Poor in spirit

I'm reading through the gospels to take a closer look at the words of Jesus. In one particularly striking message that we call his 'Sermon on the Mount,' the Christ synthesizes themes of his work—his mission—into a few quick points. We've labeled these points the Beatitudes.

The Beatitudes (pronounced Bee+Attitude) are a list of short statements that Jesus made in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, a summation of attributes one ought to adopt in order to be 'blessed,' or sometimes translated 'happy' in relationship with God.

To be clear, Jesus never actually used the word ‘Beatitude.’ It’s a term we created to refer to this collection of Jesus’ statements. I used to think Beatitude was some play on the words 'be' and 'attitude'—as if these are the attitudes one should possess to be blessed by God—but that’s not really what the word means.

The word ‘Beatitude’ comes from the Latin beatus meaning 'blessed,' or 'happy' as stated before. These sayings should read: “You’ll be happy when you…” And this is more than a fleeting feeling or temporary happiness based on circumstances. The word for happy here refers to a sense of well-being.

The Beatitudes entreat us, "You'll finally feel that deep sense of well-being as you act in this way." Think of the Beatitudes as short proverbs from Jesus, his little wisdom-sayings. Matthew documents these statements in his fifth chapter. I want to discuss the first of these statements, found in Matthew 5:3. Jesus says:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Jesus says, “You’ll be happy when you recognize you need God.” As someone might be financially broke, Jesus says we can be spiritually broke. Only, Jesus recommends spiritual poverty to us in a way that no financial advisor might recommend bankruptcy—Jesus says that it is better to be spiritually empty than full of the wrong things in your spirit.

Paul said that a healthy spirit produces the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. How can we be full of those good things when our hearts are so full of the opposite? of hate, resentment, violence, impatience, spitefulness, meanness, laziness, abusiveness, and greed?

To be poor in spirit is to empty oneself of those things in humility.

There’s a poem from one of the puritans that says, “For when I am empty, I’m a vessel most ready to be filled.” Spiritual broke-ness means you know that apart from God you have nothing. Nothing will fill you or satisfy.

When you recognize that you’re in a spiritual deficit and you’re in need of God’s help, and when you confess your spiritual bankruptcy with the belief and fervor of Michael Scott declaring his own bankruptcy, Jesus promises that you’ll inherit the riches of the kingdom of God.

Jesus often refers to the kingdom of God as a precious treasure. Jesus urges us to see that our current treasures—our homes, cars, jewelry, wristwatches, rare collectibles, or in my case vintage guitars and the latest gadgets—are all fleeting. They have no value to us after we die.

He says in Matthew 6 that we should store up treasures where thieves cannot break in and steal them and where moths cannot destroy them. Heavenly treasures. We can’t do this without first recognizing that apart from God we are nothing and have nothing.

I’d love to have a Mercedes AMG sedan. One of the ones with like, 500 horsepower. Leather seats, premium soundsystem, GPS of course, a reverse camera, and impact detection. I want it with all the works. While you're at it, Santa, could you throw in a Patek Philippe with chronograph and perpetual calendar?

I'd love a pre-war Martin D-28 guitar. A closet full of expensive sneakers. A couple of tailored suits. An apartment downtown. And I’d like to take a look at my bank account each morning and see more than I see right now, to log onto E*Trade and see that my portfolio is sky-rocketing, to know that I’ve got retirement and school for my future kids covered.

I’d like a vacation home in Charleston—wouldn't that be nice? I’d like to make a massive donation to the city and have a public library with my name on it.

But more than all of those things—the car, the watch, the clothes, the houses—more than all of that, I’d like lasting and abiding joy. A deep sense of well-being that isn't unseated by circumstance. Peace with God. Peace in my home. Freedom from restlessness and anxiety.

Those are things that aren’t found in things. You know this by now; the car will break down. It loses value the moment you drive it off the lot. The watch scratches. Its hands slowly tick with less and less accuracy as years go by. It tarnishes, the shine fades.

Houses slowly fall apart. The granite countertops you coveted last year are out of season now and everyone's buying marble. Loft downtown? Who really wants to deal with all that traffic? Even financial security can be gone in an instant—look at 1931. Look at 2008. Look at last week's bitcoin burst.

The kingdom of God is something we can aspire to that won’t depreciate, won’t fade, won’t wear or scratch. Thieves can’t steal treasures we lay up there. The treasures of God’s kingdom are unseen treasures.

Treasures like love-filled relationships, whole families, warm and welcoming friendships, a happy home, an abiding joy, peacefulness and calm instead of restlessness and anxiety, satisfaction over envy.

Treasures like acts of kindness and justice that influence others to see our God for who he truly is, patience in the painful circumstances, gentleness with those in our care, self-control in frustration or in temptation to sin.

There are passages of Scripture that suggest that these unseen things might even be our currency in the kingdom to come. Don’t you want to be rich in those things?