By Ryan Shaw
“Poverty of spirit” is the first Beatitude Jesus presents in the Sermon on the Mount because the other seven Beatitudes hinge on cultivating this one. The rest are in effect a result of this crucial Beatitude.
In essence “poverty of spirit” refers to emptying us of dependence on self and what we can “do” for God.
Possessing poverty of spirit means I need God for everything. It is confidence in God and not natural abilities. I come face to face with my emptiness and nothingness.
Jesus is making a point by setting this as the first Beatitude. The journey of knowing and becoming like Him begins with renouncing what we naturally bring to the table.
In Jesus’ Kingdom success is stepping down into humility and the position of utter dependence.
We are tempted to look at “poverty of spirit” as a depressing mark of a disciple.
It appears somber but is actually liberating. I am not the center. All is not reliant on me. I am dependent on God alone. This is true freedom indeed.
God is the source of strength and does His work through me. It is not my work, but His in me as I cooperate with increasingly greater measures of the Holy Spirit.
We generally buy into this doctrinally, but struggle to practically live it out.
Poverty of spirit does not refer to weakness, lacking courage or withdrawing.
It is not thinking poorly about ourselves and claiming we are of no use to God. Instead it is simply dependence on God for all things.
It is the opposite of self-dependence and self-confidence. It is recognizing all we are, can do and will become is because of God’s mercy, grace and divine enabling.
It is agreeing that in me (apart from Jesus) nothing good dwells.
Poverty of spirit is the opposite of the humanistic tendency to exalt our abilities and capacities above our need and dependence on God.
This is a common problem in ministry and results from our unwillingness to cultivate poverty of Spirit.
When we see ourselves rightly before God we begin to see how little influence, authority and power we really possess to influence anyone.
We love God, want to serve Him and produce impact upon others. We want to see others growing in God – whether that be families, friends, co-workers, colleagues, people we meet on the street or the unreached and unengaged globally.
It becomes clear quickly that we cannot influence them in any eternal sense in our own strength and natural abilities (though we try really hard).
Our personalities and ability to persuade another might impact them in a natural way (for short-term) but not in any kind of eternal, spiritual way.
We often forget this and rely on strengths and gifts instead of the power of God alone to produce change and influence another person.
Admitting this deficiency is a key beginning point of “poverty of spirit.”
Poverty of Spirit means recognizing how little power we really have and looking to God alone who possesses all power and authority to influence another in an eternal, deeply spiritual way.
The definition of “power” referred to relates to our speaking with someone and God intervening to bring inner life transformation.
The person is able to see clearly what is being said and make a heart level response and commitment to change course.
When God’s power intervenes that commitment is not short-lived, but eternal. The person burns with a new desire to walk with God and to live a life of faithfulness.
They are gripped with a new vision that aligns with God’s will. They are able to obey the Word of God and live according to Jesus’ teachings.
This is the kind of power we want and it only comes through the Holy Spirit undertaking through us to take hold of another.
We need more poverty of spirit (especially in ministry) so we rely more on the Holy Spirit and less on ourselves, our personalities and our persuasive abilities (pride).