Reflections on “The Poor in Spirit”

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

The sermon on the Mount describes
what human life and human community
looks like when they come under
the gracious rule of King Jesus…

Still today the indispensable condition
of receiving the kingdom of God
is to acknowledge our spiritual poverty…

Thus, to be ‘poor in spirit’ is to acknowledge our spiritual poverty,
indeed our spiritual bankruptcy, before God…
Right at the beginning of his sermon,
Jesus contradicts all human judgments
and all nationalistic expectations of the kingdom of God.
The kingdom is given to the poor, not the rich;
the feeble, not the mighty;
to little children humble enough to accept it,
not to soldiers who boast
that they can obtain it by their own prowess.
– John Stott

We are beggars. This is true! – Martin Luther

The kingdom of God can only be received by empty hands.
Jesus warns against two things:
Worldly self-sufficiency which leads you
to trust yourself and your own resources
so that you don’t need God;
and religious self-sufficiency
where you trust your religious attitude and moral life
and don’t need Jesus.
– Michael Crosby

He only who is reduced to nothing in himself,
and relies on the mercy of God, is poor in spirit.
– John Calvin

Blessed are the spiritual zeros – the spiritually bankrupt,
deprived and deficient, the spiritual beggars,
those without a wisp of religion –
when the kingdom of heaven comes upon them.
– Dallas Willard

How Singing God’s Praise Changes Us

Have you ever wondered why singing is such a prominent feature in corporate worship?

  • Singing serves as a way to bless and thank our God for who He is and for all that He has done to love and rescue us.
  • Singing our Lord’s praise is a primary way that we enthrone Him in our hearts (Psalm 22:3).
  • Singing serves as a means of proclaiming the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. In singing, we commend to others the Jesus that we know and cherish ourselves (1 Corinthians 14:24-25).
  • Singing enables us to savor God’s Word and makes it more memorable and vivid. The Apostle Paul admonishes us: “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly…singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…” (Colossians 3:16).
  • Singing changes us. It makes us kinder, gentler, and more reasonable. It also affords peace and joy to our hearts.
  • Singing galvanizes us to trust God in the midst of trouble (e.g. Paul and Silas sing hymns while persecuted and imprisoned for their faith – Acts 16:25).
  • Singing serves as a weapon when we are in the midst of spiritual conflict. Martin Luther claims that “the devil flees before the sound of music almost as much as before the Word of God.”

William Cowper, the beloved 18th century English poet and hymnodist, was right:

“Sometimes the light surprises the Christian while he sings. It is the Son who rises with healing in His wings.”

Oh that we might experience anew His healing and transformative work in our hearts as we draw near to worship our Lord!

The Indictment of Martin Luther – “A Wild Boar”

Martin Luther learned a powerful lesson that, when power-hungry, religious people are threatened, they will even use the Scriptures (in his case the Psalms) to assail and assault you.

This should not be a novel insight since the Devil misquoted Psalm 91 in tempting Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:5-6). It is interesting to note that a verse from the Psalms was used to excommunicate Luther from the Roman Catholic Church – Psalm 80:13. This Psalm refers to God’s people as a vineyard that He planted. It grew and became expansive in the earth. Then, people began to take advantage of and abuse His vineyard. The text says, “The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that moves in the field feed on it.”

Pope Leo X prayed “Arise, O Lord, and judge your own cause….Listen to our prayers, for foxes have arisen seeking to destroy the vineyard whose winepress you alone have trod….THE WILD BOAR from the forest seeks to destroy it and every wild beast feeds upon it.”

It is essential that we acknowledge that even those who care and cultivate the Lord’s vineyard are misunderstood and can be vilified. For those in leadership in Christ’s church, we must recognize that sometimes we may be maligned, slandered, and abused in our efforts to bring reformation and revival to Christ’s church. Luther’s life serves as a clear illustration of this reality. Yet for Luther, the Psalms served as a vital source for perseverance in fulfilling his calling and God-ordained mission in life.

Martin Luther & Singing the Psalms

Martin Luther encouraged praying the Psalms by providing the common people with singable versions of metrical psalms in their own language.

He acknowledged that,

the common and ancient custom of the Christian church [was] to sing Psalms. St. Paul himself instituted this in I Corinthians 14:15 and exhorted the Colossians [3:16] to sing spiritual songs and Psalms heartily unto the Lord so that God’s Word and Christian teaching might be instilled and implanted in many ways.

(Hughes Oliphant Old, Worship: Reformed According to the Scriptures, (Atlanta, Georgia: John Knox Press, 1984), 48.)

As early as 1537 the Strasbourg Psalter included vernacular versions of all one hundred and fifty psalms.” Luther turned six Psalms into evangelical song (12, 14, 67, 124, 128, 130, and then later Psalm 46).

Hughes Oliphant Old claims that “Martin Luther did as much as anyone to revive and popularize psalm singing in the sixteenth century.”

Prayer of Confession by Martin Luther

Behold, Lord, I am an empty vessel
that needs to be filled.
My Lord, fill it.
I am weak in faith; Strengthen me.
I am cold in love; Warm me and make me fervent
that my love may go out to my neighbor.

I do not have a strong and firm faith;
at times I doubt and am unable to trust You altogether.
O Lord, help me. Strengthen my faith and trust in Thee.

In You I have sealed the treasures of all I have.
I am poor; You are rich and came to be merciful to the poor.
I am a sinner; You are upright.
With me there is an abundance of sin;
In You is the fullness of righteousness.
Help and forgive me, O Lord,
for my only hope is in You. Amen.

Martin Luther & The Courage to Face Your Fears

images

Martin Luther leading family worship.

On Sunday, October 29th, we will celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. We remember on this day that Martin Luther began a process that resulted in the recovery of the biblical gospel. Many congregations will recall the efforts of Martin Luther and will sing his famous hymn based on Psalm 46 entitled “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

When Luther needed encouragement, comfort and strength to face the many afflictions and trials that came upon him, he would frequently go to Psalm 46 for courage.

He himself explains why he would regularly sing Psalm 46 during times of trouble:

“We sing this psalm to the praise of God,
because He is with us
and powerfully and miraculously preserves and defends
His church and His Word
against all fanatical spirits,
against the gates of hell,
against the implacable hatred of the devil,
and against all the assaults of the world, the flesh, and sin.”

 

Martin Luther’s Reflection on Music

Martin Luther - the father of song

God’s Fair and Glorious Gift

“Music is a fair and glorious gift of God.
I would not for the world forego my humble share of music.
Singers are never sorrowful, but are merry,
and smile through their troubles in song.
Music makes people kinder, gentler,
more staid and reasonable.
I am strongly persuaded that after theology

there is no art than can be placed on a level with music;
for besides theology,
music is the only art
capable of affording peace and joy of the heart…
the devil flees before the sound of music
almost as much as before the Word of God.”

– Martin Luther