PRIVILEGED, LUCKY, OR BLESSED?

Prompted by some recent news stories, I’ve been thinking lately about the idea of privilege and how it relates to me. When I looked up the definition of the word I realized I have been misusing it.

According to the first definition that came up in my search, privilege is “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.” Most of my adult life I have been calling a variety of opportunities, relationships, and good things that I have experience privileges.

I have considered things like being married to my wife, being the father of a daughter and a son, being the grandpa of two grandsons, serving as a pastor in multiple ways for over 46 years, having the friends I have had and have, and much more as privileges. Most recently I officiated my son’s wedding and called that a privilege.

However, given the meaning of privilege in the definition above, none of the things I have been considering privileges have been such. I do not question or dispute that there are persons who indeed have benefitted from privilege in its primary definition and others have not.

If the good things in my life I have been calling privileges are not really that, what are they?

I’m uncomfortable to think or say that all these good things are nothing more than luck. The first internet definition for luck is “success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.” I wouldn’t disagree that some of the things that happen to us can be thought of in terms of good luck or bad luck, but it is more than that. Instead of luck many Christians use the word providence that is defined as the “protective care of God.” I believe in God’s providence in terms of the good things in life, but don’t have a satisfying answer for those who may ask about “bad luck.”

If I have to give up the idea of privilege, and don’t want to call it luck, I think the best choice is to say “I am blessed.” My favorite definition of a blessing received is “a favor or gift bestowed by God.” In all honesty I think Christians sometimes overuse the idea of blessed and blessing, but that’s really what I’m talking about in terms of many of the good things in my life.

I’m writing this reflection late on Saturday evening following the wedding of my son. I guess it was a privilege to officiate as a pastor in terms of the dictionary definition, but it was much more than that. Some may consider me lucky to have done this, and maybe I am; but the bottom line for me is that it was a wonderful blessing to do so and I was blessed by doing it.

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CONGRATULATIONS!

Most people appreciate it when others congratulate them for something they have done. And some expressions of congratulations mean more to us than others, depending upon who offers it. If it’s a coach, teacher, or someone we look up to who congratulates us we are especially pleased.

How would you like to be congratulated by God? In the opening verses of what we call the Sermon on the Mount Jesus highlights eight character qualities that describe His followers. These are not eight types of His followers, but rather eight qualities that ideally characterize every Christian. They are called the beatitudes as Jesus begins each with the pronouncement that those who have the quality are blessed. One of the best ways to think of this idea of being blessed is as a congratulations from God.

We recently went over the Beatitudes in my classes “Jesus in the Gospels” and I gave the students an assignment to write about their favorite beatitude. I thought if I asked them to do it, I could do it as well. In this post I want to share my two favorite beatitudes. (And it’s okay for me to choose two because I told them if they couldn’t narrow it down to one it was okay to write about more than one.)

My two favorites are the first and sixth: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.” Out of the eight, these are the two that are most easily and most often misunderstood; and they are my favorites.

To be poor in spirit doesn’t necessarily mean to be financially or materially poor. Nor does it mean to be poor spirited in terms of being no fun, sad, or lacking in energy. To be poor in spirit is to recognize your own spiritual poverty before God and your need for His mercy and grace. To be poor in spirit is to admit that we are not worthy and cannot save ourselves, so we accept God’s gracious offer in Jesus.

To be poor in spirit is to be congratulated by God. Each beatitude not only includes God’s congratulations at the beginning, but also a specific promise at the end. Those who are poor in spirit are not only to be congratulated, they also possess the kingdom of heaven. And the reason the poor in spirit are in the kingdom is because they know their spiritual need and have had it met in Jesus.

Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14 provides a great example of both one who was not poor in spirit and one who was. In the introduction to the parable Luke tells us Jesus directed it to “some who were confident in their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.” Those two attitudes are certainly not characteristic of those who are poor in spirit. Take a moment and read the parable and the rich in spirit prayer of the Pharisee. And consider praying the poor in spirit prayer of the tax collector: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

To be pure in heart is not primarily about having a pure mind or body. Nor is it about being totally free of all sin or externally following a set of rules. To be pure in heart is to be honest and sincere. (However, it does not mean you are brutally honest and uncaring.) The pure in heart are not manipulative and do not have hidden motives. There is no pretense and to be pure in heart is the opposite of being hypocritical.

To be pure in heart is to be congratulated by God. And not only that, the specific promise to the pure in heart is that they will see God. That is, of course, a promise to see God in the hereafter; but I think it also means our pure hearts will help see God and His working in this life.

From time to time I hear someone describe someone else with the description “With this person what you see is what you get.” That phrase suggests to me basically what this quality of being pure in heart is.

Hopefully you and I are growing in and exhibiting these two qualities of being poor in spirit and pure in heart. If we are it is not for me to congratulate any of us, but I think we can be encouraged to know that God congratulates us.

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