Poor in Spirit
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Who is this God that he would bless those who are spiritually impoverished with the greatest gift of all: the kingdom of heaven? Our God demonstrated his wealth of grace, help, and love to all who were in need through the words and actions of Jesus. Jesus, who came to reveal the heart of the Father, was undoubtedly drawn to the weak, desperate, and estranged. And in comparison to his affection for the impoverished he was incredibly critical of all those enveloped with mankind’s chief sin: pride.
Jesus’ ministry made clear what thousands of years of religion, sin, and the rule of the law obscured: the necessity of being poor in spirit to have true relationship with God. You see, even today we buy into a false doctrine that our works somehow justify us to God. Even today we believe that we must clean ourselves up, do better, work harder, or love more to have relationship with our heavenly Father. Jesus came to obliterate works-based relationship and to reveal God’s heart of unconditional, grace-filled, unchanging, and system-shattering love.
Jesus powerfully illustrates this truth in Luke 18:9-14. May his words shed light on any part of our hearts that still believe we must do something to deserve the affections of a loving Father:
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Your Father loves you because he loves you. He longs to exalt you. He longs to bless you. He longs to pour out the full extent of his loving-kindness over every possible area of your life. But to reward you for a works-based mentality is to reinforce behavior that will only harm you. It’s only in acknowledging your total and utter dependency on God that you will be able to receive the depth of his love. It’s only in serving him because you are loved, rather than to be loved, that your works will yield heavenly fruit. It’s only in being poor in spirit that you will discover yourself already perfectly and completely loved, liked, and enjoyed. You will then experience the freedom and joy that comes from uninhibited relationship with God’s limitless love.
Take time in guided prayer to search out the true condition of your heart. Ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate any part of your life that is works-based rather than grace-based. Be honest with yourself and God that the fullness of your need would be met with the fullness of his love for you.
1. Meditate on the importance of being poor in spirit.Allow Scripture to ignite in you a pursuit of consistently acknowledging your need.
“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘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
“All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. 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
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3
2. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you think of any ways in which you are living a works-based life instead of a grace-based life.Where are you doing life in your own strength? Where are you working for the affection of God and others? Where are you striving for that which is already yours in Christ?
3. Take time to acknowledge your need before God.Be honest with the condition of your heart. Be honest with your sin and brokenness. Receive the love of God who gives it freely, not because you deserve it, but because he is good.
” For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.” Isaiah 49:15-16
“To be human is to be poor” (Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel). All of us are broken. All of us are in need. The greatest symptom of our brokenness is not acknowledging it. It’s only in pride that our need goes unmet. It’s only in pride that our brokenness is without healing. We serve a good, loving Father who has always loved us. When we stop trying to prove to ourselves, God, and others that we have our lives together, we actually begin to truly live. There is overwhelming freedom, joy, and love in living with the reality that we are wholly accepted and loved just as we are. May you discover the abundant life available to you as you live poor in spirit.
Extended Reading: Psalm 51