Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said: “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. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:1-12
I will never forget entering Mama Sizwe’s creche. I was far from home. My heart had been ripped open multiple times this day. The poverty was hard to bear. My wealth sat uncomfortably on my shoulders. Entering the nursery school, the children were running all around our feet. Little ones taken here for the day because parents or even siblings had gone to work hoping to eke out enough money to buy food for supper that night. The children were somewhat oblivious to their plight as they had Mama Sizwe. She brought us into her creche and there was not a toy in sight. A nursery school without toys doesn’t seem to make sense, but this was a township, she was not a wealthy woman! Instead seeing the needs surrounding her, she had given up her home and insisted that it was for the children – a place of safety and hope and Jesus in the middle of what should have been despair. Her smile said more than I can write. A deep and abiding intimacy with Jesus was written all over her face. As her staff hurriedly wiped off chairs so that we could sit, she and her workers stood on the perimeter and told us her story. I was humbled. And then in Zulu, with no interpreter, she prayed for us. Heaven opened and as the hairs on my arms stood on end, I knew we were in the presence of Jesus. We had come to bless her and instead she turned around and heaped blessings on our heads. I don’t believe I’ve ever been as close to heaven as I was in that creche in the township.
I often look at my circumstances and I wonder where the blessings are that are in my life. Too often I’m looking for the tangible. The things I can hold on to. Those must be blessings. However, Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount are not related to any physical things. Rather the attitudes of my heart are the opening for his blessing to pour out. Poverty of spirit, mourning, meekness, hunger and thirst for righteousness, mercy, purity in heart, peacemaking, the persecuted – this doesn’t sound like a list of the most blessed and yet it is. In each of these situations, there is a dependence on God, an acknowledgement that He is the only One who can take us through these moments when our hearts are sore and raw. He is also looking at our interactions with others. Do I extend His grace and mercy to others when it is needed? Do I long to assist with resolution of conflict and strife? Do I extend my hand to others that they may be helped? Do I hunger and thirst for the things of God? Do I experience joy in the middle of circumstances where joy might not readily be found?
There are no tangible blessings here, none that I hold in my hands. However, I have been the recipient of their blessing often. I am a part of the kingdom of heaven. I have experienced comfort in the midst of grief. I don’t understand what it means to inherit the earth. Sometimes I feel filled. I have been shown much mercy. I continue to see God more and more in my life. I’m so grateful that I am a child of God. But by no means have I arrived. Instead, I long to have my life and character be shaped and moulded that I will be the person He desires me to be.
This Advent season, I know opportunities to shape my character will come my way. Things will rub my heart raw, other things will bless my socks off. Either way, I pray that joy will shine through me because He goes before me and His blessings are more than I can ever imagine.