Focus on Happiness
Several months ago we began a series on happiness. The response was so positive that we’ve chosen to continue that topic in the first blog of each month. We’ve looked at what experts say about happiness and lots of practical suggestions.
The Ultimate Source
But as a Christian organization, we believe that our best source for insight is Jesus Himself. And Jesus actually has a lot to say about happiness. In fact, His most famous sermon, and most likely one of His first, the sermon on the mount, begins with a primer on happiness.
Known as “the Beatitudes,” this first section of Matthew, chapter 5 is made up of several statements beginning with the phrase, “Blessed are…” The word “blessed” in this verse really just means happy. And in some translations, it actually says, “Happy are you…”
In short, Jesus is telling us how to be truly happy. And he’s doing so by describing the kind of mindset necessary to experience true happiness. We want to take the next few issues to explore these powerful teachings. So here’s part one of “What Jesus Says About Happiness.”
The First Beatitude
The first of the beatitudes is found in Matt 5:3. It reads, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” There are two parts to the statement: the condition, and the promise. And that’s true with each of the beatitudes.
A Heart Ready For Happiness
First is the condition. This is the picture of the heart ready to experience happiness. This heart, he says, is “poor in spirit.” So let’s explore what “poor in spirit” means. What does it mean to be poor?
To be poor means to be lacking, to have less than what you need. Someone who is poor can’t give anything to anyone else and doesn’t even have enough for himself. A poor child may not have shoes or food. A poor adult may be living on the street or at least living off the kindness of others with financial means.
Poor in Spirit
So to be poor in spirit must be the same thing. Someone poor in spirit is spiritually lacking, has less than they need. Someone poor in spirit can’t offer anything spiritually to anyone else, and in fact, cannot even provide for his own spiritual yearnings.
The poor in spirit are completely dependent on someone else to meet their spiritual needs. They must have a spiritual benefactor. They are hopeless without the kindness of someone with spiritual means.
Well, Jesus says, if that’s you, if you feel spiritually empty, spiritually destitute, good news! You are ready for happiness! If you are hopeless without a spiritual benefactor, Jesus says you’re blessed.
And I think it’s worth pointing out that in truth, all of us are spiritually poor. But Jesus is specifically talking about those who recognize their spiritual poverty. This is someone who has come to the end of him or herself. Someone who realizes their hopelessness and need. And that’s the best place we can ever be.
Why? Because it is about those spiritually poverty-stricken ones that Jesus makes this incredible statement: “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And that’s the second part of the beatitude. That’s the promise.
Jesus promises the poor in spirit nothing less than the kingdom of heaven. Now I want to warn you at this point that in our culture, we’ve made a mistake when it comes to this idea of the kingdom of heaven. We’ve become a little (or a lot) too fixated on the future aspects of the kingdom. And while they are important, they are not the whole story.
In fact, I think there are times when we’ve always thought Jesus was talking about heaven when He wasn’t talking about heaven at all! But this isn’t one of those times. He’s certainly talking about the future idea of heaven, but not only about its future reality. He’s also referring to the “right-now” aspects of the kingdom of heaven.
The Right Now Kingdom
What is the “right-now” kingdom of heaven? It is the reign of His kingdom in our daily lives. He’s saying that when we come to the end of ourselves, we can finally experience life as He intended it. After all, Jesus was not absent from the Trinity in the beginning when God said, “let us make man in our image…” So He’s certainly qualified to say how our earthly existence should play out.
And Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” in John 10:10. This is the kingdom of heaven right now. This full or abundant life Jesus referred to in John is the way He intended for us to live from the beginning. And It is what He came to restore to us.
Surrendering to the King
The kingdom of heaven is the experience of His reign in our lives every day. Recognizing our spiritual poverty allows us to surrender to Him as our King. When we are able to do that, we experience true life. He said that if we lose our lives for His sake, we find true life.
That losing of our lives is the act of surrendering to His ways. It is saying, “I’ve been getting it wrong. My way doesn’t work. I need to trust in Your ways.” The Bible also calls that repentance. Repentance is not saying “I promise I’ll do better.” No. It’s saying, “God, I need you to be in charge, because my way simply does not work.” It is an admission of spiritual poverty.
And it is in this surrender that Jesus says we are blessed. We must allow Him to change everything about us. First, our way of thinking and seeing life. Then our attitudes and actions. As we surrender to Him, or “lose our life,” we gain His abundant life, and with it true happiness.
This is the beginning of the blessedness of the beatitudes. To be poor in spirit, to recognize our need to have our lives and minds overhauled, and to surrender to the One who is able to change us from the inside out. And Jesus tells us that this is the doorway to abundant life and the first secret to true happiness.
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