We’re spending a few weeks in The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12). But as we do, we’ll explore other passages—from both the Old and New Testaments—which point us to Jesus’ blessings. Those blessings begin to form a new worldview which Jesus called the “Kingdom of Heaven.”
This week’s meditations will take us to the second blessing on Saturday — “Blessed are those who mourn” (5:4).
Monday, September 16
Read: Psalm 139:1-6
Consider: As the psalmist praises God for his presence, protection and strength, he uses spatial language—he “locates” us in God’s presence. “You hem me in behind and before” (139:5). Or, as we might say today, the God who goes before me also has my back.
It brings to mind other psalms that describe God’s closeness to us as physical proximity, such as Psalm 91…
“A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.” (91:7)
I remember a particular time in my life when the assignment before me was intimidating. I was nervous, afraid of what I had to do. At that moment, words from the psalms began to flood my mind—passages about God going before me, God being my rear guard, God standing at my right side and my left. My world changed at that moment. I didn’t see myself as walking alone, hoping that God would somehow give me success. I saw myself surrounded by him. Many years later I would find another way to describe this truth from the words of our brother, the Apostle Paul, who said, “your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).
It sounds too good to be true. Or, as the psalmist wrote, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain” (139:6).
But that is our reality.
Pray: Take some time today to meditate on God’s presence by visualizing the Lord going before you, standing behind you, defending you on the right and guarding you on the left. Then ask God to help you see him in that manner throughout the day. (God gave us the poetry of the Bible so we could “see” God in these kinds of powerful and intimate ways.) And don’t forget to thank him that “your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”
Tuesday, September 17
Read: Psalm 139:7-12
Consider: This psalm is poetry that sustains the soul. The psalmist uses language that evokes powerful images of God’s presence. He wrote…
“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.” (139:7-8)
Sheol is the Hebrew word that, in this passage, is translated, “the depths.” It is a word that signifies the grave or the place of the dead. In the King James Version of the Old Testament, we find the most famous translation of this passage — “If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.”
Let that concept settle in your mind. Or rather, let it settle in your spirit at a deep, abiding level — “If I make my bed in hell, you are there.”
Now, we know (by the meaning of sheol) that the psalmist was not talking about hell in a manner that some would later come to see it. He was not speaking about a place of eternal torment. But I love the King James translation of this phrase, because it paints a picture about the hell that many of us are going through right now. The psalmist wove his words together to tell us something that is too good to be true, and yet is true.
If I find myself in the depths, if the darkness is so overwhelming that it seems like I’ll never see light again, if I can find no concept or word that describes the place I’m in other than “hell,” there is still a promise. The promise is that God is there with me, even in the hell I’m walking through right now.
Pray: Thank God that even when we don’t feel his presence, we can know his presence—not so much at a cognitive level, but at a spiritual level. We can believe him when he said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:3, Deuteronomy 31:6).
Wednesday, September 18
Read: Psalm 139:1-12
Consider: Darkness is a powerful image throughout scripture. Sometimes evil is described as darkness, but that is certainly not the only use of that word. Other times it is an image of sorrow, grief and abandonment. St. John of the Cross, a sixteenth century saint, wrote about “the dark night of the soul.”
We don’t even have to define the dark night of the soul. We know it when we’re there. Some of God’s people have had to travel through unimaginable seasons of depression—a reality that goes far beyond changes of moods, common sadness or emotional volatility. The dark night of the soul cannot be captured in words. It has claimed the lives of many people we love.
When you read the psalms, you get the impression that the psalmist had experienced that dark night. Many of the psalms are laments and some are even called “complaints.” And sometimes the palmist wished he could die.
Today’s psalm doesn’t deny that. It doesn’t say “lighten up” and everything will be rosy. In fact, it says that sometimes we find ourselves saying, “Surely the darkness will hide me, and the light become night around me” (139:11).
We find a promise in this psalm. No, it’s not easy to grasp. It’s not a quick fix that removes the darkness. It doesn’t immediately pull us out of the darkness. But it is truth.
“…even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” (139:12)
When we can’t see God, we stand on the promise that he sees us. He has not abandoned us. Believing that is not easy. But his presence makes it possible.
Pray: “Lord, thank you that you see clearly in my darkness. I pray that I can see clearly as well. But until I receive that clarity, I’ll trust you, knowing that you see what I cannot see. Guide me by your light.”
Thursday, September 19
Read: Psalm 23:1-6
Consider: In this, the most famous of all the psalms, David proclaims…
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…” (23:4)
Remember when you were a child and you found yourself walking alone in a dark place. What did you do? You quickened your pace. You walked faster and faster. If the fear didn’t subside, your hurried steps turned into a run. Your goal was to get out of the dark as soon as you could, so that the fear would go away.
We still do that. When I find myself in a dark place emotionally or spiritually, my goal is to leave that place as soon as possible. I may beg God to take the darkness away. I may try to sidetrack my mind with a host of diversions, so I don’t have to peer into the darkness. But as normal and natural as it is for me to run from, ignore or deny the darkness, there is a better way. I can look for God in the darkness.
Pain, grief and sorrow are part of my life and yours. They can’t be avoided, and they can’t be ignored or denied for any substantial length of time. We all pass through those valleys. But David said that in those dark days of pain and sorrow, we don’t have to be overcome by fear.
I’m trying to learn to slow my pace in the valley. It’s not easy. But if I do, I have a better chance of seeing the face of God and knowing his presence. I hate the valley. But what would be even worse than walking in the dark, would be missing his presence in that dark place. If I run, I may miss an opportunity for life-changing intimacy with the God who walks with me through the valley of the shadow of death.
Pray: “Lord, when it’s dark, I have to strain to see and sometimes your presence is hidden from me. When I can’t feel it, teach me to know your presence at a level that is much deeper than my cognition or my emotions. Help me to find you in the valley. Thank you that I don’t have to be afraid. Thank you that I never have to journey through the darkness alone.”
Friday, September 20
Read: Matthew 1:18-23
Consider: At the center of our faith is our belief in the incarnation. With the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, we don’t simply celebrate the coming of a prophet or a wise, compassionate leader. There is so much more. We celebrate the miracle that God put on human flesh and took on our humanity. He became one of us.
John teaches us that the Son—the second person of the Trinity—is eternal and is one with the Father (John 1:1-3, 14). So, Christ didn’t come into existence when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He simply came to our world. He came to us.
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’—which means ‘God with us’.” (Matthew 1:22-23)
Throughout the Bible, we are told repeatedly that God intends to dwell with his people. When his people journeyed through the wilderness, God showed his presence with a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. When the appointed time came, God became a man and “pitched his tent among us” (John 1:14). And before Jesus left us in the flesh, he promised that he would not leave us as orphans, but that his Spirit would dwell with us and in us (John 14).
The most wonderful thing we can do on this journey is to develop our awareness of God’s presence. The dishwasher, who we know as Brother Lawrence, called it “the practice of the presence of God.”
Through prayer, worship, the sacraments, silence, solitude and other spiritual practices, we teach ourselves to live in an ever-increasing awareness that “God is with us.” This is how we live the full life to which we are called. His presence causes our pain to form us, not destroy us. His presence changes our desires, so that sin is no longer our master. His presence brings contentment that keeps us from chasing after empty promises. His presence makes all the difference.
Pray: “Lord, in my mind I know that you are with me. But I want to know it with more than my mind. I want to know your presence with my whole being. Help me to make every day of my life a day of increased awareness of you. Help me to live in the reality that Christ is in me and I am in Christ (John 14:20).”
Saturday, September 21
Read: Matthew 5:1-4
Consider: “Blessed are those who mourn.” That statement doesn’t usually come from our lips. We feel sorrow and empathy for those who mourn. We pray for them, asking God to be real to them in their grief. But we don’t usually think of them as being blessed.
And yet, we do. When we walk with someone through times of great sorrow, we keep finding God in the middle of the suffering. In small and large ways, we get to see that God is there. And, in the middle of the pain, we have a sense of gratitude—a sense of blessing—that can only come from the presence of God.
Jesus said that those who mourn will be comforted. That comfort doesn’t come from understanding our suffering. We don’t know the “why” of pain. (That’s why it’s best if we don’t try to bring answers to those who grieve, but simply bring ourselves.) No, it’s not answers, but God’s presence that brings comfort.
This reminds us of why it is important for us to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). We can bring the presence of Christ with us to that place of mourning. And when we share the mourning, we also share the blessing.
I serve as a hospice pastor. Every day I have the honor of ministering to people in their final weeks, days, or even moments of life. I get to embrace families as they walk through their darkest moments.
When I tell people what I do, I often get reactions such as, “Oh, that must be depressing” or “I could never do that.” But what they don’t know is that every day I get to see Jesus. For he is found in the weakest, the most vulnerable, those who mourn. And when we can see him there, the second Beatitude makes perfect sense. “Blessed are those who mourn” when in that mourning they see the face of Christ.
Pray:“Lord, help me to see you in my suffering and in the suffering of those around me. I want to know your presence in my pain and to be a vehicle for your presence in the suffering of others. Show me today how to comfort and how to be comforted.”