A gracEmail reader in the Middle East writes, “Someone recently prayed for help in becoming ‘poor in spirit.’ I want to receive the blessing Jesus promises to those who are poor in spirit, but I don’t know whether I am rich or poor in spirit now. What does Jesus mean by this blessing?”
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“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” says Jesus, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). The word translated “poor” here means destitute. It refers to one who by poverty is reduced to begging (Lk. 16:20-21; Matt. 26:11). By definition, such beggars do not present credentials. Not those genuine beggars one still encounters in third-world countries. Not the truly desperate in our own society. Not those who inhabited Palestine of Jesus’ day. Beggars simply ask. No talk about deserving. No claims of merit. No argument or reason to justify the request.Two realities matter. They need — and someone else has. So they ask. Beg. Plead.
This is the picture, says Jesus, of how one ought to approach God. When it comes to righteousness, we all are morally bankrupt. Not one of us deserves anything from a holy God. Spiritual credentials just don’t cut it — whether we think of personal morality, institutional religion or a record of good deeds. God is not impressed. Don’t even try to convince God that you deserve his favor, Jesus tells us. Don’t parade your pedigree. Forget your proof-texts and your rationalistic arguments. Don’t bother with a resume. Come to God as a beggar — destitute, hopelessly needy, persistently pleading — “Give.” Two realities matter. We need, and God has. The “poor in spirit” are spiritual beggars.
But what a stupendous surprise awaits us when we approach God this way! For to such people God does the unthinkable. The unbelievable. The impossible. He gives to them — not a crumb but a kingdom! Not to the deserving, or the worthy, or the persuasive. To spiritual beggars. To those who make no claims. Who offer no reasons. Who know their own need and recognize God’s supply. To the “poor in spirit.” Blessed indeed! “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”