Wherefore let us give up vain and fruitless cares, and approach to the glorious and venerable rule of our holy calling. Let us attend to what is good, pleasing, and acceptable in the sight of Him who formed us. Let us look steadfastly to the blood of Christ, and see how precious that blood is to God, which, having been shed for our salvation, has set the grace of repentance before the whole world. Let us turn to every age that has passed, and learn that, from generation to generation, the Lord has granted a place of repentance to all such as would be converted unto Him. Noah preached repentance, and as many as listened to him were saved. Jonah proclaimed destruction to the Ninevites; but they, repenting of their sins, propitiated God by prayer, and obtained salvation, although they were aliens [to the covenant] of God. – St. Clement
The first chapter of James, the Lord’s brother teaches us a few things with his use of teleios and its variants.
Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4)
Christian maturity is a destination and it takes endurance to get there. This endurance, often rendered patience, is an active endurance that helps one accomplish great feats under tremendous pressure, in this passage the trials of the Christian life. This word for endurance also refers to constancy. The Christian continues day in and day out to accomplish the work of sanctification in his life under the pressure of living and what life throws at him or her, without wavering or experiencing a meltdown (constancy). We can see that this endurance is a means and a test as to how we are progressing along the road to maturity. Embrace the process, as I am fond of saying.
Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without doubting. For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. An indecisive man is unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8)
A prayer that will be always answered in the positive is the prayer for wisdom. The road to Christian maturity requires godly wisdom to navigate around potholes, road construction, and traffic accidents in life. Notice the inclusion of the word unstable in our passage. This would be the opposite of constancy, and thus should be something to avoid in the journey to Christian maturity. Embrace the process.
Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning. By His own choice, He gave us a new birth by the message of truth so that we would be the firstfruits of His creatures. (James 1:17-18)
The perfect gift is from the loving Father himself. The perfect gift comes down from heaven and is thus eternal in value and purpose. The perfect gift is the new birth. Now grow; you were born for this Christian life. There is no variation in God – He is constant, and His love is continual for you. The perfect gift was birthed in truth for a purpose – so that our lives can be an offering to the Lord. From birth to maturity. For eternity. For a purpose. Embrace the process.
But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but one who does good works—this person will be blessed in what he does. If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself. Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:22-27)
It is almost contradictory to think that freedom produces good works. But perfect freedom is the only way to move from works to good works. There is a lot of practical ways to measure were your growth is in this passage. What good works are you and the Holy Spirit doing? Doing comes from being and good works come from maturity, the teleios.
The prophet Jonah was sent to Israel’s enemy from the north: Nineveh. Jonah preached a message of judgment against the city. The Lord God gave the time period of forty days until judgment would come upon the city with no call of repentance. The response of the pagan people, who did not know the God of the Israelites, shows how they became poor in spirit because they took it upon themselves to change their character:
Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. When the word came to the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes. He issued a proclamation and it said,
“In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. But both man and beast be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence is in his hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we may not perish?”
When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it. (NASB)
The steps the people of Nineveh took to become poor in spirit are as follows:
The people of Nineveh believed in God. It all begins with believing God’s Word and acting out in faith to the Word of the Most High. Our text for this whole study in becoming poor in spirit is Matthew 5:3. Do we believe Jesus’ word to his disciples? Are you His disciple? Then believe His Word to us.
A fast was called. Not only did the people hear from God and believed, they wanted to draw nearer and learn what they needed to do to hold off the coming judgment declared by the prophet of God. We have learned that prayer and fasting can help in the development of the character we are after: being poor in spirit.
They mourned over their sin. This is an overlap into the next Beatitude (Matthew 5:4), but the Beatitudes often work together in the development of Christian character. Mourning over sin is essential in character development. The nation mourned because of their sin in the attitude of being poor in spirit.
God validated their character by holding off judgment. Because the people of Nineveh changed their character and became poor in spirit the judgment that was pronounced against them by the prophet of God was not brought upon them.
Remember these four steps as essential for character development and refer to them often in your walk in becoming poor in spirit.
Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in your prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete (teleios is translated “perfect and complete” here) in all the will of God. Colossians 4:12
We find in this verse that Ephaphras is praying for the spiritual maturity of believers. Note how he is praying for them: laboring fervently. This is some intense prayer. It seems to be very important to disciple of Paul that believers mature. To have the heart like this is to have the heart of God for we are told in this verse that this is the will of God. This should be a main objective of ministry. If it is important enough to be recorded in a letter by Paul; that it is important enough for a disciple of Paul to pray with such intensity; and if it is the will of God, should not be a major emphasis of the Church? Do you labor in prayer fervently for the spiritual maturity of others to be developed? If not the mandate of Scripture is there. Get serious about your own growth. Then get serious about the growth of others.
In those days I, Daniel, was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled…Then he said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words.” (NKJV)
The prayer life and the character of Daniel comes shining through in these verses. Daniel prayed and fasted three weeks in order to understand a vision given to him. Let us examine the lessons brought forth from this passage of Scripture.
I, Daniel, was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth. Daniel was a man of prayer. Prayer to the Living God takes our burdens and places them upon the Burden Bearer, the true God of our hearts. When we transfer our burdens to God we are transferring the kingdom from ourselves to the kingdom of heaven. We saw that earlier when the first dream of Nebuchadnezzar occurred:
Then Daniel went to his house and informed his friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, about the matter, so that they might request compassion from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his friends would not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven. (Daniel 2:17-19, NASB)
We also see Daniel’s prayer life in the story that leads to Daniel in the lion’s den:
Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days. (Daniel 6:10, NKJV, emphasis added)
In addition to prayer Daniel takes part in a fast. This is not a complete fast from food and drink, rather a fast of pleasant food, the food he enjoyed eating. It would be like me giving up pizza and fast-food for three weeks to draw closer to the Lord. Thus Daniel’s character was shaped by his prayer life and fasting transforming him into a man who was poor in spirit. Our lives too can be transformed when we practice prayer and fasting when directed by God.
Whenever you fast…But when you fast… (Matthew 6:16-17, HCSB)
Then the disciples approached Jesus privately and said, “Why couldn’t we drive it (a demon) out?” (Jesus replied) “However, this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:19 and 21, HCSB)
From the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard. We are told that the Lord heard his prayer from the very onset of the prayer and fasting. God did not answer the prayer because Daniel prayed and fasted, but because he was a man poor in spirit as the passage says he humbled himself. When a man is poor in spirit the communication lines remain open between him and the loving Father.
Schedule into your time the disciplines of fasting and prayer, directed by the Holy Spirit, and do some character transformation in your life. You will be glad that you have.
Divinely loved ones [divinely loved by God], stop thinking that the smelting process which is [operating] among you and which has come to you for the purpose of testing [you], is a thing alien to you. (1 Peter 4:12 Wuest Expanded Translation)
2016 was a very trying year for me and for many that I know. I posted little the second half of the year and took all of December off as I prayed and focused on what I learned in 2016 and how I want to grow in 2017.
I lost family members in 2016, some I was close to, and others not so. I have experienced medical issues this year that pushed me to my knees (two shoulder surgeries, nerve damage caused by the first surgery, and a thyroid issue that has put 35 pounds on me the last three months of the year). I also have relatives dealing with serious disease including battling cancer and medical issues that are so bizarre that the doctors cannot figure out exactly what is wrong and how to treat it.
My wife was out of work for 7 ½ months in 2016, so the finance issue was brought to the forefront and we praise God that she is currently employed despite a 33% pay cut and a 50 minute commute instead of the 5 minute commute of her previous employment.
I am also dealing with close friends (I can count my close friends on one hand) who have left my city, plan to leave my city in 2017, and those who are contemplating leaving this city.
God does not only use “negative” things (for that is how we think) to shape and mold us but positive things (for that is how we think). This year I changed my disposition from a pessimist to an optimist by one event in 2016: the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. As a life-long Cub fan I have been disappointed year after year my whole life and truly believed I would never see a World Championship for the Cubs. But now I know anything is possible!
None of these things should be alien or strange to any of else (see our passage above). We may ask “why?” or react in a negative way at first to adversity. But when we stop and kneel before our Loving Father we will see that everything that we go through is part of the process of The Plow working in our lives. I thank God for the process and I enjoy writing about that process in my blog. I pray that I can keep my goal of blogging at least twice a week in 2017 and being an encouragement to family, friends, and new friends in the coming year.
May 2017 bring us all opportunities to grow in the knowledge of the Lord.
Nehemiah was another person who exemplified the life of The Plow. Nehemiah led the rebuilding effort of the walls of Jerusalem while the nation was in exile. There remained a small population in Jerusalem and soon more people from the exile will be returning to the city. The walls of a city are very important because it provides a layer of safety from your enemies. In that culture the strength of the people’s god was reflected by their walls – YAHWHE was not looking good in the sight of the enemies of Israel. The walls were down and nobody was willing to change the current situation: thus The Plow was needed to begin something new. Nehemiah takes the risk to follow The Plow.
Nehemiah receives the report of the condition of the walls in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:1-3). The news is not good; the walls have been broken down and the gates have been burned. The small remnant of people in Jerusalem was in distress and living in reproach due to their living conditions and with the ease by which their enemies raided them and mocked them.
Nehemiah’s reaction prompts him to seek The Plow (Nehemiah 1:4-11). Verse four explains how this news of the walls created in Nehemiah the heart to seek The Plow:
So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
Nehemiah’s prayer is recorded in Nehemiah 1:5-11 as he asks for God to use him to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem by embracing The Plow. Nehemiah stands upon God’s covenants and blessing of obedience and asks for the LORD’s intercession. Nehemiah knows God can work because His Word says He can. Nehemiah repents for the national sin of Israel recognizing Israel’s condition, and the walls of Jerusalem, was due to the sin of the people. Nehemiah also asks for the LORD to allow him to have mercy as he approaches the King Artaxerxes. The work of The Plow begins with the prayer of a person seeking the will of God.
In Nehemiah 1:11 we are told both a problem and a solution: Nehemiah was the king’s cupbearer. As the king’s cupbearer he was close to the one person who could help his situation. The king could order and pay for the walls to be rebuilt in Jerusalem and Nehemiah was close enough to him to make the request. The problem lied with the fact that people do not approach the king without being summoned to his presence. The servants, no matter how honored, were not to speak without being spoken to first or allowed to speak by the king. There was another problem: Artaxerxes had stopped a previous wall building project based on false information from Israel’s enemies (Ezra 4:21-23). Would the king allow another project based on the request of Nehemiah? Nehemiah had to take a risk to talk to the king, but The Plow works where risks to go beyond normal are taken.
Nehemiah’s approach to getting the king’s attention and the king’s response is recorded in Nehemiah 2:1-8. Nehemiah comes into the king’s presence with a sad disposition. This was a risk because Persian kings thought that all people should be happy in their presence and not to be would be a sign of disrespect – a dangerous place to find yourself. But the king responds positively to the actions and request of his trusted servant Nehemiah and the request is granted. The Plow has started to plow over the old and plant a new crop for harvest because one man dared to be different and seek God’s will.
As soon as the work begins (Nehemiah 2:9) opposition rises to thwart the work of rebuilding the walls by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:10). Be assured The Plow will be greatly opposed by both friend and foe, because it is different from the normal pattern of the people of the LORD and possess a threat to the enemies of God. The Enemy likes to have God’s people in a holding pattern of no progress. The Plow wants to plant something new, something fruitful. No position of strength in the Revolution can be gained without The Plow, for it is the means of progress in the economy of the Almighty.
The work of The Plow is never easy as Nehemiah’s experience shows us (Nehemiah 2:11-6:15). Nehemiah was empowered with great leadership and diplomatic gifts by the hand of God and His will was completed as He plowed and created a willing vessel in Nehemiah and the people who followed his lead. The desire to follow the LORD made Nehemiah’s ministry fruitful and is necessary to follow The Plow to a large harvest.
After the walls were completed another problem arose, and Nehemiah once again goes against the grain and calls for The Plow. Nehemiah 13:4-31 tells us the problems Nehemiah had to face. First the high priest was in bed with the enemy and allowed him to occupy space in the temple of God for profit, and Nehemiah once again has to leave his post as cupbearer and return to Jerusalem and fix the issues (Nehemiah 13:4-9). Then the Levites were not being taken care of because the tithe was not coming into the temple; so Nehemiah compelled the leaders to bring in the tithe and prayed for God’s intervention (Nehemiah 13:10-14). Then Nehemiah had to address the people breaking the Sabbath (Nehemiah 13:15-22). Then there was the issue of marriage to the pagans around Jerusalem (Nehemiah 13:23-31). Nehemiah would not have solved these critical problems if he was not willing to move out from his comfort zone and embraced The Plow.
Being in the position of the cupbearer to the king made it possible for God’s work to be done. The LORD is always working behind the scenes to move people into place who will embrace The Plow. We will see this once again in the next Biblical character who sought The Plow.
And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done. (2 Kings 18:3)
After a long list of not so great kings Hezekiah ascends to the throne and lives a life after The Plow. When he became king he went against the normal standard operating procedure and accomplished the following:
He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan. He trusted the LORD God of Israel, so that after him was none like him among the kings of Judah, nor who were before him. For he held fast to the LORD; he did not depart from following Him, but kept his commandments, which the LORD had commanded Moses. The LORD was with him; he prospered wherever he went. And he rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him. (2 Kings 18:4-7)
The Plow does not follow the status quo and Hezekiah’s reign attests to that. Hezekiah led a spiritual revival at the beginning of his kingdom and did not stop until his death. The world power at the time of Hezekiah was Assyria and prior kings served Assyria and paid tribute to them. Assyria took out the Northern Kingdom of Israel and threatened Judah multiple times. But Hezekiah followed The Plow and was willing to suffer its pain and do what God called him to and rebelled against Assyria in the name of the LORD. Hezekiah’s crisis with Assyria demonstrates the life which follows The Plow and submits to the will of God.
We read of Assyria’s initial threat of following Hezekiah’s rebellion, bulling Judah in the way of the world, which challenges the life of The Plow in 2 Kings 18:13-37. Hezekiah, if he followed the way of the world, would have caved in and given in to the demands of the world’s superpower. But Hezekiah was willing to suffer worldly consequences for following after The Plow. Hezekiah has the nation seek God instead of panicking (2 Kings 19:1-4). The prophet Isaiah affirms the direction taken by Hezekiah (2 Kings 19:6-7) and assures the LORD will bring deliverance – the way of The Plow is the way of ultimate victory. The action of Hezekiah was met with another boastful threat by Assyria (2 Kings 19:8-13). And why should Assyria not keep up the ways of their past success; it has been the normal way of life for them. The Plow upsets the normal way of life. Hezekiah’s prayer in 2 Kings 19:14-19 is one of the greatest in the Bible and shows the heart of the person who lives after The Plow. Isaiah once again affirms the fact of God’s deliverance is certain, because the LORD works where He is allowed to plow. God then brings deliverance which is contrary to the way of the world in 2 Kings 19:35-37 in which the angel of the LORD killed 185,000 Assyrians without the worldly way of battle (reading the archaeological evidence of this is quite fascinating by the way).
Deliverance comes by The Plow. Hezekiah was successful in the time of his crisis because he followed The Plow and lived to show us this principle.
When Hannah’s prayer was answered with the birth of Samuel, she weaned him, and dedicated him for the Lord’s service (1 Samuel 1:24-28). Hannah again shows her character of being poor in spirit by not taking any credit for God’s blessing by worshipping the LORD.
Now when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with a three-year-old bull and one ephah of flour and a jug of wine, and brought him to the house of the LORD in Shiloh, although the child was young. Then they slaughtered the bull, and brought the boy to Eli. She said, “O my lord! As your soul lives, my lord, I am the woman who stood beside you, praying to the LORD. For this boy I prayed, and the LORD has given me my petition which I asked of Him. So I have also dedicated him to the LORD; as long as he lives he is dedicated to the LORD.” And he worshiped the LORD there. (1 Samuel 1:24-28, NASB).
In 1 Samuel 2:1-10 we have recorded Hannah’s prayer of praise that is a testimony to a heart that is poor in spirit. Hannah understands that she has been blessed and she is humbled by her gift from God. Hannah contrasts her humbleness before the LORD to the proud of the world who do not understand the ways of being poor in spirit. The following are relevant portions of the passage for our discussion:
No one is holy like the LORD, for there is none besides You, nor is there a rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly; let no arrogance come from your mouth, for the LORD is the God of knowledge; and by Him actions are weighed. (1Samuel 2:2-3, NKJV, emphasis added)
The contrast is clear in this passage between the holiness of God and the speech of the proud. The proud do not recognize that God holds all the knowledge for He Himself is the God of knowledge. With this knowledge the Lord weighs our actions and the proud are found wanting. The poor in spirit are not like the arrogant. Their speech is full of blessing and grace for they recognize that there is none besides You (our Lord God).
The bows of the mighty men are broken, and those who stumbled are girded with strength. (1 Samuel 2:4, NKJV)
Once again the contrast is clear between the mighty men and those who stumble (those who are poor in spirit). Notice the fate of the two. The mighty men’s bows are broken while those who are poor in spirit are girded with strength from the Lord.
The LORD makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts. He raises the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with nobles, and inherit a seat of honor. (1 Samuel 2:7-8, NASB)
Hannah in this passage equates the poor with those who are poor in spirit and the rich as the proud. The contrast is again evident. The Lord brings the rich low and the poor he lifts up. The poor in spirit are elevated and set among the princes and they inherit the throne of glory. This is much like our Beatitude:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, NKJV)
Whenever we are presented with a contrast in Scripture between the world and the poor in spirit it is an opportunity for self-evaluation. Where are you today? Are you worldly? Is there any worldly ways in you? Pray that the Holy Spirit illuminates any part of your life that is worldly and sacrifice it on God’s altar of mercy and grace today.
The book of 1 Samuel begins with the story of the prophet and last judge of Israel: Samuel. Samuel’s mother Hannah was barren and did not have any children of her own, which made her a social outcast at that time. Hannah shows herself to be poor in spirit in her prayer to the LORD for a male child in this portion of the prayer,
Now it came about, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli was watching her mouth. As for Hannah, she was speaking in her heart, only her lips were moving, but her voice was not heard. So Eli thought she was drunk. Then Eli said to her, “How long will you make yourself drunk? Put away your wine from you.” But Hannah replied, “No, my lord, I am a woman oppressed in spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before the LORD.” (1 Samuel 1:12-15, NASB, emphasis added)
Hannah’s prayer was not audible, she only prayed in her heart. Her heart was not revealed to Eli, but rather it was exposed before the LORD for His viewing only. Her passion was seen by Eli the priest, but her words were not heard. Some prayers are so heartfelt that they need not to be shared with others. Hannah prayed with such emotion, with such pain on her heart, to a God who understands the troubled soul of man. The Lord desires us to come to Him with our petitions, especially those that are our deepest desires. By not speaking loudly Hannah acknowledges that God cares deeply about the heart and its desires.
LORD, the king finds joy in Your strength. How greatly he rejoices in Your victory! You have given him his heart’s desire and have not denied the request of his lips. For You meet him with rich blessings. (Psalm 21:1-3a, HCSB)
We come not to God with our voices, but rather with our hearts opened up before Him in pure humility and an attitude of being poor in spirit. We recognize that the answer is beyond ourselves and only the Lord can grant our requests to meet the desires of our hearts.
Hannah had a sorrowful spirit and her heart was grieving. She was deeply troubled by her circumstances. Though she poured no wine or intoxicating drink into herself she poured out her soul out to the LORD. This again is being poor in spirit; as we come to the ends of ourselves we come to the beginning of God. We become insignificant when dealing with circumstances and become dependent upon the Lord.
Meditate upon the following Scriptures:
I remember this as I pour out my heart…Why am I so depressed? Why this turmoil within me? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise Him, my Savior and my God. (Psalm 42:4-5, HCSB)
Trust in, lean on, rely on, and have confidence in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts before Him. God is a refuge for us (a fortress and a high tower). (Psalm 62:8, Amplified)
I pour out my complaint before Him; I reveal my trouble to Him. (Psalm 142:2, HCSB)
Arise [from your bed], cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches; pour out your heart like water before the face of the LORD. Lift your hands toward Him for the lives of your young children, who faint from hunger at the head of every street. (Lamentations 2:19, Amplified)
God desires that you seek Him in prayer as one who is poor in spirit. Develop a prayer life like Hannah, pray from the heart; start today.