When my friend Sharon told me about the pair of designer heels she’d purchased to wear to an important work event, I secretly wished that I had an invitation requiring such a purchase. As the wife of a business executive, and with a high-profile career herself, Sharon was used to attending elegant gatherings filled with music and fine dining. This particular evening, after greeting fellow guests and socializing over cocktails, Sharon made a distinct impression on a tipsy acquaintance. With a drink in hand and his wife beside him, the man made an inappropriate, sexualized remark, leaving Sharon and the man’s wife standing in uncomfortable silence as he laughed.
This was one more in a long line of events, when she and her husband were among the few attendees to remain sober throughout the evening. After fielding numerous unsuitable comments by men under the influence and hearing intimate confessions from virtual strangers on these occasions, Sharon mentioned her frustration to a counselor. He responded by saying that a roomful of successful people behaving badly under the guise of a good time conceals a roomful of people who are in deep pain.
When we spoke of it later, Sharon referred to this expression of disguised inner pain as spiritual poverty. She had discovered that those who suffer with the weight of a sick soul may be the most influential, successful people we know. Unaware of the depth of their spiritual need, many seek to soothe the condition of their soul with distraction and excess, turning to any number of other things—even some that might appear good on the surface—for fulfillment. The truth is, this essential need is in each of us, and it’s easier to recognize in others than ourselves.
Years ago, on a tour of holy sites in Israel, I visited the Church of the Beatitudes, built on the site where Jesus gave His famous Sermon on the Mount. Afterward, I walked across the hilltop with its craggy slope overlooking the undulating sea. Above the rippling waves, the Mount stood silent, and I tried to imagine Jesus’ radical message piercing the stillness I found in that place.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus says, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). And who are these blessed poor? They are spiritual beggars who experience the universal emptiness and lack found in a poor spirit, but who also recognize their need and actively seek God’s sufficiency instead of their own. Jesus speaks to those who are aware of their personal spiritual poverty and who look for God’s strength as the answer to their weakness. He offers the kingdom of heaven as a blessing to those whose poverty is reflected in a humble and contrite spirit—those who realize they are dependent on God alone.
Those who suffer with the weight of a sick soul may be the most influential, successful people we know.
Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “The way to rise in the kingdom is to sink in ourselves.” The poor in spirit, as the Lord sees them, understand this essential sinking to self. In the book of John, Jesus speaks of His own reliance on God the Father, saying, “The Son can do nothing of Himself” (Matt. 5:19). His sufficiency was born out of surrender and obedience to the Father. And when Jesus says, “I do not seek My glory” (Matt. 8:50), He sets a path of humility before us and shows the way to the kingdom.
Jesus’ active posture of dependence on God is our guide. If the Son, having emptied Himself in coming to earth (Phil. 2:5-11), humbly recognizes His need for the Father, then as His followers, we too need to acknowledge our personal poverty before the Lord. My mother-in-law Pat lives this beatitudinal example daily. She suffers from lifelong debilitating migraines, which keep her bedridden as many days as not. She has fasted, interceded, received prayer, sought medical intervention, and still, at age 76, suffers daily.
Pat has lived a life marked by incredible suffering, and yet she’s the most joy-filled, Spirit-led person I know. Rather than allow the weakness and powerlessness within her body to cripple her spirit, she uses her bed-bound time to intercede for others. She feels frustration over her lack of healing and continues to pursue it with desperation. She questions God and at times feels exhausted and alone, but there is a refreshing absence of bitterness in her response. From her bed, she continues to pray for others while in the midst of deep personal agony.
Rather than disguise her pain with the world’s offerings, Pat holds out her poverty openly before the Lord, with eyes fixed on the kingdom that lies ahead. To live a life worthy of this gift requires humility and a solid belief in the sufficiency of grace. When we acknowledge our poverty, our weakness invites God’s strength.
Illustration by Paul Blow