“The Desire for Happiness”

Evening Glory by John Langley

The desire for happiness is natural, a law of life itself.  While we are all alike in this human aspiration,  our individual perceptions and ways of seeking it are singularly different.   As it is right to wish to be happy, what then are the conditions upon which its fulfillment depends?

Let us consider Christ’s teachings as it relates to happiness.  What were his words concerning this natural human wish?  Did he say it is an illusion? Would he have agreed with Goethe that “religion is renunciation”?

“There is nothing of the hardness of Stoicism in Christ’s gospel. It is humane, sympathetic, consoling. Unrest and weariness, the fever of passion and the chill of despair, soul-solitude and heart-trouble, are the very things He comes to cure”. 1

Jesus begins his great discourse of the Beatitudes with the word “blessed” — “happy” is the meaning.  Nine times he repeats the word like the urgent chimes of a resounding bell. Christ’s teaching does not entail giving up things merely for the sake of giving up, but always in order to win something better. He came not to destroy, but to fulfill — to fill to the fullest, to replenish life with inward, lasting riches.  And as we come to him, we discover four great secrets in this quest: 2

First, it is inward. It does not depend on what we have, but on what we are.

Second, it is not found by direct seeking, but by pursuing the things from which it flows. We must climb the mountain if we would see the vision — we must tune the instrument if we would hear the music.

Third, happiness is not solitary, but social, so we can never have it without sharing it with others.

Fourth, it is the outcome of God’s will for us, and not our will for ourselves; therefore, we find it by surrendering our lives to the dominion of a loving God.

These four aspects reflect the divine doctrine of happiness as Christ taught, which perhaps can be distilled in these words: “Mankind’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”

1 Henry Van Dyke, “Joy and Power”, p. 12
2 Ibid., pp. 13-14

 Reference: Henry Van Dyke, 1903, “Joy and Power”, http://www.gutenberg.net/1/0/3/9/10395

*** Image: Evening Glory by John Langley

The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing

The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing

 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Matthew 5:3

… a synopsis of A.W. Tozer’s writing

Before God created man, He prepared a world filled with things for man’s use and enjoyment; however, within the depths of man’s heart was a shrine where only God was worthy to inhabit.

With the entrance of sin, a perversion occurred that made those very gifts of God a potential ruin to the soul.  Problems began when God was forced out of His central shrine in the heart and “things” were allowed to enter and control.

“There is within the human heart a tough fibrous root of fallen life whose nature is to possess, always to possess. It covets “things” with a deep and fierce passion. The pronouns my and mine are verbal symptoms of our deep disease.  Things have become necessary to us, God’s gifts now take the place of God, and the whole course of nature is upset by this monstrous substitution.1

 Jesus Christ shone the light on this “tyranny of things” when He called upon His disciples to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Him.  “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for My sake shall find it.” (Matthew 16:25)

There is a “self-life” whose chief nature is its possessiveness, and to allow this adversary to live is to lose everything in the end.  To conquer and relinquish it for Christ’s sake is to lose nothing, but to preserve everything unto life eternal. And the only effective way to vanquish this foe is by the Cross.

Abraham’s heart was put to the test when God asked him to offer his son Isaac for a burnt sacrifice.  By his obedience in not withholding his son, Abraham removed Isaac from the temple of his heart, and allowed God to reign there unchallenged.  He became a man utterly surrendered and obedient to God.

Wealthy in worldly riches, Abraham had everything, yet he possessed nothing. After that bittersweet experience on Mount Moriah, the words “my” and “mine” never again had the same meaning for him; the sense of possession which these words connote was removed from his heart.  Abraham realized that his real treasures were unseen and eternal.

The blessed ones, the happy ones, are those who have renounced every external thing from their hearts, so God can reign there unrivalled. And though free from all sense of possessing, paradoxically, they gain all things because God is their treasure:  theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Reference:  A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God,  in the Public Domain in the United States, Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation, Gutenberg.org electronic book, pp.30-45

 Footnote:  1 Ibid, p. 31

*** Photography by Sergey Ivanov

Marks of the Poor in Spirit

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3

The Lord’s discussion on the Beatitudes begins with the attribute of being poor in spirit.  I do not believe that the ordering of the conditions for blessedness was purely by chance: Jesus had a particular reason for calling out this trait first and foremost among the others.  Thomas Watson (1660) describes it in these terms: “Poverty of spirit is the foundation stone on which God lays the superstructure of eternal glory”.

What does being “poor in spirit” mean?

Contrary to what some believe, it does not mean being poor in a material sense, and shunning worldly riches.  It is also not the same as being “spiritually poor”,  that of being without grace and having no sense of one’s own moral poverty; nor is it the same as being “poor-spirited”, that of possessing a mean base spirit, acting below oneself.  (p. 2)

The Greek word for “poor” means being destitute, not only of outward, but also of inward comfort.  Following the lines of this definition, those who are poor in spirit are “those who are brought to  the sense of their own sins, and seeing no goodness in them, despair in themselves and look wholly to the mercy of God in Christ. It is “self-annihilation”, a kind of emptying of self so that God is free to fill the soul with His grace through Jesus Christ. (p. 2)

Why does Jesus begin with poverty of spirit in the Beatitudes?  It is because herein lies the foundation of everything that follows in the Christian experience of salvation.  Unless one is poor in spirit, one cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.  Without being poor in spirit, one cannot mourn, or be meek, or merciful, or hunger and thirst after righteousness.  Being poor in spirit ushers in all the rest.  (p. 2)

What are the marks of a person who is poor in spirit?  Here are some attributes: (pp. 5-7)

* One who is weaned or detached from himself.  In so doing, he becomes an empty vessel so that God can pour in the precious wine of His grace.  In contrast, one who is puffed up in his own self-sufficiency and self-excellence is not fit for God’s grace; he is already full: “his hand is full of pebbles — it cannot receive gold”.  But the poor in spirit are those who are broken in the sense of recognizing their own unworthiness.

* One who is a Christ-admirer.  He runs to Christ in his nakedness to be clothed in the garments of the Lord’s righteousness; he sees himself in a state of death and clings to the tree of life; he sees that all his riches lie in Christ.  Everything is Christ, Christ is all in all.

* One who is ever lamenting of his spiritual estate.  Like a poor man who is about to starve, he ever looks to God, laying down his life at the gate of mercy and living upon the altars of free grace.

* One who is lowly in heart.  As rich men are haughty, the poor are submissive.  The more grace he has, the more humble he is because he now sees himself as a great debtor to God, yet forgiven of his debts;  he lives, yet it is not him, but that Christ lives in him; he labors, yet not he, but by the grace of God.

* One who is content to take Christ upon Christ’s own terms.  The proud sinner will contend and bargain with Christ: he will have Christ and the world’s pleasures; he will have Christ but retain his own righteousness.  “But the poor in spirit sees himself lost without Christ, and is willing to have Christ upon the Lord’s own terms, a Prince to rule him, as well as a Savior to save him”.  He is as Paul when brought to the end of his rope, to the very depths of knowledge of his own human frailty, he calls out to God saying, “Lord, what will you have me to do?” (Acts 9:6)

* One who is an exalter of free grace.  There are none who so magnify God’s mercy as the poor in spirit. As those who are poor are innately thankful, those who are poor in spirit greatly proclaim the goodness and mercy of God, they “bless God for the least crumb which falls from the table of free grace”.

We must labor to be poor in spirit.  “Christ begins with this trait, and this is where we must start if ever we are saved. “ (p. 6)

* Reference: Thomas Watson, 1660, The Beatitudes: An Exposition of Matthew 5:1-12, “Poverty of Spirit”. 

* Photograph: Waiting for the Tide by Kevin Temple

How Hungry? Tests of Spiritual Appetite

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” Matthew 5:6

What does it mean to “hunger and thirst after righteousness”?  In his book “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount”,  Dr.David Martyn Lloyd-Jones gives a few tests to determine the presence of spiritual appetite.

“The first test is this:  Do we see through all our own false righteousness?”  This would be the first indication of such appetite.  That  is, unless one recognizes his righteousness as nothing but “filthy rags”, there would be no hunger for something better.

Another test is discipline.  Dr. Lloyd-Jones says, “This subject of discipline is of vital importance.  I am suggesting that unless we day by day voluntarily and deliberately remind ourselves of this righteousness which we need, we are not very likely to be hungering and thirsting after it. The man who truly hungers and thirsts makes himself look at it every day.”  Discipline is finding the time to satisfy the hunger pangs that one feels.

The next test according to Dr. Lloyd-Jones is this:  “The man who is hungering and thirsting after righteousness always puts himself in the way of getting it”.   The blind man, Bartimaeus, could not heal himself, so he put himself in the way where Jesus was passing through and made such a commotion that Jesus could not help but notice him.   In modern life, this implies going to Church and being involved in the Church, reading the Bible, and making time for prayer.

Dr. Lloyd-Jones mentions the need for reading the biographies of saints and all literature one can lay hold on the matter of righteousness and the Kingdom of God.  He continues, “The people who hunger and thirst after righteousness are frantic.  They do all these things; they are seeking righteousness everywhere; and yet they know their efforts are never going to lead to it.  … It does not matter whom you look at.  It seems to work out like this: it is only as you seek this righteousness with the whole of your being that you can truly discover it. You can never find it yourself.  Yet the people who sit back and do nothing never seem to get it.  That is God’s method.  … We have done everything, and having done all we are still miserable sinners: and then we see that, as little children, we are to receive it as the free gift of God.”

These then are the tests for spiritual appetite.  Dr. Lloyd-Jones concludes by asking: “Is it(hungering after righteousness) the greatest desire of our life?  Is it the deepest longing of our being? Can we say quite honestly and truly that we desire above everything else in this world truly to know God and to be like the Lord Jesus Christ, to be rid of self in every shape and form, and to live only, always and entirely to His glory and to His honor?”

If so, then as we keep on asking, seeking and knocking, indeed we shall be filled — ‘with all the fullness of God’.


*** Photo by Sifu Renka

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