The Poor in Spirit
I’ve always found the Beatitudes–the Sermon on the Mount beginning in Matthew 5–to be a beautiful redefinition of what life should be about. What we should be striving for. There are so many lines in it that make me pause and reflect and ask myself, “Am I doing that? Is that how I’m living my life?”
Yet it starts off with a line that’s had me puzzled for years.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”?
For many years, I assumed it meant something like “sad.” Like, you know, “poor in health” is sick, so a sickness of the spirit would be depression or sadness or something like that. Except that Jesus addresses “mourning” in the next couplet…and why would He want us to seek sadness? Yeah, my initial interpretation leaves something to be desired, LOL.
In some other reading I’ve done over the last few years, I came across ideas of it meaning one’s spiritual poverty–which is to say, our need for God. That struck me as true…er. But again, is that the state we’re supposed to live in? A perpetual state of spiritual poverty? Doesn’t He, when we recognize our need for Him, fill us up and make us spiritually rich? Hmm.
I recently heard a sermon that touched on it and made a light bulb go off.
Let’s look at these lines together. The poor in spirit have–own, possess–the kingdom of heaven. Okay. Well, these verses are all about the contrast to the traditional wisdom, right? So what’s the opposite of these worlds? “The wealthy in spirit” and “the kingdom of the world.”
Ah. That’s beginning to make sense. Because who “owns” the world? The rich. The wealthy. They are the ones with power, political might, sway, all the possessions, and so on. What’s more, striving after that is the natural, worldly, “given” thing to do. Even if we aren’t rich, we want to be. We work harder, seek higher paying jobs, vie for the promotion, the raise. We invest our money and try, always, to increase it. We long for the nicer this or that. We spend, spend, spend on our own pleasures and luxuries whenever we can afford to. This is a “spirit of wealth” whether we actually have much of it or not. This is yearning for wealth.
What is the opposite, then? It isn’t necessarily yearning for poverty, per se. But it’s yearning for something beyond worldly wealth. It’s holding everything we own out to God and saying, “This isn’t mine. It’s yours.”
It’s recognizing that we own nothing. NOTHING. It’s all His. Which means He can ask us, as His stewards, to do something “else” with our possessions at any moment, and we willingly obey. Maybe that means selling it all and following Christ into a mission field. Maybe it just means putting something extra into the offering plate. Maybe it means leaving a crazy tip for that down-on-her-luck waitress. Maybe it means giving sacrificially to someone in need, even when you can’t really spare it. Maybe it means turning down the better job to stay where you know God put you. Maybe it means simply listening, waiting, being ready to give up any one thing or all things.
A spirit that is poor holds nothing tightly. Holds all things loosely. Is ready to give, at any moment, because nothing is truly his.
An image I’ve been falling back on a lot lately is that of holding things only in open, cupped palms. God can pour in…and I’ll pour it right back out, onto whomever He wills. This is how I’ve been working to view my writing. God pours stories into me, He gives me glimpses of His truths to share. I write them, I do the best I can on them, and then I send them out into the world. What happens from there…that’s not the important question. Oh, I’ll do everything I can to make them succeed–investing the talents He left in my care, knowing He sows where He doesn’t reap, like the parable says. I’ll be the best servant I can be. But I’ll do all that knowing it isn’t for me. It’s for Him. He is the one who reaps the benefits. He is the one who gives the increase. He is the one who controls the markets.
When we view the world that way, it keeps us nimble–ready to pivot in whichever direction we see Him moving, to whatever need He draws our attention to. It keeps us unattached to material things, worldly pleasures, and focused on exactly what the Beatitude promises us: the kingdom of heaven.
And it should make us pause, every day. It should make us wonder, which kingdom are we striving for, yearning for, working for? Are we concerned more with the earthly things that the world’s spirit of wealth tells us we should want…or are we striving, yearning, and working for the invisible things that God promises?
What do we need to hold out in open palms today?