Random Blog Clay Feet: September 14, 2008
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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Poverty of Spirit and Faith

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)

Wow! This has got me really thinking again. As I thought about this after writing my last piece on this I continued to become aware of more verses that are very relevant that connect with this.

What is the natural reaction to learning that one is poor? Well, I don't think it is wrong to believe that a person upon discovering that they are poor should desire to be enriched in that thing in which they are deficient. And even though Jesus declared that the poor in spirit are blessed, I am not sure that it is safe to conclude that they should be satisfied to remain in that poverty just because they can be considered blessed. I believe that the reason they should consider themselves blessed is not because they should be happy and content in remaining poor but are blessed because they are honest enough to recognize their true condition. And this honesty will allow them and motivate them to hopefully move in the right direction to effectively address the problem of their poverty.

So what is the right way to deal with poverty of spirit? Well, it only makes sense that one would need to find a source that is rich in spirit and then establish enough of a relationship with that entity in hopes that possibly the one who is more wealthy may have enough generosity to take pity on the one who is poor and share some of their wealth with them. Isn't that what most of us would conclude?

That is why I got excited when another verse was brought to my attention that fits this very scenario. Check this out.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us... (Ephesians 2:4)

Now link that thought with this verse that explicitly tells us what God is.

"God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:24)

So what I am seeing here is that God is clearly a spirit, the very area in which I am poor, and as a spirit He is extremely wealthy in mercy. In addition, a few verses on in Ephesians it says that He wants to demonstrate through us the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (v. 7)

Now, I don't think there can be much dispute about the fact that God is rich. In fact, far beyond being rich in mercy as is described here He is rich in absolutely every sense that we can imagine the word to define. And I don't think many people believe that God does not share what He owns with us because He is too impoverished to do so or His supply is just too limited. No, that is not the reason most people have when they doubt God's generosity toward them. What is far more likely to emerge is people's doubts about God's feelings and intentions and motivations.

Most everyone believes God is both wealthy enough and capable enough to give us absolutely anything we could ever desire or want. But at the same time very few people really believe in their heart that God is willing or eager to do so. As a result Christians tend to come up with all sorts of rationalizations and explanations to excuse God's apparent stinginess so as to make Him not look quite as bad as we might suspect Him to be otherwise.

Jesus addressed this problem quite a bit when He was here on earth. He had a lot to say about our attitude about God's disposition toward us. He even claimed that if we had even a tiny amount of real faith that we would be empowered to do astounding things that would amaze the world – like pick up whole mountains and drop them effortlessly into the ocean (look out for the ships and the swimmers below). But so far I have mostly only heard excuses trying to spiritualize away these bold statements by Jesus with the effect of seriously diluting the effect that His statements were intended to have.

What I am starting to sense is that the real problem is not on God's side of the issue but is always on our side and our willingness to really take Jesus and God seriously about what they claim about God's feelings toward us. I have heard enough rationalizations throughout my life to keep my spiritual life quite impotent. What I want to experience is the real effects of genuine faith that will accomplish what Jesus claimed could be accomplished by anyone bold enough to take God seriously.

What I am also becoming aware of is my own deeply-embedded doubts about God's claims of mercy, love, compassion and spirit of forgiveness, especially when it comes to my situation personally. Yes, I am beginning to believe it slowly over time, but the reluctance of my own heart is a constant source of frustration for me because I know that I am the reason that God cannot do what He so deeply desires to do through me if I would just allow Him through the choice of faith. I am quite confident that Jesus could say accurately about me as He did about His own disciples when He was here on earth, O foolish men and slow of heart to believe...! (Luke 24:25)

But I notice a real obstacle to living in the awareness of my own poverty of spirit. It can be embarrassing to admit that I am poor in spirit. It goes against nearly everything I have been trained to do in religion and in society. Appearances and public perceptions are such an important part of life that to be honest about a lack like this in my spiritual life is to admit that I am not nearly as competent as I may think I am or may appear to others. This creates a strong potential for others to look at me with suspicion, to question my credibility and beliefs and to maybe look down on me as inferior to what they thought of me before. And that can really mess up my careful image management program!

The only effective path that I see to arrive at that place of genuine faith and vital power under the control of the Holy Spirit is for me to continue to seek God's face, to pursue the real truth about Him and more frequently expose my heart to the truths about God's richness and kindness. Because the very things that we doubt the most about God are the very things that He is most rich in – like mercy, compassion, patience, justice, goodness, kindness, faithfulness and all the other things that describe the actual truth about Him.

So after coming to acknowledge the reality of my own poverty of spirit, which is a very important first step to maturing in my relationship with Him, I need to come to believe in the reality of His generosity and that He is not only willing but is intensely eager to share all of His true wealth with my impoverished spirit.

There was a man who came to Jesus and wanted Him to heal his demon-possessed son. He had enough faith to at least show up and ask for help but he also had a lot of doubts that were being reinforced by the intellectuals and the religious leaders present who tended to look down on those who thought God might actually want to help them. These people worked tirelessly to promote their view of God as a stern, judgmental deity looking for every reason to keep people out of heaven and who had rigid demands for perfection and purity that must be achieved before He could approve of anyone.

But in spite of all this the man approached Jesus and timidly, fearfully petitioned Him to take a look at his son's case. But Jesus, instead of immediately addressing what appeared to everyone else to be the main problem turned to the father and confronted him directly about the true condition of his own heart and his doubts about God's goodness and kindness. This man suddenly came to see that his words to Jesus had betrayed the reality of the double-mindedness that he had in his picture of God and that what God really needed in order to help his son was a total commitment from the heart to the truth about God by this father.

And Jesus said to him, "'If You can?' All things are possible to him who believes." Immediately the boy's father cried out and said, "I do believe; help my unbelief." (Mark 9:23-24)

What Jesus did for this man is what I need for myself and what everyone of us needs. What I believe Jesus wants from us even more than faith is honesty. Faith can be produced in an honest heart, but self-deception and an unwillingness to acknowledge inner confusion and unbelief is something that effectively blocks even the Almighty from accomplishing what He so much longs to do in our lives. But when this man confessed his true feelings even though they were less than admirable, immediately Jesus was able to bring healing and closure to this tragic situation and fill their lives with joy and peace and life.

I believe this story may be a vivid illustration of one who was poor in spirit and yet was blessed. When this man came to acknowledge his true poverty then he found himself in a position of willingness to receive from the riches of God's abundance. What a wonderful lesson for me. I pray for a spirit of complete honesty like this man so that I too can be in line to experience first hand the power and blessings of God and so that my life can be a demonstration of the amazing riches of His grace in kindness toward me.