Jesus climbs up a mountain, sits down, and begins to teach what it really looks like to do life in the kingdom of Heaven.
He begins, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
Charles Spurgeon says, “A ladder, if it is to be of any use, must have its first step near the ground, or feeble climbers will never be able to mount. It would have been a grievous discouragement to struggling faith if the first blessing had been given to the pure in heart; to that excellence the young beginner makes no claim, while to poverty of spirit he can reach without going beyond his line.”
One Sunday morning two people catch my attention. A woman smartly dressed, hair pulled tight in a perfect bun, stunning jewelry, stylish shoes. You would think she had it all together if not for her bloodshot eyes bursting with pain. Several rows behind, a man with tattered clothes, unshaven face, unkempt hair, weariness in his eyes. I hurt for them both and I don’t even know their story. I wondered if they were near to God or far.
Halfway through the first worship song, I know the answer. The man in the back drops his head and both arms go up, cupped fists facing downward, shifting slightly from left to right. The women in a similar posture, with one hand lifted high and another in a clinched fist over her heart.
I was overcome with the feeling of God looking down, so proud of where each of them is right now and so deeply in love. Intimately aware of every second of their life to this point and every bit of freedom waiting for them. These two, from seemingly disparate neighborhoods and backgrounds, are 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. Nearness to heaven isn’t confined to a neighborhood or social status.
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 can only 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.
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 comes in and fills it overflowing.
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 see God’s face more clearly.
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. All of the counter-intuitive verses about joy in trial and suffering make more sense. Only then are we emptied. Poor in spirit.
The only response is worship in humility and deep gratitude. A realization that something was done to us, in us, for us that we could never do on our own.
Blessed indeed are the poor in spirit FOR THEIRS is the kingdom of Heaven.
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