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“Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him and he began to teach them saying: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ ” Matthew 5:1-3
Picture this scene: Jesus on the mountainside, drawn away from the crowds. Before his disciples reach him, we can imagine Christ in sacred moments of solitude and prayer. He withdrew from those
seeking him and, for a moment, laid aside the important work of caring for the needy—the crippled, blind, desperate and destitute—to steal away time with his Father. We see this pattern of service and solitude woven throughout Jesus’ life on earth. Each time, it begs the same, all too important question—how were these mountainside withdrawals critical to his mission?
In the work of justice, we are prone to run toward the brokenness we see, and rightly so; those in great need of rescue and healing are waiting. But Jesus invites us to join him along another pathway to freedom—one that miraculously allows us to be both the rescued and the rescuer—and this is the pathway of prayer. In this intercessory stance, we acknowledge our need for Christ and our power in Christ to combat injustice through the relentless, courageous work of prayer. Jesus invites us into solitude and into the intercessory community that sits at his feet.
Matthew's gospel continues, “His disciples came to him and he began to teach them…” To these disciples who followed him up to the mountainside, Jesus is perhaps very candidly saying: “Blessed are
you, poor in spirit, you have sought me out. Yours is the kingdom of heaven.”
This is the beauty of following Christ. We don’t need to bring anything but ourselves. Even in the midst of our own brokenness, if we will come to Jesus, he will restore us.
Over the next weeks of this journey together, we will continually withdraw to the mountainside with Jesus to replenish in the Father’s presence. In doing so, you too will hear the words of Jesus as the
disciples did that day on the mountainside: “Blessed are you, poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.”
SOUTH ASIA – Prema* was born into a poor village. When she was a little girl, her father’s alcoholism drove her mother to move with Prema to the city in search of work. While her
mother worked to make ends meet, Prema was often on her own. When she was 14 years old, she was betrayed by a boy she thought was a friend.
Prema was tricked by someone she trusted and trafficked to a brothel.
Prema remembers waking up in a brothel, weak and disoriented from the drugs that her supposed friend had given her. “I was alone and scared,” she said. Prema spent her first six days at the brothel locked in a dark room. Then, one of the mangers locked her in another room with the first man who would pay to rape her.
For the next year, Prema was violently abused every day: physically beaten by the brothel keepers, sexually assaulted by the men who paid to rape her—all of it through consistent threats, insults and other harassments. “The other girls with me felt that we wouldn’t see the light again,” she later remembered, “and we would be confined in the darkness forever.”
But IJM had started an investigation at the very brothel where Prema was trapped. Prema's nightmare would not last forever. In 2009, she was rescued from the brothel and taken to a shelter for sex trafficking survivors.
On that day, Prema said, “I saw the light of hope for the first time in a year.”
In the aftercare shelter, Prema started to flourish. The light grew inside her, and she started to dream again. Prema said she wants to be a nurse someday. She also said that she would want to thank the people who came to rescue her, because, she said, “I have been given a chance to stand on my own feet and start a new life from here. I never could have imagined seeing the light of hope again…” IJM social workers have walked closely with Prema on her journey of restoration. Her caseworker says that Prema is “uniquely gifted in such ways that she is able to live through the challenges she has known
and yet still has dreams and hopes for her future.” Prema also decided to testify in court, against the suspected traffickers who caused immense suffering.
“We can’t forget about the other girls still trapped in dark rooms—girls who asked me to pray that they would get taken out and given a chance,” Prema says. “I want them to see that they too can have a new life.”
- Do you commit to withdrawing from life to spend time alone with God? Why or why not? What difference would it make in your day-to-day activity?
- What is it about withdrawing from the people and tasks in our life to spend time with God so difficult?
- Re-read Matthew 5:1-11. What does it mean for you to be poor in spirit? What do you think Jesus meant when we was telling his disciples that they were poor in spirit?
- At IJM, we see that justice is not a guarantee on this earth, especially for those who are very poor and do not have any earthly power. How do we practice being poor in spirit when we do not see justice done on earth?
- Ask God for help in understanding what it means to be poor in spirit as you engage the work of justice through prayer.
- Pray for those like Prema who have been abused and exploited—that God would continue to restore their spirit and give them joy in the midst of their pain.
- Pray for those joining God in his work of rescue and restoration—that they would continually seek to be replenished by God.
- Thank God for being able to restore us in spite of our brokenness.