Poor in spirit

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

This was Jesus’ first recorded statement in what is known as his Sermon on the Mount. I have a feeling it left his audience a bit puzzled.

Poor in spirit. What does it mean?

You could translate it somewhat literally as spiritually needy or maybe spiritually famished. A modern equivalent might be depressed.

Poor in spirit means you’re all washed up, out of options, at the end of your rope.

If that sounds like you, Jesus says you’re blessed! God’s kingdom, with its wonders, its hope, its promise of healing, is right within your reach.

I’ve been depressed, more than once. It’s like being dropped into a cold, black hole in the ground.

When I’m depressed, I don’t have the strength of will to reach out for anything, not even the kingdom of heaven.

And yet, paradoxically, when I’m feeling so low that there seems to be no way out, those are the very times when I beg God for help.

For me, depression is something like being caught in a whirlpool. It happens so slowly, so subtly, that I rarely see what’s happening until I’m trapped.

Maybe it’s pride, or stubbornness, or just the life-sapping nature of the disease. But spinning around in that whirlpool, I can’t make myself take God’s hand until I’m about to be sucked under the waves.

The prodigal son was poor in spirit. He’d been wiped out financially, his clothes were in rags, he was starving, he was alone, he was wracked by guilt, he had no place to get out of the rain. Only when everything was bleakest did he decide to go home. And there he found his father waiting, ready with healing, hope, and love.

Are you poor in spirit? This is your lucky day! Jesus is standing beside you, ready to give you a hand up and out of the gutter.

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  1. In 12-Step groups, we refer to this as “hitting bottom”.

  2. Amen, Charlie!

  3. “The only wisdom we can hope to acquire

    Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.”

    T.S. Eliot: Four Quartets

  4. I like this series you are doing Charlie. Short and meditative in style. Thanks for talking about your own personal experience here too – I appreciate the reality of that and the spiritual truth you’ve explained.

  5. There is something in me that will not allow the full explanation of “poor in spirit”…to sink in. I am not a stupid person; however, the articles (opinions) I read somehow have a way of making me feel stupid at times in that I just don’t get it. A child’s work can be done ‘poorly’…”Oh, look at that poor man, not even a coat for the cold”…”They are a poor family, they have no money”. I would imagine that the people that came to listen to The Sermon On The Mount were seated on the ground with their families. I’m sure none were comfortable with world material possessions; however; they had their faith. Just sitting there with their families waiting to hear words of encouragement and some substance to hang on to. Then Jesus tells them “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of God”. Please help me out with this statement. I am to give a lesson on this Beatitude and I am hitting a wall.

    Thank you.

  6. Poor in spirit has absolutely nothing to do with being poor in the pocket book or material possessions. And while being truly poor in spirit will affect my relationship with my fellowman, at its basic level, it has little to do with human relationships.

    It has everything to do with my relationship with God.

    It is not the prodical son that was poor in spirit, it was the publican. The son acknowledged his physical/material poverty. His willingness to go home was based on needs his earthly father could meet. He had to swallow his pride.

    The publican wss poor in spirit because he recognized his spiritual poverty. His need could only be met by his heavenly Father. He had no pride to swallow.

    Because of life’s circumstances not everyone can be physical/materially destitute. God help us if we all do not recognize our spiritual pauperism.

  7. Based on what the article is saying I am now one of the poor in spirit. I still don’t get it, I don’t know why but I still don’t understand. HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Amen!

    I was meditating on the phrase “poor in spirit” for some time since someone asked me what it meant.

    And I arrived recently at its modern equivalent too, namely depression.

    And I told myself, if it is true, then surely someone somewhere out there have arrived at the same thing. And there you are.

    So thanks for the affirmation.

    And also I realised how great and deep is the delusion and falsehood in the world: that depression is a sickness, to be healed, even with drugs, and happiness instead is the purpose in life.

  9. I was listening to a radio program that suggested the beatitudes were the spiritual 12 (9) step process. This process begins with being poor in spirit. The program’s take on the beatitude was that we be detached from material possessions. I was somewhat dissatisfied with this idea, although I think there is a lot of truth in what was said. I think your point also rings true, we have to realize, like the prodigal son, that we are lost without God, and therefore we become detached from all the desires of the world and cling to the only desire that really matters, that of loving our Lord and savior. I wonder how we start that process of becoming blessed, how do we start to cooperate in grace in such a manner that we become poor in spirit?

  10. Thanks 🙂 i was looking around for a good interpreitation this was helpful, good luck battleing depression, i know its hard

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