Recently I was reading in the gospel of Matthew and ran across Jesus’ first teaching to the disciples. He starts it out this way: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope because then there is less of you and more of God and his rule.” What in the world does that mean? I mean, it sounds crazy. I thought you were blessed when you succeeded or things went well. What is Jesus trying to say here?
Good question. In fact, I believe an essential question for any Christian who would like to see his or her life transformed. I think the basis underlying this experiencing “powerlessness” as “blessedness” is that Jesus came to announce and inaugurate a new Kingdom of God (or Reign of God) in the people’s lives. The people had tried to have a geographical kingdom through military conquest and they’d tried political conquest. And Jesus was saying, “No, the Kingdom of God is going to be within you, inside your mind.”
If the Kingdom of God is going to be within our minds where nobody can see it, then before the kingdom can come we’ve got to establish God as king there. But our difficulty is that our dominant problem is Sin (with a capital “S”); that is, we put ourselves in the center where only God belongs. And we can’t see ourselves surrendering the driver’s seat (throne) to God. So we try to live our lives using our own happiness, fulfillment and way of doing things as the sovereign criteria for all of our decisions.. And when we’ve tried everything in our power, and we can’t prosper, can’t get what we’re trying to get, or be loved the way we want to be loved—we may get to the end of our rope. But it’s at that point we may get tired enough or lonely enough to be willing to surrender to God, asking God to help us become what we were meant to be as human beings. Also at that point we’re open to the possibility of letting God be in the drivers’ seat of our lives to help, teach, and guide us, since we’ve realized that we don’t know how or don’t have the power to fix our situation.
Jesus says we’re blessed when that happens because “then there’s less of us (and our self-absorbed ways of doing things) and more of God and his rule.” To me, that means that when I get to the place where I can’t handle life and hit a wall, then I can detect a doorway in that wall, with a handle on my side. And if I decide to trust God with my whole life, I can step through that doorway into the Kingdom of God.
Jesus goes on to list other circumstances we encounter when we try to run things under our own power that can be doorways to wholeness.
For example, he says “You’re blessed when you think you’ve just lost that which is most dear to you, because only then can you be embraced by the one most dear to you.” I did lose my success, my minor fame that seemed to major to me, and I had to face the fact that I couldn’t control other people’s opinion of me. I’d screwed up my life in a pretty big way, so I knew that I didn’t have a leg to stand on in terms of being perfect. At that point, I came to the place once again where I was willing to say, “Lord, I surrender my life to you—because it’s now clear to me that I can’t handle it. I am powerless to do this. I want to start over, and be your child. Teach me how to be loving, and how to be culpable.” And he has done these things, at least to a larger degree than I ever dreamed could happen.
As I began to live this way, I gradually began to relax, and eventually saw that I really was blessed, because now I didn’t have to prove anything to anybody (although sometimes I still catch myself trying to do these things). All I had to do was to be honest and culpable about myself and make what amends I could and do the next right thing in my personal and vocational lives. And I have this awareness that God is willing to help transform my life now if I will just come to him and surrender the outcome of my life to him and listen to his guidance concerning my decisions, my wife and children, to him. Then when I fail in any of these areas, he’s there at the end of my rope to guide and teach me, giving me some things to do, and teaching me how to have more integrity and to love and care for other people whether they love or care for me or not. These are things I never could have imagined doing naturally without God—and strangely this way of life has already made me happier and more loving than I ever thought I would be.
Jesus goes on to say that “You’re blessed when you are content with just who you are, no more, no less.” I’ve learned that when I’m sitting in the driver’s seat of my life, I want to be number one. I want to be the best at whatever I do. If I’m going to be a Christian I want to be the best Christian around. If I want to be a businessman, I want to be rich and successful. And I have lots of ideas I want God to help me perform and implement.
But there is a different set of values in the Kingdom of God. Evidently the reason that Jesus came to announce and inaugurate this plan is so we could live in an intimate relationship with the God Jesus called Father, let him transform our lives, teach us how to love other people and tell them about him and his reign. When I’m content with just who I am, then I’m not all the time agitating for something more or better or different. Although I don’t like everything that I am, I’m content with who I am right now. And I want to be whatever God wants me to be. And that’s a switch.
Jesus goes on and says “You’re blessed when your witness to me elicits persecution. Because this persecution will drive you deeper into my Reign and my way of life.” Sure enough, it’s been true. It’s paradoxical that even when I’ve had church officials reject me, I have been calm as I try to hear them and love them because for me this is part of living in the Reign of God.
One little thing I’d like to add. It’s important for me to live in the present moment if I want to cultivate this intimate relationship with God. When I’m at the end of my rope or have lost something very dear to me, or can’t achieve the success I want, then I’m not concerned with little unpleasant things. I’m almost totally focused on the threatening situation that’s going on in the present moment. Somewhere along the way somebody told me that God never did anything in the past or the future. God operates only in the present. Anything that happened in the past was—at the time it actually happened—in a present moment. And so if I want the Kingdom of God and his Reign to be the dominant motivational purpose in my own mind and lived out in my life, then I’ll have to learn to live more in the present moment—instead of filling my present moments with fears about the future or regrets about the past. Whenever I see that I can’t do something in that moment, I can bring it to God and ask if it’s even the right thing to do. If it is, I ask for God’s power; and if it’s not the right thing to do, then I let it go and try to discern something else God wants me to do instead. This has given me a sense of enormous freedom.
I’ve come to realize that God made me in a certain way with certain gifts (and that each person is unique with certain gifts). And the more that I’m willing to surrender to God, the more I’m inclined and able to use these gifts for other people—to love them without trying to make them see and do what I see and do. I ask God to help me to quit counting to see how many good deeds or how many people I’ve helped or who have helped me. This is a freedom to me, and a sense of peace that I never had before because I was so restless and driven and prone to keep score.
These days I am loving the work I’m doing. I realize I’m not the best in the world to do it, and sometimes I feel like God’s made a mistake in having me do this particular kind of work because he could get a lot better people. But he’s let me know somehow that, although I was not necessarily the first choice, he’s chosen to guide me in it because I said “Yes” and am trying to do it. And when I fail and confess that failure or sin to God, he has let me experience his forgiveness and lets me begin again.
So I’d just say to you, Jesus is trying to describe a different, deeper more significant kind of “being blessed” than just having success or enough material goods. The question I’ve had to face was, “are you willing to surrender your life to God and let him be in the driver’s seat of your inner mind and life, to show you who you are and what to do? At that moment when you are ready, you are really blessed—because he’ll do it. At least that’s been my experience so far.
God said, “Heads up! The days are coming when I’ll set up a new plan for dealing with Israel and Judah…. This new plan I’m making with Israel isn’t going to be written on paper, isn’t going to be chiseled in stone; This time I’m writing out the plan in them, carving it on the lining of their hearts. I’ll be their God, they’ll be my people. They won’t go to school to learn about me, or buy a book called God in Five Easy Lessons. They’ll all get to know me firsthand, the little and the big, the small and the great. They’ll get to know me by being kindly forgiven, with the slate of their sins forever wiped clean.
– Hebrews 8:6-13, The Message
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way.
Thou art the potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will
While I am waiting, yielded and still.
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Hold o’er my being absolute sway!
Fill with Thy spirit, ‘till all shall see
Christ only, always, living in me.
– Hymn by Adelaide A. Pollard, 1907
P.S. If you are interested in learning how it might feel to actually take God this seriously, the story of how Keith began to take God consciously into the different parts of his ordinary everyday living and working lives is recorded in The Taste of New Wine.