"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, 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: What do you think it 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 probably could have been hired as 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 showing mercy is optional for a 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: financial, relational, spiritual, 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 shown someone mercy recently? I’d love to hear 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.
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?
Jennifer cussed the chaplain out when she arrived at prison to serve her sixteen-year sentence. But in the privacy of her cell, she repeatedly beat her head against the concrete wall until it bled. Without drugs, she knew no other way to mask the anger and bitterness she had known from childhood.
For most of her twenty-two years, Jennifer’s parents said she was a mistake—that she was supposed to be a boy. So, Jennifer believed that God makes mistakes.
At ten, a nineteen-year-old from church began molesting Jennifer. At this point, Jennifer wanted nothing to do with God.
She started drinking at age eleven to make the pain go away. By twelve, she was cutting, participating in criminal activity, and abusing drugs. By seventeen, she was a “mule,” trafficking drugs from Tulsa to Memphis.
One night, wondering how her life had turned out the way it had, Jennifer breathed a simple prayer, “Help. If You’re listening, help.”
She didn’t think about that prayer again until twenty-seven days later, when she saw six squad cars in her rearview mirror. As Jennifer was slammed to the pavement and cuffed, a load lifted from her. While she didn’t know what it would look like, she was certain life as she knew it was over.
After arriving at prison, Jennifer mocked the inmates in the Christian program. But she watched them. Their joy haunted her because it was something she had never known.
So she caved and joined them. For ten weeks, she heard things she’d never heard before: Forgiveness equals freedom; God uses authority for direction, provision, and protection for our lives. And, if she would believe in Jesus’ sacrifice for her sins, He would give her a new identity.
Ten weeks came and went, and the chaplain asked Jennifer to stay ten more. She couldn’t understand why—after the trouble she’d caused—but Jennifer agreed.
And on December 21, 2000, God’s Spirit interacted with her through His Word for the first time in her life. When that class ended, Jennifer got on her knees and told God if He could salvage what was left of her life, it was His.
And it has been, ever since.
“If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17)
PS: Jennifer got out of prison on May 31, 2011, only to go back in . . . this time as a denominational chaplain. God is now using her mightily to help salvage other bitter, broken lives.
Call me crazy, but I don’t believe in pursuing guys. (Was that a gasp I heard?) Yes, you might want to sit down for this. Today, I’m sharing seven reasons I’ve given God control of my love life. Are you ready? More