No matter how we look on the outside, everyone has stuff going on in the inside. No doubt. But the pain of some people is so glaring on the outside I can’t help but be drawn to them. To silently bow and pray for them. Their eyes tell a piece of the story. I can’t even imagine the depth of the story in the places I can’t see. During our church service, sometimes these people silently worship, but other times the emotional worship is beautifully and openly expressed.
Recently I sat behind a man with tattered clothes, unshaven face, unkempt hair, weariness in his eyes. I hurt for him and I don’t even know his story. I wonder if he is near to God or far. Halfway through the first worship song, I know the answer. His head bows and both arms go up, cupped fists facing downward, shifting slightly from left to right. I was overcome with the feeling of God looking down, so proud of where he is right now and so deeply in love with this man. Intimately aware of every second of his life to this point and every bit of freedom waiting for him. He is near to heaven indeed, even in the midst of likely pain and mess and unresolved issues. Of course; these are the places where God works best.
And in that moment, I got something that had previously been hard to grasp. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
Poor in spirit.
Financial situation has little to do with it. It is an utter emptiness without God. It is a crater that is made to be filled with God’s grace, mercy, love, goodness. It is an absence of any sense of control or ability to fix anything on our own.
Here is the hard part: Only in the emptying can there be filling. A pastor I frequently listen to says he prays of his members, “bless them or break them…whatever brings them to you.” We prefer the blessings, but more often the breakings are what bring us places we would never otherwise go. Places where we have the ability to see God’s face more clearly.
Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. All of the goodness available when we are emptied of ourselves and open to receive heaven.
In that emptiness, that crater, that absence, God is eagerly and lovingly waiting to come in and fill it overflowing.
We can’t muster up being poor in spirit and we can’t obtain in by watching others. Yes, we are moved, but we are not emptied. We are still clinging, if only slightly, to a thread of control and trying to make it on our own. Only in the emptying do all of the counter-intuitive verses about joy in trial and suffering make more sense. Poor in spirit.
But here’s the thing…when the emptying happens, a choice presents itself about what it will be filled with.
Jesus tells a story in Matthew 12:43-45 of a spirit that leaves a person, seeking rest, but finds none. Then is says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” It finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits even more evil than itself. They enter and dwell there, the state of the last person worse than the first.
Poor in sprit leaves a spot open for something to enter. The kingdom of heaven is theirs, but they must accept it. Otherwise, it will remain empty, enticing even more despair to reside there. It is hard to accept the free grace and love of God, when the lure of old ways, addiction, control, status, depression, etc. are looming and so very strong.
God, I pray that we will be poor in spirit, but rich in You. As we are emptied of things that compete with you – big and small things – let us seek to fill the emptiness with You alone.