“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” — Matthew 5:3
This one little line kicks off a slew of familiar words and phrases known to us as the Beatitudes and the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount—core teachings from the mouth of Christ meant to penetrate our heart and mind in such a way that our lives are forever different.
In an age that celebrates self-confidence and takes pride in the independent, capable spirit, these words spoken by Jesus feels foreign and contrary. As a type-A, first born, student body president voted Most-Likely to Succeed, there are many parts of my soul that craves the acknowledgement and accolades this world promises me for my accomplishments.
Pride comes naturally. Independence is my default. Self-confidence is woven into the fabric of my personality. My spirit (without Christ) doesn’t want to be poor and needy, it wants to be sufficient. It longs to be enough. Regardless of our birth-order and temperament, we each have these tendencies toward independence and pride. It is part of the inherited sin-filled seed of Adam within us.
So, what’s a girl to do?
I think Jesus began preaching this poor-in-spirit-point on purpose. As I look back on my spiritual journey, my most life-changing seasons were preceded by moments of great neediness. They often included humiliating, hard realizations about my soul and how wretchedly messed up I am. When this life-long church-going good-girl gets a peek into the true state of her wicked heart … it’s a harsh reality, but a desperately needed one.
Of course, in Christ we are given right-standing before God (Hallelujah!) and, with our instant justification, our sanctification was initiated. This process of sanctification is sustained or stymied by the posture of our soul. So before we can strive to be mercy-filled peacemakers who love our enemies; before we can learn how to be salt of the earth and the light of the world; before we can attempt to tame our anger and lust and anxiety we must learn to pursue a poverty of spirit.
With this in mind, let’s look to three postures of the soul who is poor in spirit.
The Soul who is poor in spirit recognizes their sin and the consequences of their wrongdoing
“But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.'” —Luke 5:8
“Woe is me I am unclean. Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” — Isaiah 6:1-5
Immediately following a moment of enlightenment—an awakening of their depravity and a peek into the holiness and majesty of God, both Isaiah and Luke had the same response: “I am a sinner. God, you cannot be near me!”
Our God is holy, and His perfection is truly something our minds cannot fully fathom. In these biblical accounts (and many others) we see the pattern of a recognition and identification as a sinful soul—one who cannot and should not be in the presence of a holy God. Yes, our sin affects the people around us, but the poor in spirit understand that the more dire problem is the fact that sin separates us from God.
The Soul who is poor in spirit demonstrates a sorrow over their sin through humility and contrition
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” — Psalm 51:17
With all the recent news swirling about sexual misconduct and the men who are being forced to admit that their actions were wrong, it’s not hard to see the lack of true contrition. Being sorry that you were caught red-handed and must suffer the consequences not the same as being filled with sorrow for the pain they’ve caused.
In Luke 15, we have the retelling of Jesus’s teaching of the parable of the prodigal son. This familiar story reminds us of the need for humility and sorrow over all our sinful choices have caused. The rebel returned to his father a changed man, deeply humbled and profoundly poor in spirit. Juxtaposed to his older brother, who was full of pride and contempt and whom the father corrected for his lack of compassion and for his self-centered perspective, we can see clearly the attitude of the prodigal—not the older son do-gooder—is the example to follow in this parable.
“But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” —Isaiah 66:2
The Soul who is poor in spirit has an ever-growing view of a magnificent, holy God.
“Unless the weight of the burden is felt the gospel can mean nothing to the man; and until he sees a vision of God high and lifted up, there will be no woe and no burden. Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them.” A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy p.3
As the poor-in-spirit soul continues to grasp the depth of their sin problem and the consequences of their transgressions, there is also a greater comprehension and appreciation of the breadth and beauty of the Gospel and the God who bestows on us that good news. The rescue and reconciliation provided by Christ becomes their greatest treasure and the reality of their salvation fuels their existence toward continual worship. The poor in spirit life is lived out as a continual response to the merciful ransom and lavish grace of God they have received. And the more grace they receive the more they realize how undeserving they are of it.
The poorer our spirit becomes, the more of God’s reviving presence we experience. The more we recognize our neediness, the more of the Spirit’s enabling power we can utilize.
“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” — Psalm 34:18
“I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” —Isaiah 57:15
Published January 18, 2018