There are many reasons people pursue integrity, morality, and freedom from character defects.
Some have seen the effects that their own addictive patterns – whether anger, selfishness, alcohol, lust or drugs – have had on their relationships and seek to achieve happier ways of living, healthier ways of relating.
Or their destructive habits have caused such painful feelings of guilt and shame that they become desperate to shake these off.
Others just want the world to be a better place and realise that it starts with them.
Christians, like me, aspire to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, and/or live to please him out of gratitude for what he’s already done for us: for giving his life, and for the spiritual transformation we’ve received directly because of that gift.
All the above motivate my life to one degree or another.
But there is one driving desire that I believe must be the over-riding motivation for the Christian when it comes to ongoing transformation, and it’s contained in this well-known statement:
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
However, the beautiful truth of this declaration that Jesus made, which I’ll attempt to unfold, can be obscured by gross misinterpretation.
The potential problem with this verse is that religious people, like me and like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, can see this as a call to earn favour with God by being good. Becoming God’s favourites by having better morals, like children earning gold stars at school for outstanding performance.
Even having believed that we’ve been brought near to God purely as a free gift (‘by grace’) simply by believing, we can start to think misguidedly, without even realising it, that we can become ‘better’ Christians than others. Letters written to counter that kind of skewed reasoning in the early Christian church were so crucial, they were included in the New Testament, and remain as relevant today as then.
Seeking self-improvement to ‘please’ God in this way leads to arrogance and a failure to empathise with others in their struggles, as we see strikingly with the Pharisees.
So what is this over-riding motivation for purification? It is this:
INTIMACY WITH GOD
When Jesus says “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God”, what I believe he means is:
Happy are the people who desperately seek intimacy with God, to know him as a close friend and Father, to see him as he really is. For they will find what they’re looking for. As a spin-off to this search, their hearts will become pure.
Happy are they who mourn their lack of spirituality and their moral human failings (“the poor in spirit”) and who hunger and thirst after more of God. They will become pure in heart in their search for God.
Purity of heart is not the thing to seek for. Purity of heart is (almost only) a means to an end and if it’s not seen as such, it becomes an idol – another barrier to knowing God.
Seeking purity for its own merit breeds pride, and therefore becomes a self-defeating mission. It takes our eyes off the answer – the grace of Jesus – and leads us into failure, shame and defeat.
Those who seek God himself, however, will refuse to allow pride, resentment or deceit, for example, to take hold in their hearts, because they understand that these would create a barrier to closeness with their Father.
Those who seek intimacy with God will find intimacy with God – and purity of heart along the way, as all that they are and do becomes finely tuned towards knowing God.
Even David – no, especially David – who poured out his heart in penitence in Psalm 51 after his spectacular sequence of sin – was never motivated primarily by guilt or a search for self-improvement, but by a yearning to know his Lord and Shepherd even more intensely. Even when in a literal desert, he longed for God’s presence more than water itself:
“O God, you are my God;
I earnestly search for you.
My soul thirsts for you;
my whole body longs for you
in this parched and weary land
where there is no water.”
– David, in Psalm 63:1
Because those who seek God will encounter the darkness of their own hearts – and are never content with their own progress, they steer away from judging others and are able to enter with others into the despair and sense of failing of those people.
Yet at the same time, they encounter with increasing depth the majesty of the Father’s grace, his magnificent tenderness and beautiful, patient love towards them, his children.
Despair is dispelled by grace and distilled into dignity.
They discover that God is not the cruel control freak sometimes conveyed by religion; they unearth the timeless truth that he’s better than they ever thought possible! For them, the Bible turns out to be bizarrely true when it tells us that God is found in the most surprising places, with ordinary, broken people, and not necessarily with the religious.
They will remain poor in spirit – perpetually aware of their own failings – and yet joyously satisfied with Abba Father’s intimate embrace by his Spirit, achieved once and for all through the perfect love-gift of Jesus at the cross.
They crave intimacy with God because they’ve already tasted his goodness and, however much they may be tempted and at times diverted towards all kinds of distractions and unfulfilling desires, they know that only closeness to God can truly hit the spot.
They never lose that craving for intimacy with God because deep inside they share his deepest longings for the people of this earth and they know that the only way they can effectively offer hope and freedom and healing to others, in a way that neither religious nor secular programmes or plans can achieve, is by walking in close union with him.
In other words, they pray “Your kingdom come!” from the heart, praying that they will be part of the answer to their own prayer.
Those who yearn for intimacy with God will never be content with mere religion. Worship styles, church politics, theology and doctrines pale into insignificance for those who have “tasted and seen that the Lord is good” and hanker after more of him.
In case you’re wondering whether I’m writing about myself….. I think the answer is: this is who I want to be. And to some extent, it is me.
And if this is not fully me, you’d have every reason to question: how can I write these things?
The best answer I can give is that, despite my foolishness and my slowness to grow in faith, I’ve become convinced over time, through the scriptures I believe in, the faith and relationship I have with God, a little experience and a deep instinct, that to be intimate with God is the highest pursuit.
And that he’s planted that desire in every heart, including mine. Perhaps you sense that too?