The Poor In Spirit

This weekend I got the opportunity to preach at a small church Watermark is working with. We’re providing leadership, preaching, and music for their services while they decide about their next steps as a church. Their congregation has dwindled down to maybe forty people even though their located in a vibrant area with plenty of young families within a five minute drive. Strange. I don’t know what happened to that congregation to put them on the brink of extinction, but my guess is that it just slowly deteriorated over time. Like a drip of water will wear away the hardest of stones, something wore away this congregation. Not sure what. I doubt they do either.

Regardless, the people we met were kind and engaging. They want their little fellowship to grow and develop but it seems that they don’t know what to do next. Very interesting. I’m guessing there’s quite a few church’s like that out there right now.

I spoke on the Poor in Spirit. That first line in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5,6, and 7) has always troubled me. Why the “poor” in spirit? Why not the “wealthy”, or the “strong”, or the “bright”, in spirit? Why should the poor in spirit get to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. Was it God’s way of making up for their sad lot in life? Was it payback for suffering here on earth? Who were the poor in spirit anyway? I certainly didn’t want to be that. Who wants to be poor? I always wanted to be rich in spirit or wealthy or whatever. Anything but “poor”.

Fool.

It was only recently that I started to get a handle on what this little verse actually means. In the past, I thought that the poor in spirit were a different group of people, set aside and special, made to be spiritually poor or spiritual beggars. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Reading this more closely and looking at the context of who Jesus is talking to and what he’s doing, this passage takes on new meaning.

The poor in spirit are not some set apart group of people that God owes for their sorry lot in life. No. The poor in spirit are all the true believers in the world. Anyone who comes to God empty-handed, realizing they have nothing to offer and everything to receive, they are the poor in spirit. If we come to God showing him all the reasons he should save us, all the good things we’ve done, all the awesome gifts we’ve used for him, he’s not really impressed. And why would he be? He made us. He gave us whatever gifts we have. The fact that we exist at all is due to his design and his pleasure, not our own. We are literally nothing without him, but with him we’re complete. That’s what it means to be poor in spirit.

It’s like the two criminals on the crosses next to Jesus on Golgotha. The first criminal rails at Jesus “Save us all!” The second one says, “We deserve to be here, but he doesn’t. He’s innocent. Jesus, will you remember be in your kingdom?” That second criminal understood that Jesus wasn’t there to perform for him. He also understood that he had nothing to offer Jesus except a request for help. He came to Jesus empty-handed – hopeful, but not demanding. Exactly what Jesus wanted him to do. We are just like these two men. We either demand that God perform for us in the way we want him to or we come to him humbly and hopefully. I think that God wants the second. I’m not sure we can be a Christ-follower if we expect him to perform tricks for us. That just doesn’t work. It’s not poor in spirit.

The challenge for me is to remember all of this and act on it. I still want to perform for God. I still want to earn his favor. When I do that out of appreciation for his saving grace, I’m good. When I do it to hedge my bets and make sure God likes me, I’m in trouble. It’s a fine line. One that I don’t necessarily always walk too well. But I’m getting better at it. Slowly.

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