Sunrise east of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Check your insides

Do you ever wish that you could see God? I do. It’s not that I have a hard time believing in Him. It’s just that I would appreciate being able to actually look Him in the eye when I talk to Him. Eye contact means a lot to me, and not being able to see His face is frustrating sometimes. Not being able to see Him smile can be frustrating. Not being able to see Him frown is frustrating. Some days I would give ten years of my life to spend ten minutes in His presence when I can actually hear His voice and see His face.

But that’s not how our relationship works. As a human being, I can’t be in God’s presence–not physically. But is there any way to see God? My life is so wild and crazy all the time that I would dearly love to be able to see God so I know I’m going the right way, but is there actually a way to see Him? Well, according to today’s verse, there is.

Sunrise east of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunrise east of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Matthew 5:8.

God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
    for they will see God.

The pure of heart will get to see God. That’s what this verse says. But what does that mean? What does it mean to be pure-hearted? Does it go back to attitude? Does it come from your motivation for living? Does that mean you never do wrong?

When I think of being pure of heart, I think of some fictional knight in shining armor, one of those valiant chivalrous types who rescues damsels in distress and never does anything wrong. Maybe some people think of innocence in children. Or maybe others think of people who are just generall good. But is that what being pure-hearted means in this context?

Most of the time when I’m doing a word study, since I don’t know Greek, I use the Amplified Version, but for this verse it uses the same phrase: “the pure in heart.” And that doesn’t help much. Pure-heartedness is one of those identifiers that can mean so many different things.

So my other go-to translation is the Message, a paraphrase. It’s not as “accurate” as the Amplified Version or the NLT, but the Message is really good at capturing the essence of what whole passages in the Bible mean. And this is how the Message puts our verse today:

You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

Whoa. Did that rock your world or was it just me? According to this paraphrase, being pure of heart means getting your heart and mind in order. It means focusing your heart and mind on the things that matter. It means having the correct perspective about God, about yourself, about your life. And when you have the right perspective about what’s going on inside you, then you’ll be able to see God outside.

But does that really work?

I’ll be the first to tell you it does.

On those days when I’m so distracted that I can’t tell which way is up and which way is down, I know my inner perspective isn’t right. I know I’m not putting God first. I know I’m not living the way the Bible says. And on those days God seems far far away.

But on the days when I’ve got my head on straight, when I’m paying attention, when I have a healthy perspective on who I am and who God is, then I can see Him. No, not physically. I don’t see Him standing in plain sight, but I see the results of Him. I see Him working in my life, in others’ lives, in situations.

When I’m not focused on the things that matter (like loving God and loving people), I’m focused solely on myself. But when I start taking God at His word, He changes me from the inside out. And it’s not that He suddenly starts working in the situations around me then; it’s that I finally begin to see Him working.

God is always working. God is always there. He’s always in plain sight. But we’re the ones who have our eyes closed.

So if you’re tired today, if you’re struggling and feeling lost and abandoned, take a moment and check your insides. Make sure your heart is where it needs to be. Make sure you’re focusing on the things that really matter in life–like loving God and loving people, like doing the right thing, like loving mercy, like living humbly. And once you get those things under control, try looking for God again. I bet He’s closer than you think He is.

Mountain stream at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Craving an upright lifestyle

What matters to God? What makes Him happy? What makes Him sad? If He had a top ten list of things He’s cared about, what would be on it? I think a lot of people spend a lot of time searching for God’s will when the answer to finding it is right in front of them. If we want to know what God expects from us, He’s told us. The Bible is full of instruction on how to live and what God expects. And we need to start living the way He says before we can begin to question His will.

And one of those things He expects is living right. It’s everywhere in Scripture. God expects us to do the right thing. We’re supposed to live righteous, justly, set apart, holy, peculiar lives. We’re supposed to be different, but, like everything else in our lives, it starts with attitude.

Mountain stream at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Mountain stream at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Matthew 5:6.

God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
    for they will be satisfied.

That word justice there really means righteousness or uprightness or right standing with God, according to the Amplified Version. I wanted to clarify that because you could read this verse and instantly think that we’re supposed to desire justice like a vigilante. If our lives were to be devoted to justice, that would change a lot of things, but that’s not what this verse means. We don’t understand justice–not really, because none of us are truly just. So how can we be devoted to an ideal that we don’t understand?

So Jesus isn’t telling us to run out and kill others in His name, whether you think you need to kill an individual or shoot up an abortion clinic. We are supposed to desire righteousness and desiring righteousness is personal. It’s an attitude. It’s a choice. It’s a lifestyle.

We need to love doing the right thing so much that we crave it.

It’s harder and harder to do the right thing, though. And this statement goes beyond just doing right; we’re supposed to think right too. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to surround yourself with people who love Christ and follow Him. It’s difficult enough to do the right thing in a group of believers; it’s so much harder to do the right thing in a group of people who don’t understand your worldview.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t associate with people who believe differently. Not at all. That’s the opposite of how we’re supposed to live. Shutting ourselves away from the world is wrong. But when it comes to those close, influential friendships in your life, if you want to continue to follow Christ, you need to choose friends who will draw you closer to Him. If you allow people who believe differently into that close inner circle, you’ll fall away from God. Maybe you tell yourself you won’t, but it’s inevitable. Why? Because it’s much more difficult to hunger and thirst for righteousness when you are hungering and thirsting for something else.

Righteousness isn’t our default.

Craving an upright lifestyle isn’t natural to us. Maybe it was supposed to be before Adam and Eve sinned. I don’t know. But now we’re born with an innate desire to do wrong, and we have to teach ourselves and build healthy habits to seek God and live the way He wants us to. You don’t have to teach a child to do wrong; they just do it anyway.

I’m so thankful for Christ. That’s why the verse can say we will be satisfied if we desire righteousness because through Christ we have right standing with God. Through Christ, we are justified. Through Christ, we are considered righteous. So there’s nothing we can do that will take that righteousness away from us if we’ve accepted it–even if we don’t live like it. But if you don’t live like it, you’re not going to be satisfied.

Right living matters to God. If it didn’t, He wouldn’t talk about it all the time. Doing the right thing, making wise choices, living the way the Bible says in every area, matters to God–whether it’s your thought life or your friendships or marriage or work or church. Whatever. The Bible is our guide to right living, and if we do what it says, we’ll be satisfied. God doesn’t forget and He doesn’t ignore. If it feels like a sacrifice to do the right thing, do it anyway because God will make it worth it. Maybe you don’t feel He will, but He will.

So if you know what the Bible says, do it. If you don’t know what the Bible says, find out and then do it. And the more you do the right thing, the easier it will be, because God will prove Himself to you. You just have to let Him and you have to open your eyes long enough to see it.

Moon in the pines at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

God expects us to mourn

What have you lost recently? A job? An opportunity? A friend? Everyone loses. Loss is just part of life, and learning how to deal with loss is part of growing up.

For the first time since 1965, Wichita State University made it to the NCAA Final Four Championship. I’m not a sports fan (at all) but I am a Shocker. I bought a t-shirt, and I even watched the game. And while it was a great game (so proud of the Shockers for hanging in there), it didn’t turn out the way I hoped. They lost, yes. But they gained something else in return. And I think that it works the same way in most situations. Once we realize that we have lost something or once we accept that we have lost something, we can be open to accepting what we’ll receive in return.

Moon in the pines at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Moon in the pines at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Matthew 5:4.

God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

I’m still reading the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount this week, studying the things that God says matters. Most of the Beatitudes state pretty ironic things. Like yesterday: You’re happy when you realize you need help.

So what about today? You’re happy when you’re sad? For real? Is that what it actually means?

This is the same verse in the Amplified Version:

Blessed and enviably happy [with a happiness produced by the experience of God’s favor and especially conditioned by the revelation of His matchless grace] are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted!

Let’s begin at the beginning here. What exactly does it mean to mourn? According to Dictionary.com, it means “to feel or express sorrow or grief.” I always thought mourning was something usually relegated to funerals, honestly, but with that vague of a definition, mourning can be expressing sadness about anything.

So when’s the last time you mourned? I know a lot of WSU fans who mourned last Saturday when those last 30 seconds of the game ticked by and Louisville kept scoring despite the Shockers’ valiant efforts. I know a lot of people who mourn significant losses and a lot of people who mourn insignificant losses. I know a lot of mournful people. If we think about it, we all do. So if this verse were true, wouldn’t that mean that all those mournful people would be happy?

Here’s something I’ve learned about mourning: If you desire sadness, you’ll never accept comfort.

Isn’t it true that there are some people who refuse to be comforted no matter what you say? They just want to make a big deal out of everything so they can get the attention? And that’s usually what happens. When they go on and on about how difficult their life is or how bad they have it, the compassionate, considerate people around them go out of their way to comfort them. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. But if that person is only seeking the attention, they’ll never be truly comforted, and that sadness will never change them.

As a result, I’ve kind of cut mourning out of my life. I don’t do it. At least, I haven’t done it because somehow I started to see it as a waste of time and energy. I don’t like attention. I don’t like causing disturbances or rocking the boat. So making a big deal out of feeling sad about anything is out of the question.

But the Bible doesn’t say not to mourn. This verse says you’ll be happy if you do. God expects us to mourn. Why? Well, that depends on your definition of happy. Here the happiness Jesus is talking about comes from experiencing God’s favor, conditioned by understanding His grace.

Whoa. Let’s go over that for a second.

When you are mourning a loss–and I’m talking about a significant loss, not a basketball game–when you’re truly feeling hollow and empty inside, when the grief is just too much for you to bear, when you couldn’t care less about how people react to your grief, that is real mourning. That is the true expression of sadness, and that isn’t wrong. On the contrary, Scripture says over and over again that mourning is a natural thing. There’s a time for it. We need to allow the energy for it, because there are so many significant things to mourn over.

But as a Christ follower, we need to have a different perspective on mourning and grief and sadness. Loss doesn’t mean the same thing to us. Death doesn’t mean the same thing to us as it does to people who don’t follow Christ. When we experience loss, it’s a terrible thing, but while it’s okay to mourn that loss, we need to remember that this life isn’t all there is. That sense of mourning is temporary–or at least it should be, because whatever we “lose” on in this life will be returned to us in eternity much better than it ever was here.

Even when we’re mourning, we can still experience God’s favor. Even when we’re overwhelmed with grief, we can still grasp the concept that God is pleased with us. Why? Because as Christ followers, we need to understand that God isn’t punishing us. Yes, it’s a good idea always to check your heart to make sure there’s no sin there. But if your heart is pure before God, He’s not punishing you. He’s just doing the best He can with a world that we broke, and sometimes bad things happen to good people. And sometimes the trouble that comes our way is a sign that God is pleased with us–why else would our enemy take a sledgehammer to us?

So what have you lost today? Or this week? Or this year? Whatever or whoever you lost, you’ll get something in return, the least of which is comfort from God, knowing that He loves you and that He believes in you and that He’s got it under control. Don’t be afraid to mourn, as long as you’re willing to accept His comfort.

Small sunflower on the ledge below the brown bear exhibit at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

We’re already dependent on God

If you’ve been following Christ for any amount of time, you’ll recognize pretty quickly that the way we are supposed to think, to live, and to see ourselves is completely opposite from what the world says. The way the world thinks, acts, lives, focuses–does anything–is usually backward in comparison to what the Bible says, but somehow we all have gotten it in our heads that what the world says matters more than what the Bible says. So even believers who’ve been following Christ for years will still look at what Jesus said and think it sounds weird or difficult or impossible, but it’s not.

One of the most ironic, life changing passages in the Bible is in Matthew 5, a little chapter that’s actually part of a larger sermon that Jesus preached, usually referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. I believe it’s three chapters, Matthew 5-7, and nestled in the beginning of chapter 5 is a small section called the Beatitudes. And in it, Jesus says some revolutionary things, things that shocked people. In fact, the Bible even says in Matthew 7:28-29 that the crowds were awed by his words because “he taught with real authority—quite unlike their teachers of religious law.”

Small sunflower on the ledge below the brown bear exhibit at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Small sunflower on the ledge below the brown bear exhibit at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Matthew 5:3.

God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

I always think it’s a good idea to read multiple versions of the Bible if you don’t speak the original language Scripture was written in, and one of my favorite versions to compare is the Amplified Version because it goes very deep into word meaning. This is Matthew 5:3 in the Amplified Version:

Blessed (happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous—with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions) are the poor in spirit (the humble, who rate themselves insignificant), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven!

As an independent person, I struggle with this, because “knowing how much I need someone” and “being happy” don’t usually go in the same sentence. But if I follow Christ and if I believe the Bible, I have to believe that this is true. And if you think about it and apply what you know about God to it, it makes sense.

I wouldn’t say that our culture directly pushes us to be independent. Actually, our culture is becoming more and more dependent but not on God. We become dependent on comfort, on technology, on government, on pleasure and convenience. Our culture encourages us to think the same and fit into the same mold. But who do you know who follows that sort of thinking who is happy? Not rich. Not successful. But happy.

Conversely, how many people do you know who are entirely dependent on God who are happy? Granted, I know a lot of people who say they follow Christ who aren’t happy, but in those instances, I wonder if they are truly as dependent as they say.

Think about a life entirely dependent on God. Think about what that kind of life would look like. If we were entirely dependent on God, if we got it through our thick skulls that God provides everything we need when we need it, we wouldn’t need to worry about anything. We wouldn’t be discontent with anything because we’d understand that God has given us everything already and just because someone else has more doesn’t make us less of a person. We wouldn’t need to find our identity anywhere else. We wouldn’t need to find happiness anywhere else. And we wouldn’t be constantly seeking satisfaction from sources that will never satisfy.

Who couldn’t be happy with a life like that?

The only thing preventing me from living that life is letting go of my independence. Because God already holds that place in my life. I am already entirely dependent on Him. He gave me breath when I woke up this morning. His grace sustains me through my days. His strength helps me focus on things I need to do. He’s already providing everything I need. The one place where the whole thing breaks down is me–my attitude about Him.

Attitude is everything.

I am already 100% dependent on Him, but if I refuse to acknowledge that fact, I will never be happy. Even though He’s already giving me everything I need, until I acknowledge how much I need Him, I’m going to keep on worrying, keep on fighting, keep on struggling, keep on envying, etc. etc. etc. And that’s not the way we’re supposed to live.

Acknowledge your insignificance. Understand His grace and love. Depend on Him. You already do, whether you accept it or not, but once you get past the roadblock of pride and realize how much you need Him, something changes in your thinking.

Is it weak to depend on Him like this? Absolutely.

Guess what? We’re all weak. Nobody is strong enough to make it through life without Him. Anybody who says different is lying to themselves. And the more we try to be independent in life, the more unhappy we will be. We weren’t designed to live on our own. We were designed for life with Christ. And until we accept that, we’ll never stop searching.