If you, like I, went to Sunday School and VBS as a child, you probably memorized the 23rd Psalm, the Ten Commandments, and maybe the Beatitudes. The eight short sayings of the Beatitudes give the core teachings of Jesus in a concentrated format.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” —Matthew 5:3
Oh, how I struggled with this one. This proud country boy did not want to be “poor” in any way, shape or form when he grew up. Although my family, as farmers, provided adequately for our needs, we could not afford the vacations other people took each summer nor the fancy new car every 2 years. Fortunately, designer jeans were not a necessary fashion statement in high school in 1961 and most often I started the new school year with last year’s clothes augmented by new shoes or a new shirt. Life was pretty good but, when I considered the first of the Beatitudes, this 13 year-old farm boy raised up a few secretive, quiet prayers, “Lord, anything but poor. I don’t want to be poor.”
I believed for many years that when the pastor recited the first Beatitude, he forgot the last two words, “in spirit.” A more likely scenario is that I did not hear them because I was too enamored by the cute neighbor girl sitting beside me on the pew. I think that maybe I missed a lot of the things I needed to hear in church because I was distracted. Whenever I heard “blessed are the poor,” my mind pictured a crowd of people saved by grace mulling around heaven in tatters and rags. What is so blessed about that?
I’m sure my boyhood pastor recited the Beatitude in full. I simply was not ready to hear it in full just like so many other lessons and teachings from Jesus. That could explain why for many years I stumbled through life filling my God hole with everything but God. Ranging from alcohol to sex to pot to pornography to numerous other idolatries, I did not become ready to listen to all the words from Jesus until I was utterly defeated by my own life. No enemy could have defeated me as soundly as I defeated myself. Finally the sweet words of surrender filled my heart when I put some verses into that God hole.
“Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted….” Psalm 46:10
“If the Son, therefore, will set you free, you shall be free indeed.” John 8:36
“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10
Those were the first verses I memorized. And yes, I finally heard the full verse of Matthew 5:3. It happened only when my mind understood “poor in spirit” to mean that I need to be fully open and receptive to Jesus, I need to find a state of nothingness and then let Jesus fill the void. I need to go to that space where there is only God. When there I am as a beggar on the street seeking alms, begging for the bread of Life which feeds, the living waters which quench. I have then been impoverished, made poor in spirit, and Jesus will relieve my poverty.
Sure, my mind still shuts down God’s space sometimes, fills it with junk. My thinking says that I should pursue a spirituality based on knowledge, surety, certitude. My ego begins reviewing the spiritual advancement, the learned theology, the numerous books, the good works. I can very quickly become haughty and self-assured within my own religious arrogance. But then, when I have suffered enough from running my own show, Jesus says, “Come back, you will find assurance in me.” cac.org
“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!”
Frances J. Crosby