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In economics, the cycle of poverty is the “set of factors or events by which poverty, once started, is likely to continue unless there is outside intervention.” I am filled with compassion and anguish for someone caught up in the cycle of economic poverty because I can only imagine what a difficult, painful, frightening situation it is. I will relate it further down in this post to spiritual poverty, as it relates to me in my life. But first, let’s discuss the economic.
Families or individuals trapped in the cycle of poverty, have either limited or no resources. There are many disadvantages that collectively work in a circular process making it extremely difficult for individuals to break the cycle. One of these disadvantages is behavioral. This I have seen firsthand in those I have tried to help.
The poverty cycle often comes with a different set of values and beliefs that helps keep people trapped. One is in regards to employment. While genuine disability of course exists, there are ways that disability is used as an excuse to not work, regardless of training, qualifications or job openings. Excuses can be numerous.
Another is the concept of time. Living in the moment is something we all need to do, but planning for the future is equally important. The moment any money comes in, in the cycle of poverty, it is spent, on necessary bills and and on things that give pleasure in the moment. Money is often spent before it is even possessed, on the hope or belief that it will soon arrive or believing that some program is going to fund something and not realizing the financial impact that still will be felt by the individual/family. There is little concept of delayed gratification or saving because life is rough and treating oneself becomes a right not a privilege, because it eases the pain somewhat.
Blaming is another situation that helps to keep the cycle of poverty going. There is little owning up to one’s role in things.
Break the cycle! Now discussing spiritually. Have you ever felt as if you have reached a dead-end spiritually? Either you don’t feel that God is for you or helping you, you feel like no matter what you do, you cannot please God, or you don’t hear from God, or you don’t believe God cares or even exists. I have.
Each and every factor listed above can be applied to that spiritual dead-end. Excuses, disability (“I can’t” or “This is how God made me so this is how I am.”), living in the moment for a pleasure in the moment, unwilling to delay gratification, blaming others or navel gazing (the moment our gaze is on ourselves and our own performance, self focused behavior modification, we begin to sink, often becoming comparative and competitive with others, prideful, sowing seeds of discord, slipping and sliding, falling. It has been coined “navel gazing” by some theologians, and it is not pretty.)
The more I tried to make myself obey what I thought the standard was in each and every area in my life and situation, the more I failed. This happened pre salvation, and it happened early in my post salvation walk. It becomes a crushing cycle and there really is no escape, as God actually intends it to be. The law is the tutor, meant to break us, and bring us to the end of ourselves, no matter what law we are imposing upon ourselves in behavior (Galatians 3:24 “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.“)
And THAT is the point in which either we cave to the pressure in an unhealthful way, or it is the beginning of the end of ourselves as we are brought to a new realization.
“And all these My hand made, and all these have become,” says the Lord. “But to this one will I look, to one poor and of crushed spirit, who hastens to do My bidding.” Isaiah 66:2 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3 Poor in spirit, what does that mean? And why the opposite of what we would expect? Shouldn’t we expect to be rich in spirit? That logically would translate into something wonderful.
To be poor in spirit is to recognize that we on our own are devoid, empty, of anything spiritual. Empty of any way to truly live up to expectations. Ours, those that we believe other’s are imposing on us, pleasing God (if we even believe there is a God.)
We may put on the appearance of spiritual, for example through using the word “blessing” or being “blessed” in conversations, we may say “thank God” or “God bless you” or do things that look good spiritually, but these are empty words and actions coming from an empty spirituality before we arrive in the condition of being poor in spirit.
Psalm 53 “The fool said in his heart “There is no God”; they have dealt corruptly; they have committed abominable injustice; no one does good. God looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see whether there is a man of understanding who seeks God. They are all dross; together they have spoiled; no one does good, not even one.” Romans 3:11-18 “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.”There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Being poor in spirit is admitting that there is absolutely nothing I can do to deliver myself, to free myself from the bondage I am in. No more blaming. I own my errant ways, my sin. No matter one’s status in life, the recognition of one’s spiritual poverty is the precursor to coming to God in faith and receiving His salvation. It is a complete humility, a bottoming out point of sorts. And it is beautiful. At the bottom, there is no where to go but up.
Once we reach this point, will everything in our life suddenly change? Well, yes, and no. Our perspective will gradually begin to change, we will begin to realize the difference between joy (is deep, is from God, and is present despite the circumstances, the result of truly grasping what the complete, full gospel is [and it is far more than a moment in time where we become saved from hell and bound for heaven]) and happiness (happiness is simply an emotion based on a happening.) But the rest of our lives, we may very well begin to see changes because where we are looking, our focus is changing and our actions will begin to as well. We behave what we believe we are. We walk out what we believe our identity is. The new identity is a complete life changer. However we are still in this world and have to deal with the reality of it.
So about that new identity. There is more to the gospel than our final destination as we still have a life we are living here on earth. There is such beauty and power and love in one’s new identity in Jesus (Romans 3:21-26; Ezekiel 36:26-29; Colossians 1:10-14; Colossians 1:21-23; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Colossians 2:6-15; Romans 6:1-11; Romans 8; Philippians 2:12-13.)
Once God saves us, He continues to bring us deeper and deeper into His gospel, for it is the power and the motivator for our life. We walk out here on earth what God has credited to us, that new identity. That inheritance is ours positionally, and our life is God working it out through us, experientially, as we live our life here. It is the life changer.
Of course we have choices to make but it is not about us focusing on ourselves. Just like when Peter tried to walk on water (Matthew 14:28-33), he was fine and able to do so when his eyes were on Jesus. The moment Peter moved his gaze from Jesus onto the wind and his own ability, Peter began to sink. It is no different with us! Navel gazing and rendering God’s gospel limited are the outputs of that.
With our focus on Jesus, the finished work on the cross, and that identity that has been given to us at the moment of salvation (the word salvation comes from the Greek, Sozo. Sozo means save or saved, whole, healed, preserved, well), our sanctification progressively flows out of that. It becomes a supernatural, natural maturation; growth.
Regardless of what life has in store, the wonderful times and the rough, there is a healthful way to walk. It is well with my soul and I am well. I pray the same for you.