Recently, I spent a couple of days with 200 men residing in a Mid-Western State penitentiary, who had been hand-selected to participate in an intense 18 month Christian discipleship/educational program. I cannot remember when if ever, I have run into people who are so hungry to know God, grow and learn. Perhaps the difference between them and many of us is the dissimilarity between pride and humility. In life, these men had hit the wall and splattered. Now in their brokenness they have encountered the living Christ.
Jesus informed us that such people are in line to inherit his kingdom: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 5:3) By "poor in spirit" Christ meant the spiritually destitute. Those who acknowledge their utter helplessness, spiritual poverty, and lack of superiority before others. People who are painfully aware of their deadness before God. The "poor in spirit" recognize that they are no better, no richer, no more superior to the next person regardless of what they have achieved in this world in terms of fame, fortune, or power. +
Dallas Willard describes the "poor in spirit" in street level terms. They are "[the] unblessed and unblessable-the physically repulsivethe bald, the fat, and the oldthe flunk-outs and dropouts and burned outs. The broke and the broken. The drug heads and the divorced. The HIV-positive and herpes-ridden. The brain-damaged, the incurably ill. The barren and the pregnant too-many-times or the wrong time. The over employed, and underemployed, the unemployed. The unemployable. The swindled, the shoved aside, the replaced" ++
Brennan Manning refers to the "poor in spirit" as "ragmuffin" believers: "[They are] the unsung assembly of saved sinners who are little in their own sight, conscious of their brokenness and powerlessness before God, and who cast themselves on his mercy. Startled by the extravagant love of God, they do not require success, fame, wealth, or power to validate their worth. Their spirit transcends all distinctions between the powerful and powerless, educated and illiterate, billionaires and bag ladies, high-tech geeks and low-tech nerds, males and females, the circus and the sanctuary." +++
If you identify with these "poor in spirit", perhaps Thomas a Kempis prayer will resonate with your soul: "How can I bear the miseries of this life unless your grace and mercy comfort me? Turn not your face from me, defer not to visit me. Do not withdraw your comforts from me, lest perhaps, my soul become as dry earth, without the water of grace and, as it were, a thing unprofitable to you. Teach me, Lord, to fulfill your will, and to live humbly and worthily before you, for you are all my wisdom and learning. You are He who knows me as I am" ++++
Now if you happen to be a "together", well-oiled business or professional person who is enjoying "success" and the esteem of your peers, the above descriptions of the "poor in spirit", "ragmuffin" types could easily offend your sensibility and sophistication. After all, the untidy idea of poverty of spirit doesnt sell very well on Main Street.
Would the "least" among your friends and associates view you as a person who is "poor in spirit"?
+The main idea here is adapted from William Barclays commentary on Matthew 5; ++ "The Divine Conspiracy", Dallas Willard, page 123-124; +++ "Ruthless Trust", Brennan Manning, Harper Press, page XIII, NavPress; ++++ "Imitation of Christ," Thomas a Kempis, Image Book, page 107