Sam Ward explores what it means to come to terms with our own poverty.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a situation where you suddenly remember you’re a Christian.
From time to time, I have moments where I realise with a bang how far away from God’s standard I’ve strayed. It’s like being in sinking sand: the best thing to do is to stop flailing and stay still, but before I know it I’m making a mess, getting covered and going down. It’s usually on the days when we forget even to pray. It’s when we’re acting alone and acting without God.
In Matthew 3, Jesus says: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ In another translation: ‘Blessed are those who recognise their need for God.’ Blessed are those who recognise they cannot function without him. Fortunate are those who feel incomplete and realise only God can make them whole.
There is real blessing when we come to terms with our own poverty and the fact that our lives are a wreck and a ruin. Today, do you know how much you need God? Or are you working in your own strength?
The world tells us, ‘Blessed are the rich in spirit. Blessed are the self-sufficient. Blessed are those who realise they can survive with no-one else.’ Few people are less in need of God than a ‘self-made man’.
But the kingdom of heaven belongs to the insufficient, the vulnerable and the needy. It’s not for the fixed, the sorted or the ready, it’s for the lacking. Heaven is for those dependent on God. We are blessed because we have nothing but him.
In Hebrews 12, we read, ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.’
The race we run is often punctuated by seasons of difficulty. It’s full of days when it looks easier to carry on in our own strength, to fail to recognise our need for God. The writer to the Hebrews offers us three keys to staying on track
Throw off everything that hinders
We need to get rid of all the stuff that weighs us down. The British cycling team, Team Sky, are often referred to as ‘the marginal gains team’. Everything that increases drag gets removed from their bikes, the sprockets are specially manufactured, the fabric is the lightest possible. They know how to throw off everything that hinders.
Doing the same in the kingdom of God is called holiness. We make those marginal gains through righteousness. Sin is heavy. Blessed are those who throw it off.
Fix your eyes
Jesus is the perfecter of our faith: he finishes what he’s started. When we look at him we realise the race is worth it: he ran the race, and for the joy set before him he endured the cross.
The passage doesn’t read like this: ‘For the joy set before him, he sat down in his shame.’ ‘For the joy set before him, he quit.’ He didn’t sit down and watch a box set and eat chocolate. He unrelentingly followed the path. He endured the cross and scorned its shame.
You can’t hold Jesus back. Blessed are those who focus on the one who completed the race, the only one who’s ever done it, the only one who can help us.
Here, consider means to check that things add up. Consider Jesus so that you don’t lose heart. Did he act out? Did he get it wrong? Consider the man of suffering, the one despised and held in low esteem. Consider the one who was punished, stricken, oppressed and afflicted. Consider the one who did not open his mouth and who was led like a lamb. Consider his love. Consider how much he wants you to succeed.
Consider how much he wants to help you reach the end. Blessed are those who consider Christ. Blessed are those who recognise he is all they need