“blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” – matthew 5:3-10
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i’ve been wanting to do an 8 part series on the beatitudes for a while, so here goes. i always say i have a love-hate relationship with the beatitudes. i love them because they are such a beautiful & simple & powerful representation of the upside down ways of the kingdom of God. they remind us that the ways of the world & many of the systems we live in are contrary to the ways of a Christ-follower. they go against the flow instead of with it. they also inspired the 12 steps from alcoholics anonymous, which i love.
i hate them, though, because they mess with my safe, comfortable, self-centered world. they call me to a far more dangerous & risky & humble & vulnerable life than i’d sometimes prefer. there is a great cost to living out these principles individually & corporately. the beauty that emanates from beatitude-centered living is sometimes not visible to the un-Jesus-trained eye. these ways definitely can make us look crazy, stupid, unsuccessful and extremely impractical.
this is Jesus’ first big sermon, speaking to a devoutly religious culture where the law, the rituals, the here’s-what-we-do-because-we-believe-in-God was deeply embedded into their way of life. i think of this often when i read the gospels. much of what Jesus was speaking against is strangely similar to much of our Christian culture today–where systems, structures, norms, and practices are held above the simple commandment of loving God, people & ourselves without a lot of unnecessary baggage.
it’s beautiful that Jesus chooses to begin with this:
“blessed are the spiritually poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (NIV)
in the NLT version, it’s “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” and for all you “bible heretics” out there, the message version is one of my favorites: “you’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. with less of you there is more of God and his rule.”
to me, spiritual poverty means:
- an awareness that we can’t. it’s a humility, a radical awareness of our humanness instead of the false belief that we can play God and control our lives. it’s a recognition of our desperation, brokenness, and tendency toward self-centeredness & self-protection. for me, this is the hardest because i was trained–subtly & directly–that “i can.” my friends joke that “rally” is my middle name. step 1 says “we admitted we were powerless over our addictions & compulsive behaviors and life has become unmanageable.” the first step & the first beatitude go together because they are an admitting of our weakness, a breaking out of denial, an awareness of our desperation to control our world.
- the “yeah, buts” won’t work. i have these all the time, especially related to issues around my own healing & also the work of the refuge. it’s so easy to justify our position: “i don’t do it that much…at least i’m not like so and so…at least i am trying….i swear, i can quit if i wanted to…or…someone’s got to do it or else ___ will happen...” i’m not saying these things don’t feel real, but i keep learning that it’s better to admit our “yeah, buts” are ways to stay in control & keep doing things our own way.
- unhooking from gimmicks & shortcuts. i am always skeptical of the newest and latest trend or technique that helps people get from A to Z faster. they lead us to a false belief that life is a race and we need to get to some weird imaginary finish line quicker. i think a life of spiritual poverty is a recognition of a day-to-day need to stay present in the now & learn from it instead of always being focused on “getting there” (whatever there is supposed to mean anyway?)
- radical humility. if i was summing up this entire beatitude from my perspective, it would be these two words. Jesus is calling us to radical humility. and i realize more than ever i don’t want to be humble! it sounds good. but in action it means a softness of heart, sacrifice, and a let-go-of-the-outcome-ness that often doesn’t come naturally.
i believe strongly each of these elements can be applied personally to our own lives & also corporately as communities/ministries/organizations, too. imagine how the world would be different if the groups we were part of embodied these values and worked to stay in touch with this. imagine how different the world would be if churches reflected this kingdom value of spiritual poverty corporately. our practices would be different. our goals would be different. how others perceived us would be different. but alas, many of our measures have nothing to do with desperation for God and radical humility but rather are more about budgets, appearances, viability, and numbers.
as hard as this is to do personally, how much harder this is to do in a group! i think we need to ask ourselves: what would it take to get started with pouring humility into a group setting? how do we empty ourselves and profess our need for God as a group of people who want to work together for the kingdom?
personally, corporately, the beatitudes are packed with challenge. what i shared only scratches the surface & are some initial reflections. i’d love to hear some of your reactions to extend the conversation. what does spiritual poverty mean to you? what does it feel like? why is it so hard to integrate into our cultures?
God, show us what it means to be spiritually poor, individually & corporately, to integrate a spirit of radical humility into our own lives & the groups we’re part of. soften our hearts, crack open our pride, show us the way.