What Does It Mean to be “Poor in Spirit?”

This week, Pastor J.D. answers a question that was submitted by Jesse. She asked, “What does it mean to be “poor in spirit?”

Show Notes:

We all love the verse: Matthew 5:3. If you’ve grown up in church, you know it: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It sounds so poetic and idealistic… but I’m going to be honest with you. When I try to really get my mind around that verse, I don’t naturally like it. I’ve never wanted to be poor in spirit — I’ve spent my entire life trying to become anything but poor in spirit. I guarantee you also don’t really want to be poor in spirit.

Maybe some of you listening really grew up poor, or went through a “poor season” (like college). When you’re poor, you feel helpless. It takes away your agency, your power, your freedom… it’s no fun!

I’ve always wanted to be “capable in spirit” or “competent in spirit…” if anything, at least “middle class in spirit!” That’s just how we’re wired as people.

So what does it mean to be poor in spirit and why do people say it’s so important?

First, it means that you have no worthiness at all by which you can claim God’s blessing.

  • When you come to God, there’s literally nothing about you that you can bring to God as a way of compelling him to bless you.

Second, you realize that you have no ability to obtain God’s blessing.

  • God only fills empty hands.

God seems to have a way of bringing his people into a situation of helplessness before using them greatly.

  • I think of the situation of Gideon and the Israelite army in Judges 7. God cut the Israelite army down from 32,000 to just 300… and even at 32,000, they would’ve been outnumbered 5:1 by the other army. And yet, God was making them totally dependent on him, and the Israelites won the battle miraculously without suffering any losses.

At times, God creates in us a “poverty of spirit” so that we are reliant on him, and so that he is set up to perform a miracle. Every miracle in the Bible started with a problem that no person could fix… no problems, no miracles.

Here’s a controversial sentence: in one sense, Jesus was the neediest person who ever lived. I don’t mean that he was sinful or didn’t have capability in himself, but that he demonstrated dependence on the Father. It’s why he was so often in prayer. He retreated to prayer to be able to obtain the resources of the Father.

We have to understand how needy we are, but also how willing our Father is to help us in our need. God doesn’t delight in hurting us, but he delights when we trust him. So often, he’ll put us in the presence of a problem we can’t fix, and we’ve got no choice but to lean on him. When you’re flat on your back, you’re looking in the right direction.

If dependence is the objection, weakness becomes your advantage. Scripture warns us to beware our strengths; not our weaknesses. A.W. Tozer said, “It is doubtful whether God can use a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.

It’s like Hudson Taylor said: “[God] wants you to have something far better than riches and gold—or personal charisma or talent—and that is helpless dependence upon him.” Dependence is the objective, so weaknesses become our advantage.

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