Poor in Spirit and Blessed

February 20, 2024

A compilation

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Matthew 5:3 says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Ever wonder what that means? At first glance, it might seem to point to someone who is sad or discouraged. But when we look closer, it means so much more. I love to compare versions of the Word, and when I look at the NLT, it puts this verse in a little clearer light as it says, “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for Him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” …

I don’t believe that He meant physically poor necessarily. Those circumstances might drive us to know our need for Him more, as we think about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12) or the “woman with the issue of blood” (Luke 8:43–48). I don’t think He was solely referring to monetary limitations either, although again when we are unable to provide for physical needs, that sometimes makes us see our need for Him more clearly. But the truth is that those are too easy.

Jesus wants us to humbly accept that in and of ourselves, we are not enough. We just aren’t enough. And we try to be. We try so, so hard to be self-sufficient and independent, as we sometimes believe the lie that those things are what make us strong. But those are the ways of the world, not the Kingdom of Heaven. …

Just a few verses later, Jesus calls those who mourn and are persecuted “blessed.” Those are hard things that no one would ask for or call “blessings” in our first-world context. When Jesus told His people they would be “blessed” in the circumstances listed in the Beatitudes, it wasn’t because they would earn or be worthy of any blessing, but because in feeling and seeking and giving and working through these uncomfortable, difficult things, He would be with them. He alone is the Blessing! …

As you look at your life, think about the times that the Lord has done what He said He would do. Times that He has held you up when you couldn’t stand by yourself. Times that He provided when no one else could. Maybe even times that He didn’t do what you hoped but helped you survive, even in the midst of great sorrow. …

We are not able to make it in our own strength. We don’t have all of the answers. But He does. He goes before and behind us (Deuteronomy 31:8). He leads us like a shepherd and carries us close to His heart (Isaiah 40:11). He knows what we need more than we do (Matthew 6:8).

And more than anything, we need Him. I pray that you will join me today in telling Him you need Him, not for a minute, or an hour, but always.—Maggie Cooper1

Blessed are the humble

Someone once asked Billy Graham what did Jesus mean by we ought to be poor in spirit, and shouldn’t we strive to be rich in spirit? Graham brilliantly responded with the following:

What did He mean? Simply this: We must be humble in our spirits. If you put the word “humble” in place of the word “poor,” you will understand what He meant. In other words, when we come to God, we must realize our own sin and our spiritual emptiness and poverty. We must not be self-satisfied or proud in our hearts, thinking we don’t really need God. If we are, God cannot bless us. The Bible says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

Blessed in this context indicates heavenly, spiritual exaltation rather than earthly happiness or prosperity. In Hebrew, “poor” means both the materially poor and the faithful among God’s people. The poor in spirit are those who have the heart of the poor, the same attitude as the poor, and are totally dependent on God.

This is related to the words of Christ in Matthew 23:12, “And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”—Christianity.com2

Blessings of dependence

Various scenes in the Gospels give a good picture of the kind of people who impressed Jesus. A widow who placed her last two cents in the offering. A dishonest tax collector so riddled with anxiety that he climbed a tree to get a better view of Jesus. A nameless, nondescript child. A woman with a string of five unhappy marriages. A blind beggar. An adulteress. A man with leprosy. Strength, good looks, connections, and the competitive instinct may bring a person success in a society like ours, but those very qualities may block entrance to the kingdom of heaven.

Dependence, sorrow, repentance, a longing to change—these are the gates to God’s kingdom. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” said Jesus. One commentary translates that “Blessed are the desperate.” With nowhere else to turn, the desperate just may turn to Jesus, the only one who can offer the deliverance they long for.

Jesus really believed that a person who is poor in spirit, or mourning, or persecuted, or hungry and thirsty for righteousness has a peculiar “advantage” over the rest of us. Maybe, just maybe, the desperate person will cry out to God for help. If so, that person is truly blessed. Catholic scholars coined the phrase “God’s preferential option for the poor” to describe a phenomenon they found throughout both the Old and New Testaments: God’s partiality toward the poor and the disadvantaged.

Why would God single out the poor for special attention over any other group? … Dependence, humility, simplicity, cooperation, and a sense of abandon are qualities greatly prized in the spiritual life, but extremely elusive for people who live in comfort. There may be other ways to God but, oh, they are hard—as hard as a camel squeezing through the eye of a needle. In the Great Reversal of God’s kingdom, prosperous saints are very rare. …

God’s kingdom turns the tables upside down. The poor, the hungry, the mourners, and the oppressed truly are blessed. Not because of their miserable states, of course—Jesus spent much of his life trying to remedy those miseries. Rather, they are blessed because of an innate advantage they hold over those more comfortable and self-sufficient. People who are rich, successful, and beautiful may well go through life relying on their natural gifts. People who lack such natural advantages, hence underqualified for success in the kingdom of this world, just might turn to God in their time of need. Human beings do not readily admit desperation. When they do, the kingdom of heaven draws near.—Philip Yancey3

Kingdom of God living

When Jesus sat down to talk to people, He was giving them a vision for what life was to be like in the kingdom of God. It was very different than anybody had ever thought. He took every command from the Old Testament, and He deepened it and made it about what was really going on inside you.

But it’s very interesting the way He starts: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven,” and the word there for poor in spirit is actually a word for a beggar on the street. The sense is somebody who has nothing and knows it.

What He’s really saying there is that the way into the kingdom of Heaven is to know that you have nothing, and sadly, most of us don’t think that. Most of us think that we have something, and that is what keeps us from the kingdom of Heaven, all those things that we think that we have.

What Jesus is calling us to is something completely different. It’s not self-sufficiency, or self-reliance, or neatening ourselves up so that we can be part of the kingdom of God and that we can be a follower of Christ. It’s really saying, “I have nothing in myself to do any of these things. I can’t follow Christ on my own. I can’t love my neighbor. I can’t love my enemies. I can’t keep my word,” all those things that come in the Sermon on the Mount. The entrance is to say, “I have nothing. I need Christ for this.”—Barbara Juliani4


When you reach the end of your human ability, when you hit the wall of your own limitations and realize the full extent of your human frailty, that is when you come to the full realization that “with man it is impossible” (Matthew 19:26). But the place that seems to be the end of all that’s possible for you is the place of great beginnings. That’s the place where you end and I begin, where “if you can believe, all things are possible” (Mark 9:23).

What may seem like a place of great defeat for you is not a place of total failure or despair and hopelessness. Just the opposite is true, for the line that marks your limitations is where you reach the place where My power and glory begin. That is where you come to the holy mountain, to the house of your God, to the doorstep of the King of kings.

You have come home to your Father’s house, and He who has seen you coming from afar now runs to greet you with open arms and great joy and rejoicing. This is the place where you’ve finally come to the end of yourself, and finding yourself unable, have turned to Me, seeking My presence. In acknowledging your spiritual poverty, you partake of My kingdom in all its abundance.

When you discover it truly is not in you, and that without Me you can do nothing, you can rise above your limitations to find My sufficiency. A soul that has come to the end of itself, and its human endurance and abilities, that turns to Me will be empowered by My Spirit and My presence.—Jesus

Published on Anchor February 2024. Read by Jerry Paladino. Music by Michael Dooley.

1 https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/what-does-it-mean-to-be-poor-in-spirit.html

2 https://www.christianity.com/jesus/life-of-jesus/teaching-and-messages/who-are-the-poor-in-spirit.html

3 Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 116–117.

4 https://www.crosswalk.com/video/video-q-a/what-does-blessed-are-the-poor-in-spirit-mean-matthew-5-3.html

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