Our Good Crisis #3: Poor in Spirit

So while Jesus did emphasize ministry to the poor — and he challenges our attachment to wealth — he doesn’t require everyone to take a vow of poverty.

Jonathan Dodson, Our Good Crisis, pg. 22

What does it mean to be “poor in spirit?”

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3

It doesn’t mean we must all give away all that we own to take a vow of poverty. If we are going to do good for those who are poor there must be someone (many someones) with resources.

It doesn’t mean we ask God to “break us spiritually.” Dodson shares an experience from his youth where he prayed to be broken assuming that if he was broken enough, he would somehow “arrive.” Focusing on ourselves, making our spiritual lives about our own “progress,” our own attempts to put ourselves down can be a form of pride. Not at all what “poor in spirit” means.

Look around in the bookstore, the “self-help” section of books keeps growing. The “personality” tests to understand ourselves better are ever popular. Becoming poor in spirit is not going to be found in “finding ourselves.”

The Greek word, ptochos, used in this Beatitude implies lacking in everything, especially humble with regard to one’s own knowledge and understanding.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called.
Not many of you were wise by human standards;
not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise;
God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

1 Corinthians 1:26 – 27

The poor in spirit recognize their complete dependence on God.

Jesus explains his own dependence on the Father in John 5 when He says, “The truth is that the Son does nothing on His own; all these actions are led by the Father. The Son watches the Father closely and then mimics the work of the Father.” (John 5:19, Voice)

If this beatitude is the language of our life in Christ, then what do we do about the “Big Me” as Dodson calls our preoccupation with ourselves?

There are so many ways we focus on ourselves, seeking worth in our work, in parenting, in our exercise routine, on social media, yes, even in blogging, maybe even in our piety. We throw ourselves into causes confronting social issues. We put others down when they don’t support “our” causes. We point fingers at others for the causes they do support. We preen and puff up.

For who concedes you any superiority? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as though you did not?

1 Corinthians 4:7

Our focus on ourselves isn’t helpful, and in some cases it can be harmful. Specifically, it inhibits our relationship with God.

For only a transcendent God with an infinite capacity to love can satisfy our desires. But first we must look in the mirror and name the Big Me and
its self-righteous activism, obsession with self, or self-focused masquerades
— or any combination of the three.

Jonathan Dodson, Our Good Crisis, pg. 34

Interestingly, the people in the crowds listening to Jesus teach were most likely socioeconomically poor, and spiritually poor. They were the fishermen, the sick that had been healed.

He’s talking to sick, hurting, day laborers, subsistence living; they’re not important; nobody cares what these people think about the future of Judea and the Roman Empire. That’s who is flocking to Jesus by the crowds … Jesus actually affirmed everything about these people. … His message entails this whole reversal of how they see themselves, their identity, status, value and place in the family of God.

Tim Mackie, A Kingdom of Blessing

How do we cultivate poverty of spirit?

Jesus says to those poor in spirit, “yours is the kingdom of heaven!” So how do we cultivate poverty of spirit? We bow before the One, Jesus, who is the only one worthy of our adoration, our worship, our obedience.

It’s simple and complex all at the same time. It’s a matter of believing that Jesus is the Son of God, the One who left Heaven for you, who lived a perfect life so that He could pay the penalty for your sins. It’s believing that Jesus death on the cross was for you, for your sins, opening the way for you to have a right relationship with the God of creation. It’s believing that even now Jesus lives, interceding for you, so that you can live a holy life. And with belief, comes confession, repentance, agreeing with God that He is right about your sin, and accepting His forgiveness, allowing His love to cleanse and make new. With belief, confession, repentance, acceptance, you become a new creation!

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

1 Peter 1:3-5

What’s fascinating is that as a new creation in Christ, we experience His resurrection – we are already raised with Him, both now and not yet, it’s a mystery. Our citizenship is in heaven. Jesus said, present tense, yours IS the kingdom of heaven.

The more that we lean into Jesus, the more we are dependent on Him. The more that we recognize our dependence, the more we experience being poor in spirit!

I think about the hymn lyrics, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face; and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” Cultivating poverty of spirit is first turning our eyes on Jesus, contemplating His glory! Second it’s developing our relationship with God through prayer, reading His revelation in the Word, worshiping in His presence. And last, it’s fellowshipping with others who are poor in spirit – learning from one another, sharpening one another, holding one another accountable!

Those who are poor in spirit are not preoccupied with doing certain behaviors and developing a reputation, but rather are preoccupied with knowing and being known by Jesus. Jesus desired dependence and humility from his followers, and those who exemplify these characteristics are blessed. 

Lucas Hagen, Rich Examples of What It Means to Be “Poor in Spirit”

Jesus, Thy boundless love to me,
no thought can reach, no tongue declare;
O knit my thankful heart to Thee,
and reign without a rival there.
Thine wholly, Thine alone, I am;
be Thou my Rod and Staff and Guide.

O grant that nothing in my soul
may dwell, but Thy pure love alone!
O may Thy love possess my whole,
my Joy, my Treasure, and my Crown.
All coldness from my heart remove;
my every act, word, thought, be love.

This love unwearied I pursue
and dauntlessly to Thee aspire.
O may Thy love my hope renew,
burn in my soul like heavenly fire.
And day and night, be all my care
to guard this sacred treasure there.

Paul Gerhardt, 1653

I am reading Our Good Crisis by Jonathan Dodson … I invite you to join me!

Dodson, J. K. (2020). Our good crisis: Overcoming moral chaos with the Beatitudes. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, an imprint of InterVarsity Press.

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