What are the marks of the poor in spirit?
- They are humble at the sight of their graces. Carnal hearts are puffed up, but a gracious heart sees enough in its graces to make it humble.
- The poor in spirit think it a small thing if others receive more respect and honor. They have no cause for envy or to be troubled. It is rather a wonder what they do have. They trust God’s providence.
- They admire every little good they receive, considering it much. They wonder at every affliction that it is not more, and are thankful for every mercy. The world is troubled that their afflictions are great and their mercies so little. The poor in spirit do not murmur and repine, but wonder that God lays his hand so tenderly upon them as he does.
- The poor in spirit are praying men. They cannot live without prayer, and must go day after day to seek God.
- They are admirers and great extollers of free grace. Whatever they have, they look upon as undeserved.
- The poor in spirit are emptied of self. Whatever they have in themselves, or whatever they do, they do not rest upon it for their eternal good; they are sensible of their own poverty.
- They are willing for God to choose their condition. Their comforts, abilities, worth, and wages can be safely left wholly to God: “Here I am, let God do with me as he wills. I lie at his mercy.”
- They do not look upon the rich and honorable as the most excellent, but those who have the highest grace; “O how happy would I be if I could so walk with God and overcome my corruptions!” This is a poverty of spirit indeed.
- The poor in spirit are willing to wait. Though God does not come according to their desires, they are content to wait upon God.
- They are struck with reverence for the greatness of God and the authority of his Word, and they yield their spirit to it.
My Dad and Stepmom recently sent me a copy of the United Methodist Hymnal. I was immediately struck when I opened it up to the third page and read John Wesley’s seven directions for singing from his Select Hymns of 1761. I share these tips now because they had an impact on me and I hope they do for you as well. I’ve placed a few of my own comments as well (in italics).
1. Learn these tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please
2. Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.
These directions seem a little strict at first glance. I think the reason for Wesley’s first two directions here is that he takes seriously the necessity of congregational singing (Eph 5:19, Col. 3:16), and he wants to prevent as many barriers to that as possible. Think about it: how often do we fight over the version of an old hymn that we are singing, rather than just rejoice in singing the hymn together? Perhaps if we had stuck to only one way of singing “Be Thou My Vision” there would be less worship wars. I’m not saying Wesley is 100% right here, but there might be some wisdom in his advice.
3. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.
There are many days where I have not wanted to attend church due to some weariness or burden currently in my life. However, I have often found that the days I do not want to gather with the church the most are the ones in which I come away the most blessed by my time gathered with God’s people. There is wisdom in what the writer of the Hebrews instructs us with, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:24-25).”
4. Sing lustily and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.
5. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.
One thing I have found lacking in most churches I visit is the willingness of men (in particular) to sing loudly and clearly in worship. This should not be! We are not self-conscious of what our brothers and sisters think, we are gathered to praise the Lord. He as gifted us with voices, let us use them in one accord.
6. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor say behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can; and take care not to sing too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
7. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.
I’m not against elaborate instrumentation in corporate worship. However, one side effect I have noticed in some congregations is that the time of worship is more like a performance rather than an opportunity for the congregation to be led in worship. Such performance cultures have a tendency to remove people from the act of what they’re actually doing and instead get caught up in the sound of the songs. Whatever our instrumentation and philosophy of worship may be, they must facilitate the act of congregational worship – not performance.
This excerpt is taken from The Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. 2: Systematic Theology, Chapter 23.
This progression (of sanctification) has respect, not only to the individual, but also to the church in its unity and solidarity as the body of Christ. In reality the growth of the individual does not take place except in the fellowship of the church as the fellowship of the Spirit. Believers have never existed as independent units. In God’s eternal counsel they were chosen in Christ (Ephesians 1:14); in the accomplishment of their redemption they were in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Ephesians 1:17); in the application of redemption they are ushered into the fellowship of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9). And sanctification itself is a process that moves to a consummation which will not be realized for the individual until the whole body of Christ is complete and presented in its totality faultless and without blemish. This points up the necessity of cultivating and promoting the sanctification of the whole body, and the practical implications for responsibility, privilege, and opportunity become apparent.
If the individual is indifferent to the sanctification of others, and does not seek to promote their growth in grace, love, faith, knowledge, obedience and holiness, this interferes with his own sanctification in at least two respects. 1) His lack of concern for others is itself a vice that gnaws at the root of spiritual growth. If we are not concerned with, or vigilant in respect of the fruit of the Spirit in others, then it is because we do not burn with holy zeal for the honor of Christ himself. All shortcoming and sin in us dishonors Christ, and a believer betrays the coldness of his love to Christ when he fails to bemoan the defects of those who are members of Christ’s body. 2) His indifference to the interests of others means the absence of the ministry which he should have afforded others. This absence results in the impoverishment of these others to the extent of his failure, and this impoverishment reacts upon himself, because these others are not able to minister to him to the full extent of the support, encouragement, instruction, edification and exhortation which they owe to him.
We see, therefore, the endless respects in which interaction and intercommunication within the fellowship of the saints are brought to bear upon the progressive sanctification of the people of God. “If one member suffers, all the other members suffer with it; and if one member is honored, all the others rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). The truth of our inter-dependence within the solidarity of the body of Christ exposes the peril and contradiction of exclusive absorption in our own individual sanctification. How eloquent of the virtue which is the antonym of independence and aloofness are the words of the apostle: “And he (Christ) gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints unto the work of the ministry, unto the edifying of the body of Christ; until we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ”! (Ephesians 4:11-13; Romans 12:4ff.; 1 Corinthians 12:12ff.; Colossians 2:19).
The following is an excerpt of my favorite scene from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia book series. This excerpt comes from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 7. One of the characters of this story, Eustace, has just been turned into a dragon. Nobody likes Eustace, for he was a vain, cruel and selfish little boy who was “accidentally” sucked into Narnia with two of the main characters, Lucy and Edmund. One day Eustace had went out on his own and out of his greed he stole a dragon’s treasure. What Eustace did not know was that in Narnia, stealing a dragon’s treasure turn’s you yourself into a dragon!
This terrible transformation causes a change in heart in Eustace, for he now realizes how much he hates being a dragon and how nasty he used to be to his friends. Eustace now just wants to be a good help and friend to those dearest to him, even if he is a dragon.
But then, the oddest of things happens…Eustace encounters a certain lion and recounts the story to Edmund…
Eustace: “Well, anyway, I looked up and saw the very last thing I expected: a huge lion coming slowly toward me. And one queer thing was that there was no moon last night, but there was moon-light where the lion was. So it came nearer and nearer. I was terribly afraid of it. You may think that, being a dragon, I could have knocked any lion out easy enough. But it wasn’t that kind of fear. I wasn’t afraid of it eating me, I was just afraid of it – if you can understand. Well, it came close to me and looked straight into my eyes. And I shut my eyes tight. But that wasn’t any good because it told me to follow it.”
Edmund: “You mean it spoke?”
“I don’t know. Now that you mention it, I don’t think it did. But it told me all the same. And I knew I’d have to do what it told me, so I got up and followed it. And it led me a long way into the mountains. And there was always this moonlight over and round the lion wherever we went. So at last we came to the top of a mountain I’d never seen before and on the top of this mountain there was a garden – trees and fruit and everything. In the middle of it there was a well.”
“I knew it was a well because you could see the water bubbling up from the bottom of it: but it was a lot bigger than most wells – like a very big, round bath with marble steps going down into it. The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. But the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don’t know if he said any words out loud or not.”
“I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.”
“But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.”
“Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.”
“Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke- ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.”
“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” said Edmund.
“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it because perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. You’d think me simply phony if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they’ve no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian’s, but I was so glad to see them”
“After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me – “
“Dressed you. With his paws?”
“Well, I don’t exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other: in new clothes – the same I’ve got on now, as a matter of fact. And then suddenly I was back here. Which is what makes me think it must have been a dream.”
“No. It wasn’t a dream,” said Edmund.
“Well, there are the clothes, for one thing. And you have been – well, un-dragoned, for another.”
“What do you think it was, then?” asked Eustace.
“I think you’ve seen Aslan,” said Edmund.