“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3 NIV11-GK)
Who are the “poor in spirit”? A mini-storm brewed up in the press recently when a government minister argued that you could tell children were from poor families because they were fat (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21158087). I am not sure if that is true or not. But I am sure that material wealth makes no difference as to whether you are ‘blessed’ in the sense Jesus has in mind. The materially rich are just as capable of being spiritually empty as the materially poor – and vice versa. A desire to seek God, or enter the kingdom of heaven is not restricted to any one racial, cultural or educational group.
Jesus is talking here about spiritual emptiness. A helpful emptiness that drives us towards something – God himself. As someone said, “The beatitudes start with an ‘emptying’ while those that follow are a manifestation of a fullness. We cannot be filled until we are first empty. Conviction comes before conversion.” Financial bankruptcy is all too common amongst businesses and individuals today and many mourn their losses, but Jesus sees spiritual ‘bankruptcy’ positively. Just have a look at the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14. The Pharisee has no intentions of repenting, but the tax collector does, and it is his ‘poverty’ that sends him home right with God.
The Bible is littered with examples of people revealing what this healthy poverty looks like (see Gideon, Isaiah, David, Peter in Luke 5, and Paul). Their humility does not lead to a weird self-hatred, but a contentment. Paul saw his worldly accomplishments as ‘dung’, but he did not go through his Christian life insecure. So what is Jesus encouraging us to do? He is teaching us that a conscious self-emptying before approaching God allows God to fill us with things far better than the things we would use to fill ourselves.
We need this not just at the beginning of our Christian walk, but at all stages of the journey. The church in Laodicea presumably started with the right spirit, but it stands as a warning of what can happen to us. They were rich in their own eyes, yet poor in God’s eyes (Rev 3:17-18). Self-examination, self-reflection and self-emptying are needed in our devotional times so that we approach God with humility and then we find grace in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
As ever, Jesus is our example in this attitude. He completely emptied himself (Phil 2:7) and was fully obedient to the Father (Jn 14:10), and fully dependant on God in prayer. Such poverty of spirit kept him rich with God throughout his time on this earth, and therefore God’s strength was always available to him – as it can be for us. Why not decide to be ‘poor in spirit’ today? You will receive the kingdom of heaven. That’s worth being poor for!