Poor in Spirit
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
So… I know Jesus said that being “poor in spirit” means you are blessed… But just for the record: it totally sucks.
I’m not saying Jesus is wrong… I’m just saying that it sure doesn’t feel like what you would think a “blessing” feels like.
For me, the road to being poor in spirit feels like torment. Inner turmoil. Torturous, sometimes self-deprecating thoughts. Grief. Absolute confusion and not being able to see the light. It is feeling like I’m stuck under water, desperate for a nice deep breath, but only managing gasps here and there when I am somehow able to surface for a brief moment.
Poor in spirit is laying in my bed long after everyone else has fallen asleep, sobbing and sobbing and sobbing… desperate for clarity and for hope and for healing and wholeness.
It is feeling like I am a slave to my hormones, a slave to my genetics, a slave to my family heritage.
It is feeling like the way things have always been is the way things will always be. Like I will never be free from my own dysfunctions.
It is looking out at the world and feeling so different. So distant. So like an outsider looking in, longing to be part of whatever sense of adequacy the rest of the inhabitants of the world seem somehow able to coast along on.
It is a hyper-awareness of my own deficiencies, my own failings, my own horrible choices, my own insufficiency.
It is utter desperation for God.
A few weeks ago I wore poor in spirit as grief. Grief for a family who lost a dad, a son, a brother. Grief for a community that lost a good solid warrior. Grief for friends who lost an inspirational, faithful, hard working comrade.
And then last week poor in spirit was my own inability to make wise decisions. It was me crying over how much hormones ravage my psychological state. It was me in utter frustration with myself for caring too much about what my extended family might think of me. It was me looking reproachfully at myself because I felt so. very. pitiful.
As I’ve wrestled with this, I am coming to realize that poor is spirit is simply me admitting I am weak. Admitting I do not have it all together— in fact, I don’t have much together at all. It is understanding that I do not have answers to the world’s many many questions or solutions to the world’s many many hurts. It is feeling overwhelmed by all the pain and brokenness around me and feeling like all the small good moments I try to focus on are really just me trying to hold back the ocean.
Poor in spirit is me being well-acquainted with my own smallness. My own lack. My own need for something much greater than myself.
Yes. I admit it: I am weak and I need God.
And supposedly… according to Jesus in both Matthew 5 and 18, and according to James 4 and 1 Peter 5: it is this very awareness of my own deficit, this very humility… that is the key to true “rightness” with God.
Although it may look pitiful and ugly along the way as I sift through the truths versus the lies crowding my thoughts… ultimately, when the dust settles, there is a peace in arriving at the modesty of seeing myself for who I really am and seeing God for who He really is. True humility is not self-hatred or low self-esteem. It is properly admiring and being grateful for the gifts and strengths God has given me… and properly respectful and grateful for His infinite perfection and ability to make up for all the areas in which I am lacking and in need. It isn’t being down on one’s self, as I sometimes accidentally find myself doing, it is being realistic with one’s self… and, more importantly, honest about God’s all-surpassing magnificence.
Jesus said the poor in spirit are blessed because “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
So this desperation for God, this acute awareness of our own hopelessness without God… this is apparently the key to unlocking His Kingdom…
But… what is His kingdom?
From what I can gather while searching scripture after scripture and reading commentary after commentary on the matter, “the kingdom of God” is the way God is— and the way He wants us to be, too. It is abundant life— both now and after this earthly life ends.
“When Jesus spoke about receiving the kingdom of God (Luke 18:17) or entering the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21), he wasn’t talking about how to get into heaven after we die, as many people have thought. He was speaking about having the greatest life possible. How? By living under his reign through the power of his grace… The way we understand Jesus’ words about the kingdom is critical to the kind of life we will live… Jesus’ message of the kingdom is… at the very heart of the gospel, revealing a God of tenderness and mercy, who postpones final judgment until as many people as possible can be gathered into the kingdom of his Son.” (Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus by Lois Tverberg and Ann Spangler)
John Piper said that “Another way to put it is that Jesus has brought the kingdom of heaven to earth in his own kingly power and fellowship, and we can enjoy foretastes of it here and now; but the full experience of the life of the kingdom will have to wait for the age to come… The kingdom of heaven is both present and future. We have foretastes of the reign of God now, but we will experience vastly more in the future.” (italics mine)
So that’s the “reward,” if you will. Our very dependence on God, while often torturous to get to, is the very thing that in the end will set us free. It is the very foundation on which all the other blessings are built. If I am not first dependent on God— reliant on Him and able to admit this need— then I will never be able to grab hold of all the rest that He offers me: His strength, His wisdom, His joy, His peace that passes understanding, His comfort, His mercy… His very Self.
It is when I admit my weakness, and when I admit my dependence and my desperation and the truth that I don’t have what it takes to do this life well… that I am then truly able to see God for real. It is then that I can truly and wholeheartedly accept His help and His guidance and His loving care.
“When I am weak, then I am strong” said the ancient apostle Paul.
Yes. Okay… I think I’m beginning to grasp it now.
“Blessed are the people who feel keenly their inadequacies and their guilt and their failures and their helplessness and their unworthiness and their emptiness—who don’t try to hide these things under a cloak of self-sufficiency, but who are honest about them and grieved and driven to the grace of God.” (John Piper, italics mine)
Although these moments of my hyper-awareness of my spiritual poverty are sometimes painful beyond words… they are also apparently the ticket to my overcoming. They are the wave on which I can ride to find true peace in God’s strong and capable arms. And in His arms there is a peace that transcends the here and now. A peace that, Yes, I don’t have it all together— but I can rest in the truth that God does.
He does have the answers. He does have the ability to help and to solve and to strengthen and to comfort and to love and to make the wrong things right.
But He does.
Hallelujah for that.
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What about you?
What does poor in spirit look like in your own life? What are your thoughts on Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”?
Please feel free to share your comments or your own journey in the comment section below.