Michael’s Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” has been stuck in my head for the last few months, since my friend Topher and I performed it as part of a medley for a youth group event back in May. It’s fairly redemptive for a chart-topper from the King of Pop, communicating the “be the change you wish to see in the world” sentiment often attributed to Ghandi. This is probably the best outlook we can hope for from the current milieu: Humanism, but altruistic humanism.
However, it is insufficient for the people of God to simply decide, “I’m gonna make a change for once in my life. It’s gonna feel real good–gonna make a difference; gonna make it right.” Experientially, we’ve all learned that changing oneself and one’s world is more of a lifelong challenge than a momentary choice. Theologically, the Beatitudes give us good reason to find this song unsatisfying.
In Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (a going-away gift from my good friend Tim Williams), Martin Lloyd Jones contends for the necessity and power of Matthew 5-7. He claims that the famous oration is an extended explanation of Jesus’ “new commandment,” a way of living that should unmistakably distinguish Christians from all others. In his chapter on “blessed are the poor in spirit,” Lloyd Jones says that this poverty of spirit is the vital prerequisite of all the ethical injunctions that follow, pushing back on our (sometimes charitable) self-obsession:
How does one therefore become `poor in spirit’? The answer is that you do not look at yourself or begin by trying to do things to yourself. That was the whole error of monasticism. Those poor men in their desire to do this said, `I must go out of society, I must scarify my flesh and suffer hardship, I must mutilate my body.’ No, no, the more you do that the more conscious will you be of yourself, and the less `poor in spirit’. The way to become poor in spirit is to look at God. Read this Book about Him, read His law, look at what He expects from us, contemplate standing before Him. It is also to look at the Lord Jesus Christ and to view Him as we see Him in the Gospels.
Does Christ play a major or minor role in your day-to-day Christianity? Is prayer primarily your discipline or God’s presence? When was the last time you were struck speechless by God’s grandeur?
Early in our marriage, I would meticulously plan dates on Friday night. We couldn’t afford extravagance, so I tried to show off my savviness instead. I would research restaurants and events for hours, trying to create the perfect evening that would show Annie what a remarkable husband I was. Without fail, my showboating backfired. At the end of a long week, she (rightfully) wasn’t in the mood to play a supporting role in “ode to my awesomeness, December 2010 edition.” Sooner or later, if I wanted our time to be a success, I had to let go of the show and focus on her. We might still end up at that ice cream shop I’d read about in the back of Seattle Met, but none of it really meant anything until it stopped being about me and I noticed, cherished, and prioritized Annie.
Is your Christianity about you, or Christ? Would you be willing to give up all the pretense you’ve built up, to step out of the patterns you’ve planned around, and the persona you’ve put on, to follow Him where He is and where He’s going? Are you open to the idea that Christianity is about following Christ more than leading others? The whole Sermon on the Mount awaits–there is, indeed, so much to do–but Jesus’ opening line tells us that we must first sit at his feet, poor in spirit. Lloyd Jones continues:
Look at Him; and the more we look at Him, the more hopeless shall we feel by ourselves, and in and of ourselves, and the more shall we become `poor in spirit’. Look at Him, keep looking at Him. Look at the saints, look at the men who have been most filled with the Spirit and used. But above all, look again at Him, and then you will have nothing to do to yourself. It will be done.
Will you spend your in-between moments today checking yourself in the mirror, or acknowledging the presence of God? Poverty of spirit, and the kingdom of heaven that it unlocks, await those who fix their eyes on the Lord.