“The poor in spirit . . . have made peace with their flawed existence.”
I remember reading this quote from Brennan Manning when I was barely out of college. I felt uncomfortable. Poor in spirit? Doesn’t sound fun. Flawed existence? Eesh.
But he spent a lot of time talking about being poor in spirit in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel. While he spoke of it as something to emulate, it brought to mind worthlessness, weakness, helplessness, being lesser. I wanted none of that. When I read in the Beatitudes that the poor in spirit inherit the kingdom of God, I thought, “Well, at least they get something out of it.”
Fast forward 20 years, and I can’t say that in the interim being poor in spirit was something I even thought about. Until now.
This phrase, “poor in spirit”–I can’t get away from it. When I mention it to others, they say, “That’s not good, right?”
We don’t want to be poor in spirit. I have wondered what it really looks like. So I’ll start with what I know–how to not be poor in spirit.
How to avoid being poor in spirit
If we want to avoid being poor in spirit, we take everything for granted. Believe that whatever we have, we deserve. We have a right to it. That includes religious freedom, answers to prayer, a smaller waistline (OK, maybe that’s hoping for too much). Come to think of it, we should include salvation in that. After all, we’re decent people.
We should also get the glory for where we are in life. We have gifts and we used them, simple as that. Give us some credit.
Of course, we should rely on our own resources. Don’t admit need or ask for help. We don’t want to be a burden to anyone. People like you better when you succeed through your own efforts, right?
Naturally, we should maintain some semblance of control. We can do it all and have it all if we just exercise enough autonomy over our circumstances.
We should be underwhelmed by life in general. The sun comes up every day–no need to be wowed by it every time. If people are kind, loving, generous, or gracious to us, just accept it. No need for gratitude.
But if we do all this, we lose the kingdom.
I don’t know about you, but I’m done being underwhelmed. Relying on myself hasn’t gotten me far. Everything I have is a gift, and I want to treat it as such. There but for the grace of God go I, in every single thing. I want that truth to permeate my being.
So what does it look like to be poor in spirit? Here’s where I’m starting:
The poor in spirit are humble. The truth is we have nothing apart from God, and everything with Him. When we are poor in spirit, we own our brokenness and our wholeness, and see ourselves rightly before God and others. We make peace with our flawed existence.
The poor in spirit are generous. If we know nothing we have is ours to begin with, we won’t hold tightly to it. Instead, we will be open-handed, giving and receiving freely. Beggars showing other beggars where to find bread.
The poor in spirit are grateful. When we remember that nothing originates from us, and yet we are swimming in blessing, how can we not be thankful? The first breath we breathe every morning, the work we do, the people we love, the fact that we have purpose, joy, peace, salvation–it is all an undeserved gift.
The poor in spirit are dependent. Dependent not only God but on others. Our weaknesses will not drive us to hide but to lean. Daily bread will be our food, limping our stance, and all without shame.
I want the kingdom.
So this is my intention: to live out what it means to be poor in spirit. I’m still learning what it means, but I’m going to start with this: humble, generous, grateful, and dependent.
What about you?
by Gina Butz