“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
Adversity, pain, and suffering can break the human spirit. Pain tells us that something is wrong and needs fixing.
It is really against human reason to think that pain is a gift of God. But, it is.
Pain is kind of like the knock in a car’s engine. I couldn’t help but notice that my 2002 Mustang was losing power and making strange noises going up a hill. I kept thinking it would go away. I rationalized. “I don’t have time to put it in the shop. It’s going to cost a lot of money.”
I kept driving it until it wouldn’t hardly go anymore. It was telling me that it needed fixing and was headed for a breakdown. I finally put it in the shop. I found the time, and I forked over the money - quite a bit - to the repair shop. I’ve done the same thing with physical and emotional pain only to finally give up and go to a doctor or a pastoral counselor for relief.
You’ve probably done the same thing.
Emotional pain is a gift from God. Something is wrong, and we need fixing. Thank God for doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, and pastoral counselors. Thank God for mood altering medicine. I remember a teacher telling me, “If it wasn’t for valium, I couldn’t face the day.”
When we are beyond our inner and physical resources to relieve pain, we are empty. We turn to something or someone to repair us so we can keep going.
It is also in those moments when our spirits are depleted, that we are most likely to cry out to the Lord for help. Yet, many don’t.
A young teenager’s father died when he was but 13. His father’s thrift left the family a comfortable existence. The house was paid for and his widow and son received a pension.
At age 18, his mother died from breast cancer.
The young man then left his hometown and set off for the big city to enroll in college. The college turned him down. In two years, he was penniless.
He wondered the streets and had long abandoned his childhood dream and calling to be a Catholic priest, the church of his childhood. He pawned all of his possessions and resorted to sleeping on park benches and begging for money. No one in his family would help him.
He quickly became a dirty, smelly, unshaven young man wearing tattered clothes and did not even own an overcoat. One December, freezing and half starved, he moved into a homeless shelter and ate at a soup kitchen operated by the nuns from a nearby convent.
No doubt, this young man was emptied of all spiritual, emotional, and financial resources. The compassion of Christ was all around him through the ministry of the nuns. Yet, his suffering and pain did not cause him to cry out to God.
Instead, he developed a harsh, survivalist mentality which left no room for kindness and compassion. In his autobiography, he wrote, “"I owe it to that period [of poverty] that I grew hard and am still capable of being hard." It was an attitude that would stay with him until the end of his life.
Who was this bankrupt young man? He was Adolf Hitler. He killed 6 million people in the Holocaust and 60 million died in the World War that he started.
Jesus gave an interesting parable about an evil spirit that leaves a person. While the demon is gone, the person sweeps his inner house clean and puts his/her life in order. But the evil spirit returns bringing seven more spirits more wicked than itself. “And the final condition of that man is worse than the first” (Luke 11:24-26).
In the young adult life of Adolf Hitler, circumstances broke him. He had poverty of spirit from living in poverty. He managed to sweep his poor, broken spirit clean and rose up to become the German leader only to have seven more demons enter him.
Life has a way of breaking all of us. Broken dreams, broken finances, broken homes, broken health, and on and on can make us poor in spirit. Our inner motivator quits motivating. Our inner encourager quits encouraging, and our inner fighter quits fighting.
Pain tells us something is wrong and needs fixing.
Adverse circumstances make us poor in spirit. We come to the end of our inner resources. There is nothing left to draw upon.
Human reason and self-sufficiency have no answers when we have pain and suffering. Self-esteem, self-identity, and the conquering spirit can only take a person so far in crisis.
So, the spirit is impoverished. The house is swept clean. There is nothing there.
But, we must find relief from the pain. Enter the demon with his seven friends - the seven evil spirits who make the final condition worse than the first.
In Hitler’s case, the demon of power took hold of him. For a time, he was the most powerful man on earth conquering nations in a matter of days and ruling his empire with an iron fist. That demon brought in its friends like the occult. Hitler and other Nazi leaders looked to ancient Germanic spirits for help.
You see, the emotional, spiritual, and physical pain that creates poverty in spirit must be killed. What happens is that the pain-killer becomes the pain producer.
It’s like a person who gets swept up in alcoholism to kill the pain. His alcoholism, instead of killing the pain, produces even more pain. The demon of alcoholism moves back in along with his seven brothers. The last condition is worse than the first.
Another person fills her broken, empty spirit with workaholism. Of course, this is an approved addiction since our society values work. But when work possesses a person’s spirit, her final condition will be worse than her first condition. A breakdown is ahead and can lead to a severe breakdown - especially if her work ends in failure.
What is used to fill broken spirits is too numerous to mention, but here are a few. Sex, entertainment, food, education, hobbies, sports, prestige, success, religion, and on and on are used to kill the pain of a poor, broken spirit.
Nothing is wrong with these in their place. It is when one or more of these become plastic substitutes to try and medicate the pain of a broken spirit. Then, it becomes like the demon and his seven brothers who make themselves at home in the human spirit, the center of our emotions and mind.
The pain from a poor broken spirit causes a person to turn to everything but God, or it causes a person to cry out to God.
So, Jesus preached repentance - to turn to God. Turn from the plastic pacifiers to the Prince of peace. He alone fills the hungry, poor, impoverished spirit with good things like grace, mercy, forgiveness, and Christian fellowship.
Jesus said, ““Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
What did the Lord mean? I think that part of the meaning lies in his audience.
Jesus was talking to his disciples gathered around him on the Sermon on the Mount. They were poor in spirit and filled their depleted spirits with the fullness of God through Christ.
The blessing was pronounced on authentic disciples in the Christian community. It is more than an individual blessing. It is the blessing of Christian community because kingdom implies citizenship with many people.
Those that gathered around Jesus that day in Galilee were men and women of a poor, broken spirit. They had repented and turned to Christ. They were empty. Jesus filled them. They had come to the end of their resources and wanted the Bread of Life and the Living Water.
Matthew turned away from his tax job. Peter and John left their nets. Nathaniel swallowed his pride. They gathered around the Lord - poor in spirit and feasted on the riches of his grace and received the kingdom of heaven.
Later in Jesus’ ministry, Mary Magdalene came to Jesus poor and broken in spirit. The blessing of the kingdom became hers as did the woman at the well, the Apostle Paul, and you and me.
It is so easy to fill our broken spirits with the plastic, cheap things of this world that end up producing more pain and brokenness. They just seem to unconsciously appeal to us.
When adverse circumstances break our spirit and make us poor in spirit, remember that God is like a mechanic - he fixes broken hearts that are renewed by God through Christ and his kingdom.
This is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-- his good, pleasing and perfect will”(Romans 12:1b-2).
Receive the first blessing of the beatitudes. “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The kingdom of heaven is a state of being and not doing. It is a gift of grace from the Giver of grace. It is the gift of Christian community.
The poor in spirit who gathered around Christ also received wholeness in the redemptive fellowship of fellow believers. When our inner motivator breaks down, when our inner encourager quits, and when our fighter can’t get up again, authentic Christian believers in the kingdom inspire us onward and upward. They take our hand and lift us off the mat to continue fighting the good fight of faith.
The true kingdom of heaven is also heaven on earth. Jesus prayed, “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” That kingdom consists of the poor in spirit who follow Christ in humble devotion and service bringing the kingdom of heaven into the hearts of those of us who have broken down on the side of life’s road. They give us a hand, the hand of Christ. Our poor, broken spirit, then helps others broken in spirit through the infilling of the Spirit of Jesus who himself was broken through pain and suffering.
Rev. Dan White is founder and pastor of North Columbia Church, Appling, GA
Read more articles by Pastor Dan White or search for articles on the same topic or others.