If you walk into any bookstore today you will find whole sections of the store containing books written about how to succeed in life? Book shelves are filled with “How to” books These books include topics such as how to be popular, how to be happy,-.and many more. Magazine articles abound setting out the traits of people who live fulfilling lives, and encouraging us to do the same. Stephen Covey’s book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” was on a national bestseller list some years ago. And he is writing new best selling motivational books today. According to Mr. Covey, the seven habits of a highly effective person are: 1) Be proactive 2) Begin with the end in mind 3) Put first things first 4) Think win/win 5) Seek first to understand, then to be understood 6) Synergize and 7) Sharpen the Saw – or take care of yourself.
These books on how to succeed are always popular since we all want to know how to live a productive and successful life. But do we Christians seek out what God has to say about living a good and blessed life. Do we study Scripture to find which actions please the Lord, what He calls a good life? Which life habits cause us to be blessed by God?
Scripture has much to say regarding the way that we should conduct our lives. When Jesus was preaching the Sermon on the Mount he outlined the primary attributes of people who receive the rule of the kingdom that He brings. He described eight habits of people who are blessed and have God’s blessing. He gave an explanation for each blessing and He gave a pronouncement of blessing over the people who follow each of these eight practices. These blessings that Jesus promised have been called the Beatitudes. And Jesus’ list of life habits that bring down blessings contrasts sharply with much of the secular advice about the traits needed to live well and be happy. Let’s see what Scripture says about how we should live in order to receive God’s blessings and to live a good life.
In Matthew 5:3 the Beatitudes begin with Jesus pronouncing a blessing over the poor in spirit. He declares that theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Seven more blessings or “beatitudes” follow:” Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
The first blessing is to the poor in spirit. The poor in spirit are those who recognize their spiritual poverty and, casting aside all self-dependence, seek God’s grace. The blessing given to those who mourn probably doesn’t mean people in bereavement, but those who experience the sorrow of their sin. They mourn over the sin and the brokenness of our world and they try to do their small part to change it.
Who are the “meek” to whom Christ gives His blessings? The word “meek” carries the idea of humility and gentleness. Everywhere throughout Scripture God stands against the proud. So the Beatitude blessing given to the meek would be given to a person who would be the opposite of a proud or arrogant person. Christ goes on to pour His blessing on the peacemakers. He calls them the sons of God. Jesus promises that we will be blessed when we follow peaceful solutions. Another Beatitude calls down a blessing upon us when we are merciful. We are promised mercy if we are merciful. Do we make tough choices that take care of the “bottom line” or do we reach out to the overlooked ones who are in need? Are we known for our generous kindness and helpfulness to others? To the unattractive? To animals? Blessed are the merciful.
Then Jesus speaks a blessing on those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. He promises that they shall be filled. And He pronounces more blessings on those who are pure in heart. Our Lord is calling down His blessings on those who want to follow Him, who want Him to take over their lives and who want to obey Him. To follow Him is to follow truth, justice and love.
And the last Beatitude or blessing is given to those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. Blessings attend the way of those who are reviled and persecuted because they are loyal to righteousness. They are blessed because they are willing to suffer persecution in order to follow Jesus. Lies are told against them. Since Christ had to suffer we often are asked to share His sufferings. This last Beatitude tells us that enduring persecution brings a reward in heaven.
We don’t understand all that the Lord is telling us here. He speaks in mysteries. The world holds up materialistic goals and Christ tells us that we can’t serve both God and money. To be popular by the world’s standards we often need to be competitive. We need to take care of “Number One”. But our Lord tells us to mourn, to be meek and poor in spirit. Sometimes even those in the Church insist that it is very wrong to be our brother’s keeper. But Scripture begs us to feed the hungry and take care of the sick. It would seem that we have to be ready to break with many of the goals that the rest of the world tells us are so important and march to a different drummer. And we may be persecuted when we go this different Way. But even though the Way Jesus is leading us sometimes goes against worldly wisdom, this is the narrow way, the way strewn with earthly and heavenly blessings, the way described in the Beatitudes.