“Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .” – Matthew 5:3 This first of the Beatitudes could also be loosely translated “blessed are those who are out of breath.”
How many of us have felt out of breath? Doubled over, searing pain in our side, light-headed, gasping for air, willing oxygen in our lungs.
How many of us have felt spiritually out of breath? Deflated, uninspired, desperate for God’s presence, needy, hungry, hurting, uncertain perhaps, willing ourselves to believe, barely hanging on…Jesus says blessed are you.
There is a beautiful mystery in this. It was summed up by a dear woman I knew in college:
Growing as a Christian isn’t about getting it all together—it’s about dependence. It’s about knowing how much we desperately need him.
Perhaps this is why Jesus says we are blessed when we see how desperate, how “out of breath,” we are—because this is when we see ourselves rightly. This is when we can see how much we don’t have it all together, how weak we are, how needy we are, and this realization is what can send us running to Christ, throwing ourselves completely on the Gospel, because we have no other hope. Blessed are those who are out of breath—for theirs is the kingdom.
What a different picture this is from what is often presented in many of our churches and Christian organizations. How often do you hear someone share about what they’re struggling with right then, what sins they fell into last night, instead of what they were struggling with several months or years ago? How often do we categorize people into Christians and “sinners,” forgetting that “but for the grace of God there would go I,” forgetting that we too still fall short? How often do we feel pressure—within our churches!—to have it all together, to put on a smile, to hide our hurts and struggles? How often do we look to the victory of Christ, but forget the deep suffering of the Cross?
It’s easy to look at the Gospel as our ticket into Christianity but something we graduate from into bigger and better things. But this is dangerous. The reality is that the longer we walk with the Lord, the deeper we go with him, the more profound the Gospel becomes, the more we see how hopeless we are without it, the more we see just how much we are in need of Grace. It is never something we graduate from - the Gospel is for Christians too. Perfection, independence, and self-sufficiency lead us astray, away from the Gospel, tricking us into thinking that we magically now have the strength to handle life and reach holiness on our own. These things lead to bondage in our own self-assurance and false security.
Maturity isn’t about becoming strong as much as learning just how weak and helpless we are without Christ. The beautiful paradox is that the weaker we become in this way, the stronger we become, for it is when we are weak we give up standing on our own two feet, and allow Christ to be our strength. It is when we realize attempting to fix ourselves or "try harder" is a hopeless cause, and we look to the Holy Spirit to work in our spirits to make us more like Christ. The message of the Gospel is not “try harder” but “lean more heavily on my strength.” Desperation, neediness, complete dependence on God—these are the marks of maturity, these are the signs that we really “get it.” Blessed are those who are out of breath—for theirs is the kingdom.