Matthew 5:3 says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
As I was pondering the phrase “poor in spirit” recently, it hit me pretty hard that, in our modern society, we so marginalize and disdain poverty that we probably miss much of the meaning embedded in the phrase “poor in spirit” as a **desirable** trait. Therefore, I started thinking about the implications of poverty – what it means not as defined in the dictionary, but rather in practical terms. Iow, what does it mean to **BE** poor – particularly in ways that can be seen as bringing blessings?
1) Poverty is the lack of ability to purchase things. It implies an awareness of things desired that are beyond one’s ability to have or do – since recognition of poverty is a real part of the effects of poverty.
From the time I was eleven, my parents raised eight children on an elementary school janitor’s salary. Technically, we were poor, but we kids didn’t realize it until we were in high school. We *were* poor, but we didn’t *feel* poor – since we really didn’t want things beyond our parents’ ability to provide until we reached an age where we started wanting things we really didn’t need.
Being poor also means that if there are things that truly are necessary but out of one’s price range, one must rely on another person to provide those things.
2) Poverty, in and of itself, is only a “bad” thing if it keeps us from obtaining things that we truly need. For example, not having cable TV (or TV at all) and the internet is inconvenient in our time in this country, but it certainly is hard to argue that TV or the internet is truly a need – unless they are necessary for the performance of one’s job. As long as basic necessities can be met, poverty is not “evil” by any stretch of the word.
3) Poverty forces one to prioritize – to determine what things are necessary, desirable or luxurious. It forces the luxuries and desires to be placed in their proper perspective – as not essential to life and self-worth. In a very real way, it eliminates non-essential distractions and irrelevancies from life by forcing the poor to do what they need to do rather than what they want to do.
These are only a few things poverty is and does. Now, take these descriptions of poverty and re-focus them on the spiritual. What does that create?
1) Spiritual poverty is the lack of ability to acquire spiritual things. It implies an awareness of things desired that are beyond one’s ability to have or do – since recognition of poverty is a real part of the effects of poverty. It also means that if there are spiritual things that truly are necessary but out of one’s spiritual price range, one must rely on another person to provide them.
So, in this regard, being “poor in spirit” means recognizing one’s inability to “buy, earn, deserve, purchase” spiritual blessings – that, without the intervention of another, rich benefactor, one is “damned” (stopped) in his ability to grow spiritually. It means recognizing and turning to Him who is able to provide the spiritual capital she lacks. Without understanding my spiritual poverty, I would never recognize my need for help – so I would never ask for it – so I would rarely receive it – so I would not grow spiritually.
2) Spiritual poverty, in and of itself, is only a “bad” thing if it keeps people from obtaining spiritual things that they truly need. For example, not having access to spiritual communications to all is inconvenient in our time, but it certainly is hard to argue that universal communication is truly a need for every individual. As long as basic personal (including emergency) communications can be received, spiritual poverty is not evil in any stretch of the word.
3) Spiritual poverty forces one to prioritize – to determine what things are spiritually necessary, desirable or luxurious. (what is best, better, good, neutral, bad) It forces luxuries and desires to be placed in their proper perspective – as not essential to spiritual life and self-worth. In a very real way, it eliminates non-essential distractions and irrelevancies from ones’ spiritual life – by focusing the spiritually poor on what they need rather than what they want.
In summary, being poor in spirit allows a person to recognize the need for a Redeemer (someone to buy them and free them from the chains of their poor and lowly state), supplicate that Redeemer to pay for what they cannot obtain on their own, and prioritize spiritual purchases instead of those things that will not advance spiritual progression. It allows one to simplify spiritual life, recognize spiritual distractions and eliminate impediments to spiritual growth.
Thinking one is “rich in spirit”, otoh, eliminates all those needs that lead to such wonderful blessings and, in a very real sense, limits blessings to what can be accomplished and obtained on one’s own in this life and the next. A perception of spiritual richness leads one to believe he needs no help – no “redeemer” – no prioritization, since he believes he can have it all on his own. If we believe we are spiritually wealthy, we are unable to act upon and magnify the Gifts of the Spirit that are given to us (or acquire new ones) – since searching for and acknowledging spiritual gifts that come from God requires admission that we need those gifts and can’t obtain them on our own. This attitude of spiritual richness leaves one alone, isolated from the yoke that lightens burdens and provides spiritual rest. People who believe they are spiritually wealthy “have their reward” – as opposed to the Lord’s reward.
Finally, I believe that it is just as easy for those who believe they know God’s will better than others to be caught up in an attitude of spiritual richness as it is for “the heathen”. It is easy to forget that now we “see through a glass, darkly” and need to rely on God to provide a better prescription. I believe that can be seen in many discussions in the Bloggernacle – unfortunately on both sides of any discussion.
It is counterintuitive in this day and age to desire poverty (true humility), but the reward cannot be more important – nor can the negative consequences of pride be more destructive.