“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).
I saw the following quote in an article I read online a few days ago. It offers the following words of encouragement to Christians who may be struggling with discouragement, remorse, or other “negative” feelings:
“You’re perfect just the way you are! Be true to yourself! Or maybe you’re one of those church types and need to couch it in some spiritual language. How about: God isn’t judging you, so stop judging yourself! Jesus calls you to just accept and love yourself! You only need to repent of not being true to the person God made you!”
Some of those statements may sound familiar to you. You might have heard them in Sunday morning sermons, seen them on social media, or read them in a devotional guide. Maybe you have said them yourself.
So, what is the source of these profound words of encouragement? The Christian satire website The Babylon Bee. The wise theologian sharing these words of wisdom? Satan. You can read the entire article here.
The Beatitudes are countercultural. It rejects this message of self-esteem and self-actualization. The world tells us to believe in ourselves. It encourages pride. Society and media tell us to pursue personal independence, be self-confident, and rely on ourselves. They tell us that we can accomplish whatever we imagine if we only believe in ourselves.
Jesus presented a completely opposite message. He began the Sermon on the Mount with the radical statement: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” He did not say, “Blessed are the ones who think they have it all together, the proud, self-reliant, and self-confident.”
Many recovering alcoholics and drug addicts in Twelve-Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous speak of the moment in their lives when they “hit bottom.” Circumstances became uncontrollable. They could not figure out how to solve their problems, and they could not imagine how life could become any worse. Even more tragically, they could not believe that it would ever get better either. When they acknowledge their spiritual poverty and powerlessness, they discover that they need to look to “a Power greater than ourselves” to restore them to sanity.
Those who are poor in spirit, as Jesus put it, have often hit some kind of bottom. They realize they are not the masters of their fate. They cannot take charge of their own situations and rely on their own strength, wisdom, or other resources to keep their lives under control.
In some way, we have all hit bottom. Sometimes it is obvious: the alcoholic who cannot hold down a job; the homeless drug addict; the person in prison; the tormented soul on suicide watch in a psychiatric hospital. Sometimes it is more subtle, and life almost looks good. However, sin produces spiritual death in all of us:
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1-2).
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
However, with God, death is not the final word. Centuries earlier, when prophesying Israel’s forthcoming restoration from exile, Isaiah wrote:
“For thus says the high and exalted One
Who lives forever, whose name is Holy,
‘I dwell on a high and holy place,
And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit
In order to revive the spirit of the lowly
And to revive the heart of the contrite’” (Isaiah 57:15, emphasis added).
He twice uses the word “revive.” It is a popular word in some Christian circles. It simply means “to receive or give new life” or “to restore life.” God promised to revive the spirit of the lowly and the heart of the contrite. To those who are poor in spirit—empty, defeated, discouraged, feeling like they are light years away from God or hope—He offers new life. God invites us to live again. He offers the kingdom of heaven as our reward, inheritance, and eternal destiny.
Revival does not mean we will never face challenges again. It just means we have an abundant life with Christ and can rely on His resources to bring us through difficulties. While we may remain poor in spirit, we can draw on God’s strength:
“Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded…. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you” (James 4:7, 8, 10).
This passage gives us several keys to obtaining God’s strength in temptation. When spiritual poverty can destroy us, we can take the following actions:
- Submit to God: Let Him take control of your life and place yourself under His guidance.
- Resist the devil: You will be tempted to try to solve your problems in your own strength. Resist those urges.
- Draw near to God: Keep following Him. Spend time praying, worshiping Him, and reading His Word. He will draw near to you. In fact, He is with you always (Matthew 28:20); it only feels like He is far away when we do not seek Him.
- Humble yourself in His presence.
The truth is that we are all poor in spirit. We need God’s resources to survive. Admit your need, draw near to Him, and surrender to Him. As you humble yourself and place your faith in Jesus Christ, He will give you the kingdom of heaven.
Have you ever “hit bottom” or recognized yourself as “poor in spirit”? How did you draw near to God and receive His riches to get you through? Share your thoughts, experiences, or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.
Copyright © 2022 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.