The Beatitudes and Listening to God

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Dr. Beth Snodderly used the following passage from Matthew 5:3-10 at the beginning of the WCIU Forum on Thursday September 27th. (She also wrote a blog post about the Beatitudes last year on “The Beatitudes as International Development”)

Beatitudes

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

After reading through the passage, she asked: How have you seen these qualities in your own life? Here are some things that have stood out to me in my life from the Beatitudes.

The Beatitudes are Jesus sharing his heart right at the beginning of his ministry on earth, saying, these are the core values which motivate me and I want them to motivate you too, if you choose to become my followers.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

I believe “the poor in spirit” are the humble. This is consistent with Jesus’ teaching on humility which he exemplified in his own life on earth. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Matthew 18:4. New Living Translation (NLT)

How did I experience this?  After the genocide in Rwanda, I reached a point of desperation which led me to realize that I needed Jesus to heal me from bitterness and un-forgiveness and He did. That healing taught me to be humble. I could not do it on my own.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

I believe “those who mourn” has something to do with the characteristic of humility. When God healed my bitterness and un-forgiveness, he also gave me a vision to share the same healing with others who are hurting. Whenever I think about what happened in Rwanda, and similar things happening in other places, I mourn because the root causes of genocide are not far from the surface. The mourning is like a reminder to me that we have to keep vigilant against the works of the devil.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

I believe “the meek” are the obedient. When God brought me to the point of humility and mourning, he also taught me to be obedient to His Word. Before the genocide, I had put all my energy and trust in a political solution, thinking that Governments and the UN would fix our problems. After the genocide, God clearly showed me that all the solutions are found in his Word. Applying God’s Word to every root of our sins and problems has now become my passion.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Again this has something to do with the previous beatitudes/blessings. I believe “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” are those who hunger and thirst for doing God’s Will, which is revealed in his Word. I believe that we have a choice which is rooted in a God-given free will. Some choose to obey while others don’t. Having experienced the damage evil people and systems can cause, I prefer to hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Like the rest of the beatitudes, I believe Jesus is inviting us to be like him. It is only by God’s Grace that we are saved and are subsequently able to make the right choice. I am also reminded of our Lord’s Prayer concerning forgiveness. These were the most convicting verses the Holy Spirit brought to my attention after healing my bitterness and un-forgiveness.

13. And forgive us our sins, just as we forgive those who have sinned against us.
14. If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.
15. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Note that the ultimate consequence of refusing to forgive in verse 15 is much worse than all sorts of physical and mental sicknesses that are now known to be caused by toxic thoughts related to anger and bitterness.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

I believe “the pure in heart” are those who are primarily concerned with God’s Glory. They are not self-seeking or chasing after worldly interests. This beatitude is consistent with the others above such as humility and meekness.

This can be a constant battle because of the way temptations are disguised to look good.  An equally personalized weapon against the enemy for me is found in James 4:7 and following. These verses are of course for everyone who faces temptations but I say “personalized” because my name happens to be James and I was born in 47!

7 So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. James 4:7-8 New Living Translation (NLT)

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

I believe only “the pure in heart” can be true peacemakers.  One must seek and have Shalom himself/herself before attempting to be a peacemaker. See my earlier article on Just Peacemaking in Rwanda for a deeper explanation of this idea.

We Are God’s Ambassadors

Paul’s writing in 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 has been a great encouragement since I started working on the vision of forgiveness and reconciliation in Rwanda. The Become the Person God Meant You to Be book series we have translated into Kinyarwanda are tools to help Rwandan Pastors become peacemakers.

18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin,[d] so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 New Living Translation (NLT).

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The key phrase is “persecuted because of righteousness.” Unlike me and you, Jesus never sinned. As a peacemaker, Jesus had to confront the hypocrisy and sins of Pharisees, religious leaders and other political leaders of the time. He was persecuted and crucified for exposing their wrongdoing.  That was the price for re-establishing Shalom on earth. 

Note that peacemaking and peacekeeping are two different things. I witnessed the limitations and failure of UN peacekeepers in Rwanda. I also witnessed Church leaders failing to speak out against evil and hatred propaganda such the Hutu Ten Commands (see my article on Just Peacemaking in Rwanda) which were used to incite people to commit atrocities. That whole experience convicted me that it is better to be persecuted for what is right in God’s eyes.

How have you seen the Beatitudes apply to your life recently?

Image credit: Flickr

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Peace: Essential Background for Development



James Butare, Ph.D

James Butare-Kiyovu (Doctorat en Linguistique Appliquée Sorbonne University, Paris) is the Professor of Applied Linguistics at William Carey International University.