholars who translated the CEB version knew what they were talking about—imagine that. I’m sure they’re relieved to know I think so :)!)

But that still doesn’t help me understand what Jesus meant. How can being poor in spirit—hopeless—possibly be a blessing?

What do you think? (I’d seriously like to know!)

As I pondered what Jesus might have meant, an analogy came to mind:

We have one of those minivans that allows you remove and replace the seats with the push of one little lever. It’s totally easy IF you have the seat in the right position.

For some reason, it took me a long time to figure out what that position was. So I would wrestle for a ridiculous amount of time trying to get the seats out or put them back in. Often my son Morgan (who knew how to work the seats) would find me hunched over the seat, sweating and cranky.

There’s only room in the doorway for one person to mess with the seats, so Morgan would stand back and watch me struggle until I gave up and asked for help. Then he would step up to the car, position the seat properly, and Voila! It worked like magic.

As soon as I conceded my inability to fix the seat and moved, Morgan was able to solve the problem. But in my stubbornness, I wouldn’t get out of the way—until I had to admit I was totally hopeless.

Could it be that when we try to live life on our own we are actually blocking the blessings of God? Could it be that, when we hold stubbornly to the belief that we can handle challenges by ourselves, we are actually getting in God’s way?

Perhaps it’s only when we get to the end of our own ropes—when we are hopeless/poor in spirit—that we able to allow the grace and power of God to work in our lives.

Perhaps, as we admit our helplessness we open the door for God to rule in our lives, thus receiving the promised blessing, the kingdom of heaven.

Can you think of times in your life when, only as you gave up you were empowered, only as you lost hope, you found God’s provision?

Then, my friend, you have been poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is yours, and Jesus calls you blessed.

Will you call someone and tell them?

 

I would love to hear your thoughts about what it means to walk in God’s blessings. Please post your comments here or on the Women at the Well Facebook page: www.facebook.com/WomenAtTheWellbsumc.

 

Aside

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Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

What does it really mean when we say “I’m blessed”?

One popular blogger says that “I’m blessed” is the one thing Christians should stop saying. He reasons that when we say “I’m blessed” because of material blessings (or I would add, things like good health), we are in danger of making God “some sort of sky-bound, wish-granting fairy who spends his days randomly bestowing cars and cash upon his followers.”1

I agree that we need to be careful about how we use the term “blessed.” A friend— the mom of a special needs child—recently related a conversation she had with an acquaintance. The acquaintance told her that her own family had been “so blessed” to have a healthy baby, after being told the baby might have a diagnosis similar to that of my friend’s child.

My hackles raised at the implication that my friend was somehow less blessed than this woman; her absolutely adorable child is indeed a blessing. Yet—like the acquaintance—I remember feeling relieved and blessed when each of my children were born in perfect health.

So, is it wrong to thank God for things we have that others don’t? Is it ok to feel blessed that your child got into his choice of college, even when his best friend didn’t? Should we consider a new job a blessing even when others are unemployed?

These questions have started me thinking—what does it mean to walk in God’s blessings? I do believe that all good things come from God. And I want to “praise God from whom all blessings flow” as the traditional Doxology exhorts us. But I’m not sure I have a good understand of what those good things are; maybe I’m not sure I have a Biblical understanding of what it means to be blessed.

So, I’m on a quest to understand better what it means to walk in God’s blessings, to be able to recognize “every good and perfect gift [that] is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.”

The quest may take a while…the concept of blessing is all over Scripture. The New American Standard Bible uses some form of the word “bless” in 486 verses, translating a variety of Hebrew and Greek terms.

But if the idea of blessing is that common in the Bible, it must be important, and I’d like to get it right.

How about you? Would you like to join me on my journey?

In the weeks to come, I’ll share the insights I glean, and I would love to hear yours as well. Please post your comments, and perhaps–as we journey together–we will be truly blessed.

1Dannemiller, Scott, “The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying.” Weblog post. The Accidental Missionary. 20 Feb. 2014. 5 May 2014 (http://theaccidentalmissionary.wordpress.com/2014/02/20/the-one-things-christians-should-stop-saying/).

 

 

Discouraged for a Reason…

I’ve felt like a failure quite often lately.

I’ve dropped balls on tasks I promised to do. I’ve watched helplessly as friends and family struggle with problems for which I have no answers.

ImageI can’t even keep my house clean. (Seriously…this picture is of my desk right now!)

And this morning, as I struggle to write an encouraging word to my sisters in Christ, I can’t seem to finish a thought.

But I don’t share this so you’ll feel sorry for me. Or even try to make me feel better.

I share because I believe that God has allowed me to come to a place of discouragement for a reason:

Discouragement has reminded me once again of my desperate need for God.

Discouragement has forced me once again to decide: will I try to live life on my own, or will I trust God to be who He says He is, to do what He says He can do?

This spring, our Thursday morning small group studied the book of Ephesians. In the first chapter, Paul prays for the readers of his letter, saying:

“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Ephesians 1:17-19)

Paul goes on to say that “this power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead.”

Paul wants his readers to know that they have access to the same power that brought Jesus back to life. He wants them to believe it, to live according to this truth.

I confess that I often doubt God’s Spirit will really work in me and through me. But I am encouraged to know that the Ephesians apparently struggled too—I figure if they had already mastered this truth, Paul wouldn’t have needed to pray for them!

So, as I face today’s impossible list of things to do, as I watch loved ones struggle with issues beyond my help–even as I wade through papers to find the desk underneath–I am making Paul’s prayer personal. Perhaps, if you need to trust in God’s power at work in you as well, you’ll pray with me:

God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, I ask that you give me the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that I may know You better. I pray also that the eyes of my heart may be enlightened in order that I may know the hope to which You have called me, the riches of Your glorious inheritance in the saints, and your incomparably great power for us who believe. Amen!