Laura Bartels Felleman
The Poor and Mournful
Sinners were invited to come to the Lamb of God and be cleansed of their sins every year at the University I attended. That’s right, a revival complete with Baptist preachers, choirs, a tent, a revival sanctioned by the University was an annual campus event. I did not go to a State school.
The Spring Revival was open to all students, not just the Baptists, although Baptist students did seem to be the target audience. The purpose of the revival as near as I could tell from my United Methodist perspective was to get the students to go back to Church. They had been raised Baptists, they had gone to church every Sunday with their parents, but now that they were on their own they were out of the habit of attending worship services.
They weren’t coming to church so the Baptist preachers came to them and reminded the students of their better natures. The Revival was usually held after Spring Break. There seemed to be a lot of repenting and confessing going on around that time of year, which put the students were in the right frame of mind to hear the preachers’ message.
The revivalist would remind them of how good it felt to be in a close relationship with Jesus, to have Jesus as their friend and personal savior, to have their quiet time with him every morning, to worship him on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday evenings. It was a full agenda the preachers were setting out for the students.
Unfortunately, the students already had a busy college agenda, a lifestyle with its own schedule, rituals, and priorities. The students were caught in the middle. They felt their dilemma. Some of them cried as the revivalists warmed to their subject of repenting and returning to faith. When the invitation was extended to come to the front of the stage and accept Christ as their Savior and re-dedicate their lives to Him, some of the students would go and be met by a volunteer who would pray with them as the congregation sang a hymn.
By the end of the hymn most of the students had stopped crying. Some of them had peaceful expressions on their faces. They had undergone a kind of religious experience-- just as the planners of the Revival had hoped.
This is one interpretation of blessed are the poor in spirit-- sinners brought to conviction by the Word of God are poor in spirit. They come to a sudden realization of their utter helplessness, that without God they are doomed and that realization causes them to cry out for a Savior who they believe can rescue them. The poor in spirit are blessed when dread, shame, and fear are replaced with a feeling of salvation, then the Kingdom of Heaven is within them (Matt 5:3).
The Revival lasted a week, and then the preachers went back to their churches. The college students, all though they had the best of intentions, they would also go back to the life they knew.
At that point the poor in spirit who had a dramatic conversion experience became those who mourn, who needed to be comforted. They mourned when the drama of the Revival experience faded and they had to go back to face all their old temptations and found that over time their willpower weakened and failed them.
They had promised Jesus that they would make it to church every Sunday and they mourned as they felt how difficult it was to keep their promise. Their comfort would come, not from themselves, but only when they learned that keeping their religious commitments was possible only when they were strengthened by God’s grace (Matt 5:4).
I want to give you this experience of feeling poor in spirit, perceiving the Kingdom of God within, mourning and being comforted by God’s grace. But you are not college students and I’m not a Baptist preacher. So how about if we try to relate to this grace experience another way.
Ever feel clueless? It’s a very humbling experience. To not know what to do. We face some dilemma in life and it feels like we should know what the right thing to do is. We should be the expert on our lives, what’s best for us. It shouldn’t be that hard to figure out how to act or what to say to our family or our friends, but sometimes our mind goes blank. We want to be loving and supportive and fix the situation, but it’s not always clear what form love should take.
Ever had that feeling? That’s what I mean by clueless. We feel helpless, we need someone wiser than we are to tell us what to do. If we stay stuck in that feeling of helplessness, that’s not an experience of grace. Remember, Jesus said blessed are the poor in spirit. When helplessness gives way to a feeling that God will see us through the difficulty, that God will give us the wisdom to cope, then we experience the Kingdom of God within.
One would think that, after having this reassurance of God’s goodness we would never forget that God is there for us, and will accompany us and guide us through any crisis. But no. Turning to God will not be the first thing that comes to mind. Feeling helpless and dependent, even if it is God we are depending on, it grates against our sense of competence and sufficiency. Eventually the thought will occur to us, “Oh, maybe I should pray about this instead of trying to figure this out on my own.” And that’s when we’ll mourn, and be comforted. It’s a lesson of humility God will teach us again and again.
That feeling of helplessness, followed by a perception of divine helpfulness, it’s an experience of God’s grace that can come over us multiple times over the course of our lives, not just when we’ve done something that we are ashamed of.
The feeling of mourning and then being comforted, that’s another work of grace that will keep recurring. As our faith in Christ grows stronger we may not mourn as much about persistent temptations. Instead mourning for others when we start to notice how lost and unhappy they are may take the place of mourning for ourselves. Again, this mourning is only a work of grace if it is accompanied by a sense of being comforted by God, reassured that Christ will be our Savior as well as other peoples’.
So, when you feel helpless or worried I hope these first two Beatitudes come to mind and remind you that God’s grace won’t leave you in that state. Wait for God to act, expect to be given peace of mind. It’s one of the ways God’s power works on us and changes us from the inside out.