Why It Is Good to Be Poor in Spirit

Obsessed with Wealth

You don’t have to pay very close attention to see that our culture is obsessed with riches. We are very interested in the lives of wealthy people. We want to get behind the gated driveways, to get inside the closed doors, and to peek over the tall hedges to see what those castles look like and how the elite really live. We point out exotic cars to one another, talk about that once-in-a-lifetime expensive meal, or reminisce abut the crazy stores on the designer strip we once walked. We deny it, but we secretly want to be one of those wealthy people, because deep down we believe that this just may be the good life. We don’t admit it to one another, but our discontent is just below the surface. We still tend to think, “If I just had ______, then I would be happy.” 

As Christians, we tend to esteem the spiritually rich as well. These are people who we think have risen above the normal things that we all tend to struggle with, who seem somehow to be easily and independently righteous and just don’t seem to require God’s rescue much. We envy people who don’t seem to have any marriage struggles or who seem to parent with ease. We want to be that rich brand of Christian, you know, the kind who tends to think, desire, and do the right thing seemingly all the time. 

This is where the season of Lent stops us, interrupts us, confronts us, and calls us to buy into a completely different narrative. That narrative is found in a few simple words of Jesus: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). What? How is poverty of any kind a blessing? How is it ever good to have nothing, and to have to admit you have nothing? How is it possible for the impoverished life to be the good life? These are the questions the season of Lent forces us to face and to answer because Lent isn’t for the rich; it is for those who are poor.

Blessed Are the Poor

When Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” he knows his words aren’t as radical as they sound. Let me unpack the logic here. Jesus knows that no one is independently rich in spirit. No one independently has his act together. No one is righteous on his own. No one loves as he should in his own strength. No one naturally has all the right motives. No one’s mind is independently pure. Independent spiritual riches are a delusion. People who think they are righteous are doomed. People who have successfully convinced themselves that they are okay are in trouble. People who strut their spiritual knowledge and good deeds are the ones we should be concerned for. They have bought into the darkest of delusions, that it is possible for a human being, without external intervention, to please God. Apart from the miracle of intervening, rescuing, forgiving, and transforming grace, there simply are no spiritually rich people out there, none. But self-righteousness is a self-supporting deceit. Every moment of self-assessment just deepens the blindness. 

The infinitely rich one was willing to become sacrificially poor, so that we might be rescued from our bankruptcy and become rich.

So we all need bankruptcy. This is the first step of God’s work of grace in our lives. In an act of divine mercy, God opens the well-guarded vault of our righteousness to show us that, contrary to what we thought, it is absolutely empty. We then must face the shocking realization of our complete poverty, that rather than being righteous, we are, in fact, unrighteous in every way, and this drives us to cry out for forgiveness and help. In this way the magnificent blessings of the kingdom of God are open and available only to the poor. It is admitting that you have nothing that causes you to reach out for the amazing “something” that is offered to you in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Here is the whole gospel story in one verse: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). The infinitely rich one was willing to become sacrificially poor, so that we might be rescued from our bankruptcy and become rich. If there were such a thing as independently spiritually rich people, this gospel narrative wouldn’t make any sense. But everyone is born poor. The only difference between us is that some of us have been given eyes to see and confess our poverty, and the rest of us are under the sad delusion that we are rich. 

Spiritually Rich

It is sad to note that not only are the hallways and pathways of humanity filled with people who think they are rich, but there are churches filled with them as well. If you were financially bankrupt, you’d be in a panic. You’d spend sleepless nights wondering what in the world you were going to do; you’d be crying out for help. You would be grieved, but open and approachable. You’d eventually quit faking it and face the fact that without some kind of intervention, you are doomed. Poverty wouldn’t leave you relaxed, disinterested, and rather self-assured. It would make you ashamed and afraid and ready to do something about it. Spiritual passivity and spiritual disinterest are never the result of confessing that you are spiritually poor. Only those who by grace have become willing to confess how poor they actually are daily seek and celebrate the vast storehouse of riches that are theirs because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. 

In this season, stop and take time to assess where you’re still telling yourself that you’re rich (righteous) and admit the extent of your past and present poverty, so that you can truly celebrate the once-unattainable riches that are yours, not because of what you have done, but because of what has been done for you. The richest man who ever lived became poor so that we would, because of him, be rich beyond our wildest imagination. No, I do not mean in the temporary riches of physical things, but rich in the most important way: rich in spirit.

This article is adapted from Journey to the Cross: A 40-Day Lenten Devotional.

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