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."
I visited Chicago this past weekend, not realizing it was the same day as the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The river had been dyed green, the whole city appeared to be drunk by noon, and cops swarmed the streets. Then there were the homeless, tucked into doorways trying to shield themselves from the bitter cold.
The Poor in Chicago
Except for Aveda. She stood right next to the door of Garrett’s Popcorn, wrapped in a scarf and winter coat, holding a "Please Help" sign in one hand and a plastic cup in the other. She cried out to each person who entered the store, asking for money to purchase a hotel room.
After dropping a dollar bill in her cup and telling her about the Pacific Garden Mission, I told her that Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor . . . in spirit," and that I wanted to be poor in this way too.
Aveda didn’t get it. When I told her about Jesus’ statement, she started telling me about how often she prays. She may be poor, but she’s not yet poor in spirit.
The Poor In Spirit
"Blessed [happy] are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" is the first "beatitude" that Jesus shares in His Sermon on the Mount. The Beatitudes are not statements that Jesus expects the world to live up to. The Beatitudes describe the essence of a true Christian. And boy, a Christian couldn’t possibly be more different than the world!
Because we’re all born thinking we’re something. Thinking God would really benefit from having smart, sweet girls like ourselves on His team! But while we’re busy admiring ourselves, He’s stooping down looking into doorways for someone—anyone—who is destitute of spirit. Someone holding a "Please Help" sign.
Are You Poor?
While Aveda didn’t get it, I pray that you do. Jesus doesn’t approve of you because of your prayers, your Bible reading, your church attendance, or your purity. He, the Savior of the world, is looking for those who realize they desperately need saving.
I have to ask: Has there ever been a time in your life when you’ve been wrecked over your sin? Who are you more like in the following story—the Pharisee or the tax collector?
He [Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 18:9–14).
I’m a crummy friend. I didn’t even realize it until last Friday, when Revive Our Hearts asked their employees to spend four hours on an exercise called the Personal Vitality Plan. We were to look at twelve areas of our life and evaluate what’s been going well, what’s been being neglected, and what some achievable steps are to replenish that area.
It didn’t take long to realize what was anemic. My relationships. Specifically, my friendships.
Until now, my idea of a good friend has been one whom I don’t have to spend a lot of time with, but when I do, we pick up right where we left off. But now I wonder if my definition of friendship has simply been a sorry excuse for neglect and selfishness on my part.
Oh, I haven’t painted it that way. I’ve chosen the busyness of “ministry” above friendships, investing more time in those who are “needy” while my iron-sharpening-iron friendships have simmered on the back burner.
As spiritual as that has seemed, I wonder if it has had more to do with pride and fear than love and compassion. There’s something self-inflating about being the one people always look to for help and answers. But since when are friendships one-sided?
When I look at Scripture I see friendship described with words like:
talking face to face (Ex. 33:11)
your friend who is as your own soul (Deut. 13:6)
loyalty (2 Sam 16:16)
kindness (Job 6:14)
trust (Ps. 41:9)
celebrating together (Luke 15:29)
grieving together (Ps. 35:14)
Now I see that I’ve been treating my closest friends as if they’re optional. But Jesus tells me in John 15:12–17 that friendship isn’t optional (and in the process, He calls me His friend!):
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. . . . These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”
It took me less than the allotted four hours to realize that I was a crummy friend, so I spent the remaining time sending emails and setting up specific plans.
I asked one friend if she’d be willing to spend time together regularly. I don’t want to get spread so thin maintaining all kinds of relationships that no one really knows what’s going on deep in my heart. I asked her to meet with me regularly for several reasons:
She loves and cares about me.
She already knows me well and runs in my circles.
She’s not afraid to ask me hard questions. You know, the kind that make you squirm.
Once that was taken care of, I began making plans to choose people over pixels: scheduling a party for artists in April, inviting neighbors over to roast marshmallows in the fireplace before spring arrives in full vigor, exploring the possibility of a getaway with two other about-to-turn-thirty-year-olds.
Since Friday, I’ve attended a birthday party, two movie nights, and am headed to the Art Institute in Chicago with the girls in my family this Saturday. Oh, and I’m asking God to teach me how to be a good friend. To learn to love . . . and be loved.
How about you? What do you tend to value more than friendship? What’s your excuse for letting your friendships simmer on the back burner? And if you’re the one feeling undervalued in a friendship, how can you continue to extend grace and reach out to that busy friend?