Two more beatitudes to go, girls! Today’s beatitude is found in Matthew 5:9 where Jesus says:
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."
As I was praying about how to write this post, I stumbled on the story of Abram doing some serious peacemaking. You’ll find the account tucked in Genesis 13, but here’s the quick version:
Abram and his nephew, Lot, are filthy rich. They have tents, lots of silver and gold, livestock galore, and a bunch of herdsmen to take care of all their animals. In fact, they have so much stuff that verse six says the land couldn’t support both of them living together.
And here we find the perfect set-up for a great big conflict. Two rich men with too much stuff living too close together on too little land. Sure enough. Verse seven reports "there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock."
What does Abram do when he realizes this? He doesn’t ignore the problem, and he doesn’t give Lot the boot, even though he’s the older uncle. Nope, Abram acts like a true peacemaker. He goes directly to Lot and acknowledges the conflict:
"Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen" (v. 8).
In other words, "We’re family, Lot. Let’s not fight." But Abram doesn’t stop there; he offers a solution. An incredibly unselfish solution:
"Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left" (v. 9).
What was Abram thinking?!
If I replay the tape of my life, I see how I’m always choosing the best for myself—claiming the soft bed over the hard floor; choosing the corner piece of cake with gobs and gobs of frosting; keeping the best hand-me-down clothes for myself and passing the "rejects" on to someone else.
But here . . . the stakes are much higher than a good night’s sleep, a sugar high, or stylish clothes. Abram is choosing where he and his descendants would live. That’s a major decision. How could he give Lot first dibs?
Scripture gives us a few clues:
Genesis 15:1 tells us God was Abram’s reward. God was his portion (Ps. 73:25–26). When that’s true, you don’t need other things.
Abram trusted God’s promises. God had told him his descendants would receive all this land, and Abram believed God even when he couldn’t see how God would do it (Gen. 12:7).
We’re told in Hebrews 11:10 that Abram was looking forward to his forever home instead of living for the "here and now."
That’s why Abram could make the tough choice to be a peacemaker instead of fighting with Lot. And the only thing that will keep us from fighting with others is if God is the One we desire more than anything or anyone else. After all, James 4:1–2 tells us our desires are what start all our arguments:
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.
As you think back to what has riled you up recently, dig a little deeper. Is the ultimate issue that you want stuff or relationships or others’ good opinion of you more than you desire God? How can you become more of a peacemaker, more like your Father God who sent His Son to make peace with you (Rom. 5:1, Col. 1:19–20)?
My dream of being the next Oprah—a Jesus-following version, that is—just came true. Well, sorta. I admit it’s a bit of a stretch . . .
But tomorrow through next Friday on Revive Our Hearts, I interview Nancy on the occasion of her 50th spiritual birthday. That’s 50 years of knowing and walking with Jesus. (By the way, her spiritual birthday is this Tuesday, May 14—the same day she’ll be on the Revive Tour in Indianapolis. Join her there if you can!)
As you listen to or read “Fifty Years of Walking with God” on ReviveOurHearts.com, prepare to laugh with us at what Nancy’s elementary teachers wrote on her report cards, and then to tear up as Nancy recounts the faithfulness of the Lord in her life over the past fifty years.
When I began to prepare for this interview, Nancy made it clear that she wanted this interview to showcase God’s grace and staying power over the past fifty years. We’re definitely not celebrating Nancy; we’re celebrating God.
Catch a sneak peek of the interview with this clip of Nancy sharing about the “missionary letter” she wrote as a seven-year-old.
Who would have thought that a young girl with such a grand vision would be well on her way to realizing it? Today the Lord is using Nancy and Revive Our Hearts to share Christ with women in many, many countries of the world.
If you’d like to encourage Nancy on her 50th spiritual birthday, may I suggest two ideas?
Leave a birthday greeting below for Nancy. Words mean so much to her, and I’ll make sure she receives them.
Partner with Nancy and Revive Our Hearts this month as we’re asking the Lord to provide $350,000 through friends like you to end our fiscal year in a good position. We aim to use your gift well to continue reaching women around the world this year.
Thanks so much for your ongoing support of this ministry. We’re so grateful for you!
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8).
Pure. Clean. Clear. We want to breathe pure air, drink clean water, have a clear complexion. We go to school in clean cars with clean hair and clean clothes (unless we sleep in too late—then, if you’re like me, you just throw a hat over your dirty hair).
Most people don’t want to look and smell filthy on the outside. But inside . . . that’s another story altogether!
How Bad Is It, Really?
Our culture laughs at purity and celebrates filth. We’re not much different. Deep down, we hate purity. We think God is holding out on us when He tells us to be holy like He is holy.
Ironic, isn’t it? In every other area of life (except our hearts), we want to be clean. Why is that?
It’s because we were all born with a filthy heart (check out Genesis 3 for the sad story of how this came to be). And when I say filthy, I mean really filthy. It’s worse than you think. In Genesis 6:5, God sees that every intention of the thoughts of our hearts are only evil continually. Yikes!
So when Jesus says, "Blessed are the pure in heart," how do you get a clean, pure heart?
How to Get a New Heart
You know how it is. One more washing won’t touch the stains on that white shirt; you just need to get a brand-new white shirt.
That’s how it is with our hearts. We need completely new hearts. Thankfully, God is in the business of doing heart transplants . . . and Jesus paid your bill! Check out His promise in Ezekiel 36:26–27:
"I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules."
To get this new heart, though, you have to want it. You first have to agree with God that you have a filthy, dirty heart, and then you sign yourself up for the transplant.
How to Keep a New Heart Clean
Getting a new heart is just the beginning.
I bought a pair of turquoise Adidas tennis shoes recently. They came with bright white soles, and I’ve already had to clean them several times. New shoes just don’t stay clean walking through life. New hearts don’t either.
So how can you clean your heart? You need to regularly let the light of God’s Word show you where you’re dirty (John 17:17). Then, when you confess it, God promises to wash it away (1 John 1:9).
How It’s All Possible
But why should you obsess over inner purity when you’ve got school projects and that choir trip and a summer job to think about? The end of Matthew 5:8 tells you why:
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."
That’s crazy amazing. Do you remember how in the Old Testament this holy, pure, clean, unapproachable God dwelled in the special section of the tabernacle called the "Holy of Holies"? Only the high priest could slip through the thick curtain into the Holy of Holies. And only once a year. And only if he brought a blood sacrifice with him. If he didn’t, God would kill him. He had to offer a blood sacrifice to cleanse his filthy heart.
Now, though, this holy, pure, clean, unapproachable God can be seen and known by you! How? The thick, heavy curtain separating you from Him has been torn. We’re told in Scripture that when the temple curtain was torn just after Jesus’ death, it represented Jesus’ body being torn for you (Heb. 10:19–22). His blood was then put on the mercy seat so that God might welcome you into His Holy of Holies.
If you can’t "see" God, is it because you’ve never had a heart transplant? Are you ready to ask Him to give you a new heart? If you have been cleansed by Jesus’ blood, are you daily rinsing in the water of His Word?
Pure. Clean. Clear.
It’s possible, through Christ. It’s what you were made for.
You should’ve seen it. This Sunday, the church gymnasium was transformed into the bustling city of Jerusalem around A.D. 30. After I’d joined the tribe of Ephraim and received a bag of denarii (Roman money), I sat down cross-legged in the temple, right in front of the veil leading to the Holy of Holies (where I never would have been allowed in real life!).
That’s when little Sarah came over and squeezed herself onto my lap. Then, when the shofar blew signaling it was time to move on to the next station, Sarah slipped her little hand into mine as we walked a few steps to the synagogue. She sat in my lap again as we learned to sing the Shema in Hebrew and stayed close all morning as we went from booth to booth.
And then, while we were at the potter’s shop, I heard a shout, "It’s Jesus!" If I hadn’t already been told that the Sunday school teacher Chris was playing the part, I wouldn’t have recognized him with that wig of long, curly, dark hair. He slowly wove his way through the crowd of 400 people, hugging the children as he went.
Sarah pulled me forward, not content to watch from behind a wall of people. I let her pull me so far, and then I slowed, not wanting the adults to wonder why I was crowding Jesus and not letting others have their turn. But Sarah wouldn’t let up. I stopped, she strained. She pulled, I resisted. Finally, she dropped my hand and went around the mountain in the middle of the room so she could get to Jesus.
Sarah wasn’t the only child who did this. Instinctively, without any scripting, all the children wanted to get as close as they could to Jesus. Maybe that’s why Jesus told His perturbed disciples so many years ago,
"Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it" (Luke 18:16–17).
As I saw the difference between me and Sarah, I couldn’t help but wonder how close I would’ve tried to get to Jesus if I’d been alive when He walked this earth. Would I have been willing and desperate enough to cry out loudly with Bartimaeus, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me"—even when everyone around me was telling me to just be quiet? Or would I have been more like Nicodemus who came to Jesus under the cover of night so no one would see?
More importantly, how desperate am I today to get as close as possible to Jesus? Am I content to hang back and observe Him along with the grown-ups, or am I pressing forward with the children to stare up in wonder at Him?
I’m afraid I know the answer, and oh, how I long for that to change.
So thank you, Sarah. You have no idea what you taught me this week. I want to be like you when I grow up.
PS: I’m curious. What do you think it actually looks like to want to get close to Jesus today?
I used to think I was merciful simply because I felt others’ pain. If I’d lived long ago, I could easily have been hired to be a professional mourner, wailing through a perfect stranger’s funeral. But it turns out, that’s not mercy after all.
While mercy is often accompanied by tears, it’s much more than feelings and emotions. It’s an act of the will. It involves not only seeing a need and empathizing with it, but doing something about it. In Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ words, mercy is both "inward sympathy and outward acts in relation to the sorrows and sufferings of others."
Mercy was on full display the day the Samaritan man met the needs of a complete stranger (while the religious folk passed by on the opposite side of the street!). If you’re like me, you’re no "Good Samaritan." You could be, mind you, if only thinking of others’ needs was as easy as thinking of your own! But it’s not. So you’re not.
The problem is, Jesus doesn’t seem to think being merciful is optional for the true Christian. After describing a Christian’s character in the first four beatitudes (poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness), Jesus moves to how Christians relate to others in the last four beatitudes. Because what you do flows out of who you are. As Dorothy Patterson puts it, "A passion for God means compassion for others."
So how do you and I get there?
1. Reflect on the mercy you’ve been shown.
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones doesn’t mince words when he says, "If I am not merciful there is only one explanation; I have never understood the grace and the mercy of God."
I just read this by Sally Lloyd-Jones (not Martyn’s wife!), and it meant a lot to me:
Did God abandon us? Did he just look down from heaven at the mess we made? No. He didn’t just look down. He came down. God himself came down. Not as a judge to punish us, but as a Rescuer to save us.
If you’re still not "feeling" God’s grace and mercy, slowly read and think about Ephesians 2:1–10:
You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (emphasis added).
2. Ask God to open your eyes to the needs around you. Make a list. It didn’t take me more than a few seconds to write down a boatload of needs I’m aware of, including financial needs, relational needs, spiritual needs, and emotional needs. If you’re having troubles coming up with a list of others’ needs, here’s a good place to start:
How can an ordinary woman extend mercy to others? She begins by stepping into the shoes of another woman, feeling her pain, sensing her uncertainties, seeing her world crumble. Then and only then can she begin to live her life and think her thoughts and fight her battles. You don’t put yourself into the life of another in a brief moment but rather by living your life in her shadow and trying over a period of time to walk where she walks and feel what she feels. —Dorothy Patterson
Whose shoes does God want you to walk in for a while?
3. Show mercy to the hurting.
Mercy doesn’t run past prayer, but it also doesn’t stop at prayer. Mercy rolls up its sleeves and gets down to business. And the merciful receive more mercy from God:
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy" (Matt. 5:7).
Dorothy Patterson explains it this way,
This beatitude carries a double blessing because both the giver and the receiver reap a reward. . . . God’s mercy is so sweet that He always notes and rewards the kindness and mercy we extend to others. You never lose with God. The reward is not only in this life but also in the life to come.
Have you ever shown someone mercy? Tell us about it. If not, are you sure you’ve received God’s mercy? Will you humble yourself and ask Him for it now? He is eager to give it to you.
Visions of cheesy pizza, crunchy Sour Cream ‘n Onion chips, and gooey chocolate brownies dance through your mind. All else fades except that repetitive thought: FOOD. RIGHT. NOW. FOOD. RIGHT. NOW. Rumblings crescendo from the lower regions of your belly and before you know it, you’re just desperate to satisfy that craving. You are officially hungry!
Jesus points to our hunger pangs to reveal the secret to our search for true satisfaction:
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matt. 5:6).
Cheesy pizza, gooey brownies . . . yum. But . . . righteousness? That’s one rare food that’s not typically found in my fridge! What is righteousness?
Pastor John Piper describes it this way based on the context of Matthew 5:6:
The first four beatitudes describe the broken, grieving, quiet person who hungers and thirsts for righteousness. And the next four beatitudes describe the merciful, pure peacemaker who gets persecuted for his righteousness. Doesn’t this structure, then, give us the definition of righteousness? If we were hungering for righteousness in verse 6 because we were empty, and then we get persecuted for righteousness in verse 10 because we’ve been filled, isn’t it proper to define righteousness as that with which we have been filled—namely, mercy, purity, and peacemaking?
Righteousness is showing mercy to other people; and righteousness is being pure in heart before God who alone can see the heart; and righteousness is the effort to make peace. Now there may be much more to it than that. But that seems to be the focus of these verses and this chapter.
So how do you know when you’re hungry and thirsty—really hungry and thirsty—for righteousness? Well, as we’ve talked about in the last few blog posts on being poor in heart, mourning over sin, and being meek, you can’t hunger and thirst after righteousness until:
1. You’re not impressed—not at all—with your "righteousness." A lady I met this weekend matter-of-factly described herself as "spiritual." From the context of our conversation, my guess is that she meant she attended church, prayed, and was hospitable and friendly.
Never mind that Isaiah 64:6 says, "all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment" in God’s eyes.
What are you secretly (or not so secretly) most proud of spiritually? What makes you feel better than other people? Are these areas where you’re trusting in your own righteousness?
2. You trust solidly and solely in Jesus’ righteousness on your behalf. You’re not impressed with your own spiritual résumé, so you turn to Jesus to receive the free gift of His righteousness. When you do, He instantly gives it to you:
To the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness (Rom. 4:5).
At that moment, God justifies you. He sees you just as if you’d never sinned, just as if you’d always obeyed. The barrier of sin and guilt between you and God is bulldozed to nothing. You are given Jesus’ full and complete righteousness!
So does that mean you never hunger after righteousness again? No! God’s Holy Spirit keeps stirring up hunger pangs in you so you desire to keep growing into who you already are.
3. You want to run from everything that is not righteous. This week I watched a coworker jerk away when they realized they were sitting next to someone who was sick. Do you run from or revel in things that aren’t righteous? Do you even avoid things that might spoil your spiritual appetite? As you do, you realize that you need spiritual food. So . . .
4. You soak up time with those who are righteous. I just talked to a woman who doesn’t go to church because "I don’t have to go in order to believe in Jesus." While that’s true, it seems a bit like saying, "I love hockey, but that doesn’t mean I have to go to hockey games." If you’re hungry for righteousness, you want to be with other hungry people. You want to spend time reading your Bible and talking to God. But you don’t stop there.
5. You move out into the world as a representative of God’s righteousness. (More on this in the next four weeks!) For now, I’ll leave you with a quote from Pastor John Piper: "Deep and lasting satisfaction for our souls comes not from the delights of the world nor from a merely religious or vertical relationship with God. Satisfaction comes from God to those whose passion in life is to know him in the struggle to be like him in the world."
So what if you’re just not hungry for righteousness? Find where you are in this list and honestly confess your lack of desperation for God’s righteousness to Him. Then put your faith and trust in Jesus’ righteousness alone. Ask Him to give you starvation for His righteousness.
When you do, you will find not only true happiness ("Blessed are those who . . .") but satisfaction ("for they shall be satisfied"). You’ll be completely full and content like you feel after stuffing your face with pizza, chips, and brownies—without the bloating, of course!
So how about it? Are you officially, desperately hungry for His righteousness?
A few months ago, my creative boss asked me and a few other employees to spend twenty minutes or less writing a poem about why we do what we do.
What working girl has time to write poetry when her inbox is spilling over with emails and deadlines? Besides, my last attempt at poetry wasn’t pretty (although it was memorable!):
A man was in a mine
He tripped on a vine
He really quick got up
And tried to find his cup . . .
But my boss said it didn’t have to be perfect, so I just wrote from my heart.
And when I finished, I was surprised and grateful for the exercise. Because most days the deadening dailyness of details clouds my vision and I forget.
But yes, that’s right! This is why I do what I do:
Most days I drag myself out of bed
grab an apple on the run
lower my shoulder to the Mac
and grit my way through email
and space dot space dot space dot ellipsis
their faces gray and unformed and far away.
But on occasional days
I see them
Ann locked up in bitter prisons of the heart
Jenny searching desperately for soul rest
Aisha wrapped in hijab, eyes blinded, serving a dead god
their faces soft and flushed and hungry.
And I wonder at this high calling
serving the WORD with each word
that, if Spirit-drenched, can point to Him
whose face is bloodied and tear streaked and warm
carrying all their sins and griefs and sorrows
if only they will let Him.
April is National Poetry Month, and I’m issuing my boss’s challenge to you. (No groaning, now!)
Why do you do what you do? I know you don’t feel like you have twenty minutes to write a poem, but even two is just fine. You’ll be glad you did! Because whether you’re a Classical Conversations homeschooling mother or an architect creating a design concept on the thirtieth floor, “where there is no vision, the people perish” (Prov. 29:18).
Before I hit I-94 that morning, I read about how on the cross Jesus didn’t think of Himself in order to free me from myself. I asked Him to help me live free of self that day, and then—in the smallest of tests in the Art Institute of Chicago—I failed.
It happened under Mark Chagall’s America Windows—after a lunch of hummus and tabouli in the Garden Café. With leftovers in hand, I asked a security guard the way to the Picasso and Chicago exhibit.
He ignored my question and fiercely told me I was not allowed to have food in the Art Institute. "Oh, I didn’t know," I said and repeated my question about the location of the Picasso Exhibit.
"I won’t tell you until you throw your food away," he growled.
Muttering to myself, I dumped my food in the nearest trashcan and got the directions I needed.
I knew I shouldn’t mention it to my mom and sisters—after all, I’d asked Jesus to help me live free of self—but I couldn’t resist. The security guard had treated me with less respect than I felt I deserved, and my self wanted to flare up and kick back.
In that moment, I lost sight of the fact that Jesus was willing to be treated in a way Hetotally didn’t deserve . . . in order to take God’s wrath that I did deserve because of my sin . . . so I might receive what Jesus deserved—God’s love, favor, and righteousness.
What’s the big deal, you ask? Isn’t it perfectly natural for someone to resist being treated disrespectfully? Sure, but Jesus didn’t give me His Spirit so I could continue acting "naturally." One of the marks of Jesus’ Spirit is meekness. It’s also the third beatitude:
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5).
What does it mean to be meek? Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains it this way:
The man who is meek is not even sensitive about himself.
We think those who exert their power and defend their rights will rule the world. Jesus says just the opposite. Those who are meek (gentle) like He is will rule the world with Him in the end.
It’s what we see the night Jesus was arrested. He knew what was coming, pleaded for a way out, but surrendered to His Father’s will: "nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will" (Matt. 26:39). It’s how we see Jesus responding to the insults flying at Him from all sides while He hung on the cross: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
But we’re not Jesus. And meekness isn’t just tough . . . it’s impossible! Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains why we fight meekness:
I am aware, when I am honest with myself, of the sin and the evil that are within me, and that drag me down. And I am ready to face both of these things. But how much more difficult it is to allow other people to say things like that about me! I instinctively resent it. We all of us prefer to condemn ourselves than to allow somebody else to condemn us.
Meekness only becomes possible when we have Jesus’ Spirit living inside of us. I will try to remember that the next time I find myself being talked to in a tone I find offensive.
How about you? Do you know this meek Jesus? Are you allowing Him to exhibit His gentleness through your life when you feel wronged, belittled, or underappreciated?
Tears and I go together—we always have. Growing up, I cried when I was happy, cried when I was sad, and cried when I didn’t even know why I was crying. In third grade I wept through the movies Bambi, Fievel Goes West, and Old Yeller. In high school algebra I fought back tears when faced with mind-numbing quadratic equations.
After reading Jesus’ second beatitude, you might think I’d be especially blessed because of all my tears, but that just wouldn’t be true:
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matt. 5:4).
I told you what I cried over, but did you notice what I didn’t cry over? I didn’t cry over my sin. And I certainly didn’t cry over the Church’s or the world’s sin. I just couldn’t relate to Psalm 119:136:
My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.
How do I know this is what Jesus means when He says, "Blessed are those who mourn?" Well, His beatitudes aren’t random and chaotic—they’re all built on the one before. This second beatitude flows out of the first beatitude: being poor in spirit. When you and I realize that we have nothing good to offer God, when we realize how desperately we need a Savior, that will lead us to mourn over our sin. And not only our sin, but others’ sin as well.
Have you ever cried over sin? Not because you were dealing with its painful consequences, but because it hurts the heart of God? Because it sent God’s innocent, perfect Son to the cross?
Or are your eyes dry and your heart hard and unmoved? Worse yet, do you laugh over sin? "How can we laugh over sin," Kay Arthur asks, "when sin nailed Jesus to the cross?"
When is the last time you cried? More importantly, what made you cry?
Will you begin to pray along with me, "God, break my heart for what breaks Yours"?
When you do, God promises that He will comfort you. In Kay Arthur’s words, "The blessedness does not come in the mourning; it comes in the results of mourning—knowing the comfort of [God’s] intimacy, the surety of His arms about you, hearing the beat of His heart as He draws you close to His all-sufficient breast."
After watching her message for myself, I couldn’t agree more. Joni relives her life story as if it’s happening in the moment—with tears, singing, and heartfelt emotion. I thought I knew all about Joni’s story, but most of what she shares in this video was new to me.
Journey with Joni through . . .
her disappointing pursuit of physical healing
the “tired middle years” of her marriage
her husband’s “I feel trapped” admissions
Through it all, trace the deeper healing that Joni has received. The deeper healing that can be yours, too.