Sunday, September 2, 2012

Responding to the Beatitudes

Matthew 5:1-12 (NIV)

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
   for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
   for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
   for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
   for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
   for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
   for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
So if we’re keeping score at home, I would like my boys to grow up to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be merciful, to be pure in heart and to be peacemakers. When appropriate, I would like them to understand the importance of mourning.

On the surface, being poor in spirit doesn’t sound like the greatest thing in the world. But a quick Internet search yields more than one theologian explaining the phrase to mean being poor in one’s own spirit so as to be filled with God’s spirit, and to believe Jesus is more valuable than anything we might have or consider. So again, something I’d like my children to become.

The meek, as we know, shall inherit the Earth. And while I might not want my kids to grow up to be meek as it relates to softness or weakness, I would hope to see them grow to be gentle and humble. And if, as with the poor in spirit clause, this is more about how a person relates to God than to other people, there’s nothing wrong with approaching God with meekness or submission. I wouldn’t expect anyone to get far trying to assert their own will in the face of God’s clear intentions.

And of course I don’t want my kids, or anyone’s kids, to be persecuted because of righteousness. My hope is that no people of faith would be insulted or slandered because of God. Being that such situations seem inevitable, it’s probably good to pray for positive reactions under those circumstances, but my fervent hope is a world where a quest for righteousness is not cause for persecution, where people can praise God freely and not suffer in any way.

As with many things I’ve discovered while doing this project, it seems clear to me the best way to help my children grow in the described manner is for me to try to live that way myself. I feel as if they’re going to emulate me to some degree no matter what, so I owe it to them to set a good example. Very little of these admirable qualities come naturally or easily. If I strive to meet the goals, maybe I’ll be better equipped to help my kids do the same, certainly more so than just saying: “Be submissive to God. And be pure in heart. You can do it!”

When Kristie and I were still dating, I found one of the easiest ways to keep in line, in terms of behavior that might directly affect the relationship, was to mentally reverse roles. If I had an impulse to do something, positive or negative, I considered how I’d feel if I she did the equivalent. So it is with the kids. Before I speak or act, I can simply consider whether whatever I’m pondering would be something I’d want my kids to do some day. Before all the wife and children, the question was how my parents would react if they knew. The answers are very rarely vague.

I find that strategy more effective than just realizing God knows everything, or even asking What Would Jesus Do? Somehow, putting it in the context of the most important people in my life adds a sense of urgent reality that leaves little doubt about how to proceed. And while those examples are largely about behavior or words, things like character traits are important as well. Those aren’t heat-of-the-moment issues, it’s big picture stuff. The matter of what kind of person I want to be, and what kind of person I hope to inspire my children to become, requires so much more than making the right choice several times a day. It’s about shifting my entire focus away from myself and toward God, about not just choosing to be merciful in the moment but actually becoming a merciful person.

The more I follow the path this project is leading me along, the more I realize the kind of person I’m called to be, and also the true complexity of that reality. Something like the beatitudes is a great example, because it offers so many positives attributes and characteristics worth aspiring toward. And that’s just a taste of the whole of Scripture. It’s a tall, tall order, but is there anything more worthy of my dedication?

A prayer for September 2:

Lord, I am trying to live a life worthy of you. I know I’m called to do so on my own, but I also hope I might inspire my children to do the same. You have given us so many ways to understand what it is you expect of your people, and for that I am thankful. Please give me not just the wisdom to see where you might be leading me, but the spiritual gifts necessary to answer the call. Be it strength or mercy or humility or purity or whatever you desire, take me and mold me however you see fit. Amen.

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