My church has launched into a study on the beginning of the ministry of Jesus through the lens of the gospel of Luke; it is the third of the synoptic gospels, which basically give the best means to trace the story of Jesus’ ministry – John, of course, being written much later with an emphasis on instruction rather than story. The study on Sunday morning worked into Luke 5 when Jesus asks Peter to cast his net out once more after an uneventful night of fishing and the result becomes a catch that almost sinks two boats. The statement was made: “Obedience to His authority equals blessing”. Which sorta brought me back to ask what is blessing?
It’s common to hear people say ‘I am blessed’ when the discussion falls back to family, or success in some venture. It’s almost like falling into bed to rest after a hard day of work. If ends are met, the bills are paid, balance is restored, we feel that we are blessed and everything is right in the world. This makes many declarations of blessing emotional rather than empirical; that it is something we are able to enter into through feeling, which may be a good staple, but not the entire story. Modern theology underwent several shocks in the early 2000s when The Prayer of Jabez hit the shelves of bookstores in almost every way imaginable.
Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request. – 1 Chronicles 4:9-10
When Jesus stood on the mount to speak the beatitudes He repeated “blessed are the poor in spirit… those who mourn… those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” (Matt 5) and these are all hallmarks of people who are searching for more than this world. If we hunger and thirst for righteousness it means we have found the goodness of this world, with all its piety, to be insufficient.
It can be quickly pointed out that Matthew 5 seems to refer to people who are already mourning, or already pure, but to ease the conversation verse 11 speaks in the present “blessed are you when people insult you… because of Me”, which is repeated in Luke 6:20: “blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.” Not to mistaken that Jesus is speaking in a metaphor of spiritual blessing and humility, He restates His intent from the opposite side: “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your reward in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now… Woe to you who laugh now… Woe to you when men speak well of you…” (Luke 6:24-26).
The values of the Kingdom of God are inverted to those of this world – which focus on gaining wealth, power, and resources – instead to explain that the Jesus did not come to gain power, but to lose it… and so must we. I think we miss a blessing when we fail to catch His meaning. Jesus comes down on the happy, but favors the poor, but never seems to transition between the two: the focus is not on material things. The Old Testament speaks of the tithe: the first 10% of everything given to the Lord, but this is not repeated in the New Testament principle; perhaps because we are so drawn to judge our performance on how we feel about ourselves. The answer is not what we give or how we give it, but the reason the blessing is distinguished in the first place.
“What we do now echoes in eternity” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
The poor are not simply those who have no money; Jesus is speaking to His disciples who left everything to follow Him, even to be shunned by the religious authority in Judea. When He contrasts this with “but woe to you…” He is still speaking to His disciples, not the Pharisees. The danger is to see happiness, wealth, and reputation as blessing because these are all trademarks of contentment and rest in status, not the heart of an alien longing for their home. The cliché that you don’t take your wealth with you when you die is not only true, but a warning that you come to the end of your life and realize there is no echo in eternity, but your existence is more of a soft thud against the door of heaven.
If we understand wealth, happiness, and reputation as a mindset, then these words shift our blessing from how we feel right now back to what it means to follow Jesus – to serve, to give, and to love. It is impossible to follow Christ without becoming generous or feeling conviction over selfishness; this does not merely apply to those who have a lot of wealth, although it does much more apply to those who have abundance. We are not called to possess anything in this world, but only to be stewards of what we have been given for His Kingdom.
We understand we are only stewards of everything we have and everything we are belongs to the service of God. When everything belongs to God, we become less: we become servants. Humility and grace are the currency of the Kingdom of God, and we are poor, only possessing the authority of stewards to what we have been entrusted. The servant does not seek his rest until the will of his Master if completed – as long as we live, we are on the clock. Faithfulness to this calling becomes the blessing. Nothing is ours, everything is His.
There are moments in life when faith hits and weak spot and all of our weakness comes pouring out at once; Caught in a pool of information and emotions that feel so alien and the hope that once felt secure passes through our hands that try and clinch it so tight. Is it that the hope has gone, faded from view and luck has looked the other way? It’s like falling from a train and tumbling through the weeds. The thought of getting back on seems foolish, let alone to where we were? Or are we to assume that where we were is where we should be?
These are moments of reality. Life is messy. We are given hope and instructions with provision, but we must walk through this world, bumping and falling along the way. Yes, we are called to be warriors, but deep inside this armor we are children who have never fully understood ourselves, but we think we do. We fall down and nobody sees that we race home as fast as we can with tears in our eyes. Even the strong fall and even the secure lose hope. I scribbled a quote from Neitzsche: “The strongest have their moments of fatigue”.
I suppose the important thing to do is almost nothing at all. It isn’t to assume that the faded emotions mean that we have lost our way, or that our falling means that we have fallen from grace. God is in control. This never changes. He saw our fall from the beginning of time, from the vantage point of the cross, and He is not caught off guard. Although we assume the wheels of our world grind to a halt, and skid along the path of life, He smiles with the tenderness of a Father who will come to His children and is closest to us when we feel farthest from Him. Like warriors we run against the enemy, and like children, we run to Him when we fall.
We aren’t alone because we feel alone; we are only alone when we reject the fact that He still loves us. The water in the river is just as present at the beginning as it is when it pours over the rocks. He has called the end from the beginning and faith calls us to put our confidence in that. I suppose this is what gave David words to say “Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” and “though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
Job fell through pain and came to the point of wishing he could die: no, that he hadn’t even been born, yet he said: “though he slay me, yet will I trust Him”. He came about to say “there is hope for the tree that is cut down because it’s shoots will not fail.” It will rise again. No matter the fall, there is always grace. No matter the heartache, there is healing. No matter the darkness, there is always light. “In the darkest night, men see the stars.” – Emerson
It’s not enough that we quote it, but that we open our hearts to the fact that He is present even when we don’t see Him and ask Him to show Himself as He wants to be revealed, not as we want to see Him. We would be with passion and want all now, but He wants us to experience Him in His time, not ours. Perhaps this is the price of trust; that is being broken, we are being remade into something much more beautiful. If we believe Him, let us also abide this truth in our hearts.
It is only human to fail and hurt. We must never be ashamed. I feel in my life that I am caught in a fog and loneliness and isolation fall. If I tell myself “I am alone”, what is that telling Him? In contrast, I am telling Him that I don’t trust what He has done. This is more to convince myself then anything because many things are mounted against me right now and I know I must stay strong if I want to finish strong and if this house of cards falls completely down, I must already know how I will respond, but I know that this world is no stranger to suffering. He is good and faithful and has been faithful and I must remember that. Our help is on the way. The onyl fear for the future is to forget how He has led in the past.