I have been reading Eric Metaxas’ book, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy and I must say that Bonhoeffer has become a type of hero to me. I have been intrigued how God took a man of great intelligence, affluence and “worldly opportunity” and transformed him into a man of humility, power and utmost passion to live out the teachings of Scripture; all this in one of the darkest periods of human history. Though far from limiting his attention to the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7), Bonhoeffer was especially captured by the radical life style Jesus calls us to in these passages. Providentially God had recently drawn my attention to the power of this text in a community group I have been leading. All this to say I hope now to consider how this pathway of Scripture could make some pervasive changes in my life and marriage. I want to enter into a season where I consider the implications of these familiar verses and pray that Jesus will take them off the page and into my heart, hands and feet. Will you join me?
“When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 5:1-3).
As I think of the few pages we call the Sermon on the Mount they cause me to think of the common terms of our recent past – “counter-culture” and “paradigm shift”. Most of what is said here drastically defies the natural grain of my human inclinations.
Anger equals murder (5:21-26)… giving is a secret that draws no attention to the giver (6:2-4)… don’t worry about tomorrow (6:25-34)… one can do many miracles and still not enter the Kingdom of Heaven (7:21-23).
As a result of these “shifts” there is needed a clear surrender to a power not my own. Obedience to these words of Jesus demands that my “self” or “who I am” is fundamentally reshaped so as to look like the One I am to imitate. Can we dare to imagine what our homes would look like if we began to implement a full scale application of this text? What would our communities look like? Our churches? In spite of past failures and ridiculous self-centeredness, I still choose to dream of my relationships being fashioned by these words. Jesus, make it so.
The first shift is Jesus declaring that we are blessed if we are poor in spirit or blessed if we know our absolute dependence on God. Happiness comes when we are humble and willing to place others ahead of ourselves (Philippians 2:3). In this teaching it is not so much the mind that needs to make a shift – it’s the feet. Most of us would agree that humility is a tremendous character quality to have. It is quite another thing to put it into play. As you have heard me say before, I am regularly shocked at how self-preoccupied I can be. It is a daily… hourly battle for me not to slide back down into the mire of Mark. Yet, I have hope because I am at least aware of how desperately I need Jesus and I think this is the key to this teaching. Blessed are those who are familiar with the fact that they bring nothing to the table; they have nothing to bargain with; no resume to qualify them. If one would seek to be “happy” they must begin here.
Now how to apply this “shift” to marriage – where the rubber meets the road? It is here in everyday living where we are best sculpted. The need for the surrender of self and servanthood toward the other is ever before us. It is here where we have our greatest opportunity to submit and practice the impoverished way of life. As I come to God with nothing but my broken heart, will I do the same with Robyn? As Jesus calls me to be last in relation to Him, will I give Robyn every opportunity to see me as her servant – making her first in the “kingdom of our home”?
As Robyn and I were just now discussing this quality she reminded me that it is one thing to write/talk/practice humility when the tensions are minimal and manageable in the home; it’s quite another when there is disagreement or job deadlines and the kids are yelling in the back seat – “He’s looking at me!!!” It is in these moments when the flesh is most likely to rise and dominate. Yet it is here where we must become the most “emptied” of what we want. There are few things that we must stand up for and demand. Most of the differences that occur in marriage – or any relationship are of little consequence. Why do we insist on a “declaration of war” over such petty matters? Why? Because we have not made this fundamental shift to become destitute of spirit. We have too rarely experienced the blessedness of being second.
Do we not understand that when this “beatitude” is in practice we have entered the realm of heaven? Think of how “heavenly” it would be for all of us to practice putting others before us; intentionally looking for ways to honor those closest to us. Oh the blessing we would know and the satisfaction of doing marriage and life just like our Daddy does. We would know the joy of having done what we were made for. It is a promise from God that as we practice poverty we will begin dwelling in the Kingdom and that Kingdom will be ours – “I confer on you a Kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me… (Luke 22:29).
“Oh that God would give me the thing which I long for! That before I go hence and am no more seen, I may see a people wholly devoted to God, crucified to the world, and the world crucified to them. A people truly given up to God in body, soul and substance! How cheerfully would I then say, ‘Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.’” John Wesley
O Lord, what a challenge! But what delight we have known when we have been obedient to this teaching. Cause us to be broken and willing to leave our arrogance at the door. Help us to put a smile on our lovers face as we step aside and open the door for one another. Lord, let me be first – first to give a cup of cold water in your name; first to wash the feet; first to forgive and build bridges; first to give a “soft answer”. All this so that You may truly be foremost in our lives and glorified. Amen