blessed are the spiritually poor

blessed are the spiritually poor

“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

* * * * *

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.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Hmm…. at the heart of this, I think, is being honest – with self and with God.

    The teaching that Jesus did that day ends with something that highlights this for me….

    21-23″Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance— isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.'” ~ Matthew 7:21-23 (the Message)

    The passage in verse 23 especially has stuck with me – In other translations, the quote is “Depart from Me you workers of iniquity. I never knew you.” Hmm….I think often, people pass quickly over and don’t notice that He’s not saying they didn’t know Him, but rather that he didn’t know them. This used to seem strange. What I have gotten on it, though, is that they were never open and honest with him – he never knew them. The focus was on external actions rather than internal examination. For me, that boils down to being honest with myself. And then, even if I’m scared of the rejection and feeling ashamed…. just opening my heart to him and saying “Here it is, here is this thought, this fear, this flaw… here’s what I think is good, and here’s what I think is bad . . . . and here’s what I know is bad. Here, help me not hide any of it from you.” It does require humility to show Him our ‘ugly’ parts and not just our good parts – to quit trying to justify ourselves to him and just relax and admit that we have problems that we can’t fix, and not make excuses to him. Hmm…

    But in that place is peace. Real peace. And it is a daily thing – every day looking inside and seeing what is there….and continuing to develop a relationship with God the same way we do with people – day by day closer, rocky patches, sweet moments of understanding, deepening and growing…..

    Anyway, that what stirred in me on this one. 🙂


  • Hmmm. What does it mean lately. Gut-level honest? It means forgetting the message that “white is right.” I live in a BROWN country, and lately, honestly, I feel like I know what’s best for the people who drive in the city, who live in the neighborhoods, etc. I don’t want to stay this way. I hope that God helps me in the process of heart change.

  • Wow! Very courageous and “scary” prayer! Since I’m part of your community, guess I better just hang on and enjoy/endure the ride! ha! No, don’t get me wrong, very beautiful prayer and I like it…but, it ranks up there in Valor!! Spiritual poverty, for me, means to be in a place of awe and worship of God where all I want to do is thank Him for salvation…for grace…for LOVE…for life because I realize I can not do anything on my own! A place that I LONG to be, but am scared to go through the process it often takes to get there. Weird thing because the process seems to bring the “tension” that is always there…but, the surrender piece in spiritual poverty seems to bring peace. Takes the pressure off of me because I realize it’s all up to Him…and I can’t do it…or don’t HAVE to do it! Cooporately this seems almost impossible…just being honest. Because we are never in the same place/time/season and in this culture there are so many distractions. Potentially it just happens with a group confession of how we can’t grow, teach, pray, preach, heal, love, encourage, sing or write without Him. Knowing we are 100% dependent upon Him to do the “work” through us. But, I’m SO glad he lets us help anyway!

  • Blerg. 🙂 “you’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. with less of you there is more of God and his rule.”

    I am banking on that these days, and boy is it so so hard to admit that. I think that when I first got into this whole faith gig, I recociled my *need* for God after the effective fear tactics, er, I mean presentation of the gospel. I honestly have not paid a whole lot of credence to the desperation, or spiritual poverty piece in a looooong time. It feels so much better to my whole ego to want God’s *assistance*, per say, kind of like a FAQ area on a website. To admit that I can’t do this thing without him, well, it is freaking hard. Hoping the payoff is worth it. 🙂

    • Stacy, from my experience, it is WAY worth it. Hard? Absolutely! Worth it? There aren’t words for how it deepens the understanding of how much He really CARES about the DETAILS. 🙂 And it does get easier with practice. 🙂

  • mimo – good to hear from you, thanks for reading. hope all’s well with you & you are staying warm up there!

    – oh so pretty, thank you for sharing. i like this part especially: “But in that place is peace. Real peace. And it is a daily thing – every day looking inside and seeing what is there….and continuing to develop a relationship with God the same way we do with people – day by day closer, rocky patches, sweet moments of understanding, deepening and growing…..” i really agree with you, too, that honesty part without the justifying or hiding but getting in that deeper touch with what’s really going on. because i have the wonderfully dysfunctional ability to be cut off from certain feelings, pain, etc. that protects myself, sometimes i don’t even know.

    laurie – oh i hear you. we were just talking about this today at our advocates gathering, how we can often think what we see is right and it’s our job to somehow tell others “if you just do it this way or that way…” debriefing everyone’s africa experiences have really brought this to the surface, too, just how it’s so easy to think we actually “see and know”…humility stinks sometimes, ha ha.

    tammy – thanks for sharing. yeah, i hope we bring that idea of corporate confession back to the table. so good…

    stacy – really not being able to do it without God–it’s the worst part, it’s the best part, the most brutal part, the most beautiful part. hmm, sounds like a paradox, ha ha. thank you for sharing. ps: i agree with katherine

  • I love your post, as always, Kathy. It really got me thinking. I’ve often had trouble with the beatitudes, but not in the good, challenging kind of way, but in the way that makes me feel like I’m on the outside and I don’t know how to get in. (It’s even worse in the Luke version because it’s so physical, and I have had so much physical privilege in life.) But I had a thought while reading this post. What if this spiritual poverty (and physical poverty, and mourning, and suffering) is descriptive rather than prescriptive? What if Jesus is inviting me to look at the world through his eyes, and it’s not about me? Well, sometimes it’s about me, but often not. It’s amazing to hear this good news when it is about me (like now, when I do feel quite spiritually poor), but in other times when I enjoy abundance, it’s not that I have to get to somewhere else in life in order to be “blessed.” I just get to look around me through his eyes and see who he is pronouncing blessed–not needing blessing, but already blessed and favored–and to join him in seeing and treating those people as favored by God. Maybe I’ll write my own blog post about this 🙂 Thanks so much for the conversation!

    • thanks christen, and i am always glad to hear from you…i have gotten stuck, too, on the “poverty” part when i live in a nice house, have health insurance, and a whole lot of other privileges. what i do love about it, though, is that it’s about a spiritual poverty that crosses the physical and somehow isn’t about grinding down and making sure somehow we get there so we can be blessed…i love what you said about “joining him in seeing…”, too. i hope you write about it too!

  • Wow, you’ve inspired me to take these a lot more seriously! I feel like I’ve been a christian so long that I don’t get any of teaching directly from the bible because it’s so “familiar”.

    I heard an interesting teaching on leaven and Jesus’s references to it being around “teachings”. That the instruction to throw it out and start over was because over time teaching become corrupted by society. I’m making bread from starter now and I’m realizing as I learn the process how easy it is to contaminate. I think my search back to scripture will start with the beatitudes! Thank you!

  • Re: blessed are the spiritually poor

    So those who claim the Serpent of Genesis-Eden narrative lied because A & E did actually die ‘ spiritually ‘. IF therefore that scenario were true, then A & E being ‘ spiritually dead / spiritually poor ‘ were in fact actually blessed more than ever before & the Serpent was actually correct that they would NEVER die!

    blessed are the spiritually poor

    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:3) KJV Story book


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