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Becoming Poor in Spirit

We learned, in our previous series on the beatitudes, that Jesus instructed His disciples about seven attitudes, commonly called the beatitudes, that would lead to success with God. And the first one was poverty of spirit. So today we’re going to study how that attitude might become us.

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Today we’re working on Becoming Poor in Spirit. It’s a follow-up to a presentation on the first beatitude, which we completed some weeks ago. We learned, in our previous series on the beatitudes, that Jesus instructed His disciples about seven attitudes, commonly called the beatitudes, that would lead to success with God. And the first one was poverty of spirit. So today we’re going to study how that attitude might become us.

First, though, I want to give you some ideas about things that people think about spiritual growth that could derail your effort. The first I’m going to call the magic wand belief. There are a lot of different permutations of this idea, but one of them would be that some people think that, if they obey God’s laws, God will somehow wave His magic wand and fix all their problems. Now, obeying God’s laws does bring blessings. We know that. But there’s a lot more that God wants than just rote obedience to His laws.

The Pharisees of old were of this mindset. They didn’t realize that God wanted their hearts, as well their obedience. So we’re in control of our own heart, and there’s something that we have to do with it. If God gives us control of it, He won’t control it for us. So we have to do that. So active involvement on our part, rather than a passive waiting for God to do everything, is what we need when we think about becoming more like God.

Another problematic idea is sort of the extreme opposite of the magic wand. And those are the folks that think they have to do it all, as though we can earn salvation for ourselves. In Ephesians 2:8, it says:

Eph. 2:8 – For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this, not from yourself. It is a gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast. We’re all a project God is working on.

Now, he continues right on, then, in the next verse:

V- 10 – For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. So, because we’re saved by grace through faith, it does not mean that we don’t have to do anything. So you could say that it’s a

joint effort – God working with us, helping us to do what’s impossible for us to do. So we’re working at a task we’re not capable of achieving, right? That’s what this is about. But God helps.

I have teenagers come in my office quite frequently who are very troubled. And they want with all their hearts to be rid of their problems. But they don’t know how to get rid of those problems by themselves. They need help. So, even though I know what to do, in most cases, to help them, unless they’re willing to work hard, I can’t cause it to happen. They have to do a lot of it. And it’s like that with us and God. He has the power, but we have to be involved – to work at what He’s designed us to work on.

The third thing that I wanted to mention is the belief that the only way to learn anything is through hard knocks – the School of Hard Knocks. That is a very effective way to learn, and God is not bashful about dishing out hard knocks to us, if we need them. But we don’t have to learn that way – contrary to what a lot of people believe.

Matthew 11, verse 28 – Jesus said:

Mt. 11:28 – Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. My yoke is easy, and My burden is light. Does that sound like the School of Hard Knocks? It doesn’t. There is an easy way to learn, if we will. Now, sometimes we don’t, so God has to help us the other way. But as much as this way we can take on, the less hard knocks we have to go through. So think about that. We’re talking about the easy way today.

So, poverty of spirit. What is it again? Well, to quote from what we said previously, it’s to realize, in our deepest parts, that we are incomplete and have a deep need, and depend on, God for everything. It’s a self-emptying conviction that we’re void of spiritual understanding, except by God, and that we even draw our breath by His permission. In spiritual things, we are poor beggars, and in total lack, and helpless before God, and in physical things, totally at the mercy of time, chance, corruption, violence, and nature. So that’s it. That’s what we’re talking about understanding today.

So how do we do our part in that process? The first thing I would like to bring to your attention is, that God has give us all free will, and we have the ability to apply our minds to goals and, then, to seek them. We have mindfulness. We can think about things. And the more we think about them, the more likely they are to come true.

Jer. 29:11 – “For I know the plan I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope in the future. Then you will call upon Me, and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart. And I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity.”

We, in the Church of God, tend to think of this as a prophecy. And it is. But, on another level, were we not all captives? That’s what it says – the state we were in when we came to God and asked to be delivered – to be redeemed.

I was talking to a woman, some time ago, who was an alcoholic, and who, over the years of hard work, reduced her urge to drink to zero. She was talking about how she used to be wild, and crazy, and disrespectful, and cynical, and critical, and condemning, and – I think she used the term – too big for her britches. She realized that that attitude went right along, hand in hand, with her alcoholism. And she decided that she needed to learn how to be gentle, and humble, and not so sure of herself, and easier on other people. Those are the terms that she used.

I remember the first time I met her, when she walked into my office and told me she was an alcoholic. I thought, “She doesn’t act like an alcoholic. She doesn’t have an alcoholic attitude.” How did that happen? Well, years ago, she set out mindfully to change the way she thought. That’s what she did. And she asked God to help her do that.

So, once we learn, in the beatitudes, that the first thing, in relating to God, is poverty of spirit, then we can also decide to seek God by becoming poor in spirit. We have the ability to do that. Now we don’t have the ability to get there all by ourselves, but we definitely have the ability to set our attention on that, and set that as one of the courses that we want to take in our lives. Of course, it has to be a priority. Is it yours? We need to think about it.

I was working with a little girl awhile back, who has OCD – obsessive-compulsive disorder – and the form of it she has is technically called scrupulosity. Have you ever heard of it? It’s OCD done up in religion. She will have these thoughts that she’s committing a sin, but what she’s really worried about is nothing – like, she told me that her shorts are two inches too short. She wears them down around her knees – the bottoms of her shorts are really long. She thinks that if it’s two inches higher than that, she’s committing a sin, and she feels compelled to confess that to her mother. So she can’t tell the difference between a real sin and one that’s imagined, when she gets into this mode.

So I was explaining to her that there’s a way to get rid of that, or reduce it, but it’s not something I can do. It’s something she has to do. I can show her what to do, and I can help her set up a schedule to do it, but she has to actually do the work. She has to force herself to think about the urge to go confess to her mother, and then resist that urge for thirty minutes – or fifteen minutes. And at the end of that time, she has to ask herself, “What bad thing happened because I didn’t do what I wanted to do. Obsessive- compulsive disorder – at least in cases like this, I believe – is a gating problem in the brain, where the signal doesn’t go on. It gets rerouted over and over and over again. You can wallow that channel out, if you want to use that terminology, and get it straightened out – by practicing that over and over and over again. They have hard research on this, and they know that this works very well. So her therapy is all about mindfully changing the way she thinks. So she can actually think and change the shape of her mind – change the neuro-networking in her brain.

So, when God tells us the first thing that He wants us to be is poor in spirit, we can go toward that. We can seek that. And when He lays out a progression of things to think, and to seek, which He does in the beatitudes, we can seek them in an orderly fashion in that same progression. See, those things that He said are there for a reason. They’re there to help us be successful with God. So, if we know the first thing that He wants us to do is to be poor in spirit, and to realize that without Him, we are nothing, then that’s great, isn’t it, that we know that if we will take advantage of it.

The second thing we can do is to ask God to help us – since it’s impossible for us to be that way on our own – so we can be mindful in prayer. Wherever we keep our list of things to pray about, that can be put on the list.

We read about all the many things God wants us to do, and think about, feel in the Bible, and sometimes it can just be so overwhelming – you know, too much to pray for – too many problems. When I was in college, one of my theology professors told us it was like this: he said, “God gives us a spoon, and then He tells us to go move a mountain. And we look at the size of the thing, and we think, ‘No way!’ But we start digging away with our spoon, just because God tells us to. And what we don’t realize is, that on the other side of the hill, God has a gigantic bulldozer, tearing out tons of material in a few moments. That’s how it works.”

When we accept Christ’s sacrifice, and promise to give our lives to God for His glory, and then we try to move all the mountains that He tells us to move, He helps! We’re not alone. He’s there with us and He promises to help us do those things that are hard.

Mk. 11:24 – Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Now, He doesn’t promise us that we’re going to be perfectly poor in spirit after praying for five minutes or trying to think that way for five minutes. It’s all about the end of the road when it’s all said and done. That’s what He promises.

The third thing that we can do: We can study the Bible with understanding. We can study the Bible with the idea in mind that we’re going to understand what God is like and how He operates. And what will that help us do? Well, that will help us realize how great He is and how great we’re not.

Heb. 4:12 – The word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. It penetrates even to the dividing of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It judges the thoughts and the attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. God knows. He knows everything. And He can do anything! And to learn what God has done, what God is doing, and what God can do, and what He’s going to do helps us understand all the things that we haven’t done, and can’t do, and aren’t going to be able to do. And that helps us have the right attitude toward God. He’s everything.

We’re nothing. He can do anything. We can’t do very much. We can’t even breathe, except that He gives us air. So all that we need to know about Him is in the Bible.

Some of the things that I think about when I think about reading the Bible to be poor in spirit are one, the book of Job – that’s what Job’s lesson was to learn – we used to say it was self-righteousness – but I think, if you really give it a detailed read with poverty of spirit in mind, you’ll see that God took him back to square one, because he missed something, and it was right at the beginning. We can read the whole plan – Genesis to Revelation. It’s the story about what God is doing, and how it all got messed up, and how He is going to fix it.

I was talking to a friend once, who said she’d never read the Bible. I said, “So you’re just taking other people’s word for it.” “Yeah.” “Get a modern translation Bible, put it by your bed, and every night read for fifteen minutes. Solve your problem. Boy, are you going to learn a lot, if you do that.” I didn’t say this, but what she’s going to learn about is, how great God is and how miniscule we are. The beatitudes themselves are great to understand how great God is. Psalms are great to understand how great God is. Proverbs are powerful. They not only teach us how great God is, but they show us how not so great we are. Song of Solomon is good. The Law of God, and how it works, and how intricate and beautiful all of it is, and how it fits together and doesn’t contradict itself. All of these things, to me, are just powerful explanations of what God is like. Of course, everybody has the whole Bible to think about, so there’d be many other things than that.

Another thing that we can do is, we can study the creation. Psalms 19, and verse 1, tells us that the heavens declare the glory of God, and that everyday and every night, they’re pouring out all kinds of explanations and speech. The creation is God’s handiwork – not just the heavens, but all of His creation. You know, when Darwin said that life started as simple forms – one-celled, simple creatures that sprang from the warm ocean goo – he didn’t have an electron microscope. Guess what they’ve discovered since then? The bigger they can magnify things, the more they realize that God not only does infinite big, He does infinite small, too!

Did you know that at the simplest cell level, there are like little machines with axles and wheels and other moving parts that are inside of cells, and they do specific jobs, and there are other machines that put those machines together? And how do they know how to put them together right? And how do those machines that have been made know what they’re supposed to do? They all have purposes and jobs. How does that happen? Where did they come from ? Scientists – the resistant ones – are telling us that the information encoded in DNA to do all of that, came from outer space. But we who are poor in spirit – or tying to be – find a different answer, don’t we? The more we see of God’s creation, the more we learn about God – the more we learn what He’s like – that He has a mind that goes infinitely large and He, also, is concerned about, and can design the tiniest details.

What does this have to do with poverty of spirit? Well, let’s go to Job 38:4, where it will become apparent to us.

Job 38:4 – God said to Job, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell Me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! I mean, that’s a little bit pointed, isn’t it? So what do you think was the lesson that Job needed to learn? I think Job thought, “It’s me and God right here. We’re buds. We were close. We consult – almost like equals.” No, that’s not how it is.

V-31 – Can you bind the beautiful Pleides? Can you loose the cords of Orion? Have you ever looked at Pliedes on a summer night at 12,000 feet? In North America, you can’t see them until 3 am, but it is well worth it. The night sky, at 12,000 feet on a clear summer night, is a lot different than it is in town! So Job needed to learn that God was bigger than He was and more powerful, and that he was completely dependent on God for everything. So this was God helping Job become poor in spirit by comparing his power to God’s. And what Job said at the end, “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and in the latter day, He shall stand on the earth.” He got it!

We can also learn from past experiences – past and ongoing. But when we do what God says, we learn, “Oh, His way works.” And when we don’t do what He says, we learn that we should have, because it doesn’t work our way. It just works His [way].

Let’s go to 2 Timothy 2:24 for a minute. Here’s some instruction that Paul gave to Timothy, who was a younger minister. He said:

2 Tim. 2:24 – The Lord’s servant must not quarrel. Instead, he must be kind to everybody, able to teach, not resentful, those who oppose him he must gently instruct in the hope that God will grant them repentance, leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. We always think of this related to church and ministry. And most of us think of it related to ministry, and point the finger at all the ministers we’ve known in the past, who weren’t this way with us, but don’t think about how we’ve all been called to minister and serve God, and a lot times we don’t do that either.

Well, I was thinking about this in a new way, because, when I work in my counseling practice, I consider myself a servant of God, and my job is to help people get away from practices and attitudes that don’t work quite a bit of the time, and to move them towards things that are healthy and helpful. And those things are always godly. It’s just interesting how that works. I know that some of you think that psychologists are just disconnected from God and they’re all secular humanists and all that, but only the therapies that are connected with what God says work. So those are the ones that have lasted the longest.

In therapy, people often resist change, even though they want it, because they’re afraid to be different, they’re afraid of the process, or maybe they’re afraid of me, or any number of other things. So every time I try to push through that resistance with the idea of helping them, I always end up not helping them. But when I take that soft, humble, slow, gentle approach, they always seem to come around at some point and wind up trusting enough to do the work. Isn’t that interesting how that works? The only people that don’t like that are the insurance companies that want you to do it in twelve sessions, six

sessions, or whatever. But they don’t really care about the people. They just care about the bottom line.

I had a nine-year-old girl in my office some time back, and her dad died when she was five. She had a lot of anger and a lot of anxiety. I suggested to her that she might speed up the grieving if she did some EMDR. She was up for it. She tried twice, but she just couldn’t bring herself to do it. She came in for a third try and she was sitting there on my couch, kind of perched on the edge, like a bird ready to fly, obviously anxious. I asked her how things were going, and she blurted out that she was still afraid of the EMDR. I wanted to say, “Come on, girl, just give it a try. You’ll be glad you did. Let’s buck up and get after it!” But what I did say was…I asked her if she remembered the rule. She said, “Yes, I never have to do anything in here that I don’t want to.” And then she said, “But I do want to do it. I’m just afraid.” And I said, “Well, why don’t we just forget about EMDR for now. You’re just doing so much better anyway, and maybe it’s just not time yet for that.” You could just see the wave of relief passing over her. I said, “By the way, what are you afraid of?” She said, “I might forget him.” I said, “Oh, that would be really terrible – if you forgot your dad. That would be horrible.” Then I explained that EMDR never causes that to happen. And then we went and played Mancala. But guess what’s going to happen? EMDR’s going to happen. And it’s going to happen really soon. It will – because I took that slow, gentle approach, instead of trying to ram my agenda down her throat.

See, God knows better than I know about everything! That isn’t my natural inclination to be that way. That’s God’s! I mean, there are a lot of different ways that we could talk about learning from our experiences, and you’d have to do that section that would make the most sense to you, because it would be about your experience. Do you think you’ll ever get around to doing that? It might be a good idea.

Understanding the benefit. Why does God want us to be poor in spirit to begin with? What are the benefits? I want to read you something. This is in the Bible. Okay? The mighty One has done great things for me. Holy is His name. He has performed mighty deeds with His arm. He has scattered those who are proud in his innermost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Right? Those who know God, and who know that He will take care of them if they understand that He is strong and they are weak. He blesses them. He shelters them. And He takes care of them.

Do you know who said those words? It’s a song. It’s in the Bible. It was written by a girl. And her story shows us something else about poverty of spirit. The song was written by Mary, Jesus’ mother. Why she wrote it is in Luke 1. God sent an archangel, Gabriel, to Nazareth – to this girl – and she was pledged to marry a man named Joseph, as you know. He said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored. The Lord is with you. Now, Mary was not used to seeing angels, nor was she used to being called highly favored, so she was afraid. And the angel read her mind, and said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God, and you are going to have a baby for Him, and He will be great, and His

Kingdom never end.” And she asked that angel a very practical question. She said, “How can this be, since I have never been with a man?” And the angel said, “No problem. God is going to perform a miracle.” What would you say if somebody said that to you? What do you think she said? This girl who knew that God resists the proud and blesses the humble? She said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be with me as you have said.” Now that’s poverty of spirit!

It’s easy to think that we are poor in spirit. But a person who is truly poor in spirit does not resist God, but is willing to do whatever God says, even if it sounds impossible or dangerous, because that person knows that God knows best, and that He always takes care of people that are humble and who are willing to do His will.

Well, that scratches the surface of poverty of spirit and how that godly attitude may be ours. Next time, we’ll take a look at what comes afterwards, when we’re poor in spirit, which is mourning.