THERE COMES a time in our lives when good-natured, well-meant encouragement like “Hang in there, pal” and “Cheer up, friend” fail to hoist us out of the doldrums. Because our needs are deeper than psychological, such suggestions only seem to make keener our feeling of helplessness.
The truth is: Regardless of our cleverness, our achievements, and our gadgets, we are spiritual paupers without God.
Christ’s message was directed to one specific group—to the “poor,” the poor in spirit. Christ said: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor” (Luke 4:18). This did not mean that Christ’s message was only for the financially poor, the socially poor, or the intellectually poor. It meant that it was for those who recognized their spiritual poverty. That was the first Beatitude. It was the dominant note upon which this celestial anthem of truth was composed. Of the Macedonian Christians Paul wrote, “. . . in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality” (2 Corinthians 8:2).
If we would find genuine happiness, we must begin where Jesus began. If we would have meaningful lives, we must live by the Beatitudes.
This second Beatitude, “Happy are they that mourn,” at first seems paradoxical. Do crying and joy go together? How can we possibly be happy while we are in the throes of mourning? How can one extract the perfume of gladness from the gall of sorrow?
But rest assured that there is deep and hidden significance here, for remember, Jesus was speaking to all people of all beliefs and of all ages and was revealing to them the secret of happiness.
The Shallowness of Our Lives
This present age is definitely not an age of mourning. Instead, people deliberately turn away from anything unpleasant, determined to fill their lives with those things which will divert their minds from anything serious. In their preoccupation with momentary pleasures and diversions, people settle for shallow and empty substitutes for reality. Millions give more thought to what programs they will watch tonight on TNT or what videotape they will rent for the weekend than they do to the things of eternity.
This century could well go down in history not so much as a century of progress but as “the century of superficiality.” The popular exclamation “So what!” aptly describes the attitude of many toward life. Many think that so long as we have sleek automobiles to ride in, TV and movies to entertain us, luxurious homes to live in, and a million gadgets to serve us, what happens to our souls does not matter. “So what! Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone.” The apostles of mirth therefore put on their grimacing masks, turn the volume up on their TVs or press down the accelerators on their sports cars, and plunge into their superficial living.
But superficial living will never help us stand against the pressures and problems of life. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus told the story of two men. One decided to build his house on sand; it would, after all, have been easy to do. The other built his house on rock, although that would have involved more work. Outwardly both houses looked the same. But when the storms and floods came the house built on sand was destroyed. Only the house built on rock withstood the pressures of the flood. “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock” (Matthew 7:24). Only when our lives are grounded in the eternal truth of God’s Word will they be able to withstand the storms of life. A superficial life which neglects God can never give us a firm foundation for true happiness.
The following comment appeared in an issue of the London Times: “The grace of final perseverance is that quality of patience that is always equal to the pressure of the passing moment, because it is rooted in the Eternal over which the passing moment has no power.”
Beverly Sills, the former opera star and now a producer, has learned some lessons in adversity. Her first child was born almost totally deaf. The little girl was destined never to hear her mother’s beautiful voice lifted in song. Her second child, a son, was born mentally retarded.
So great was the sorrow in Mrs. Sills’s life that she took off a year from her demanding profession to work with her daughter and son, trying to make peace with the difficult circumstances. Later, when she was asked how she came to terms with the situation she answered, “The first question you ask is, Why me? Then it changes to Why them? It makes a complete difference in your attitude.” Her attitude is the opposite of superficiality.
Now, I am not gunning for TV addicts or movie buffs in particular, but I do strongly contend that life is more than “skin-deep.” Look at your popular comedians! Underneath the feigned smirks and the pretended smiles are the furrows and lines of seriousness and sobriety. Although it is their business to make you laugh, they are well aware that life is a solemn business.
Recently a dear friend of ours was told she had cancer. “It is amazing,” she said to us, “how one day you can be going along smoothly and the next day one little word from the doctor’s lips—‘cancer’—radically changes everything. Then you know as you never have before that life is serious, and eternity is only a heartbeat away. Suddenly many of the things that seemed so important just a day ago are no longer very important.”
Jesus did not mean “Blessed are the morose, the miserable, or the sullen.” The Pharisees made a masquerade of religion, rubbed ashes on their faces to appear religious, but He strongly rebuked them for that. “Be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance,” He said (Matthew 6:16).
Who was it that said, “Some people’s religion is like a man with a headache—he can’t afford to give up his head, but it hurts him to keep it”?
Billy Graham, The Secret of Happiness (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011).
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