Being poor in spirit

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” ~Matthew 5:3

“There are many servants of Christ who are given to prayer, doing good for the sake of others, fasting, and practicing self-denial so as to abstain from sin. And yet they miss the mark.

How quickly are you offended, scandalized, and stirred to anger by a single word—-all because you count it as a personal injury? How quickly are you offended when something you feel is yours is wrongfully denied you?

If you find this is true, then it simply means you are not yet ‘poor in spirit,’ counting nothing as your own—neither reputation, nor position, nor possession.

When you are truly ‘poor in spirit,’ you will despise everything that causes you to be selfish and self-centered. Soon you will become so free in God that you will take no notice of offenses, no matter how great or slight, so that someone might actually strike you on one cheek and you would not fail to respond in love.” ~Saint Francis of Assissi

Oh that I might learn this lesson of poverty of spirit. I read this passage this morning in a little devotional I have, one made up entirely of Scripture and Francis of Assissi’s writings, and I think it was simply God reminding me again about the importance of being poor in spirit. It was very timely, too.

To not take offense at sharp words, gossip, misunderstandings, and overt slights, is an extremely difficult and painful lesson to learn, but one God has been forcing me to learn of late. It doesn’t make it any easier that I am a naturally very sensitive person, and so I take offense (even though I may not show it) more easily than some. But the question always boils down to—-why am I taking offense? Is it my pride that’s been wounded? Is it my reputation? If, as Francis of Assissi indicates, taking offense really points to a love of self, then I have to examine, every time I’m offended, the root of that offense. If nothing is truly mine—if I know where my true security lies—-if I am truly poor in spirit—-then absolutely nothing in this world should personally offend me. I also read this morning, appropriately enough, in another devotional, the Scripture “If God is for me, who can be against me?”

Indeed—-if God is on my side, if my conscience is clean before Him, then what does it matter what others say or do to me? That is where the freedom lies that Francis of Assissi refers to. No one can touch me. I can be mocked, spit upon, scorned, rejected, slighted, and still turn to those oppressing me, and say, like Jesus did, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Oh for the grace to always respond in this manner! Daily I have to ask for the strength to have this kind of poverty of spirit. Because it doesn’t come naturally. My flesh and my pride war within me, wanting to harbor bitterness toward those who have been unkind to me. Especially those who have been unkind to me for reasons I can’t even fathom. And this past year has been full of these kinds of instances. I used to be naive enough to think if I was kind and civil to someone they would return the favor—-but that naivete has been shattered, as I have come to understand more fully the true range of human nature. To be hated without a cause, to be disliked without reason, to be misunderstood, to be slighted, to be the subject of cruel gossip…..I have experienced all of these over the last couple years. I feel like God has allowed Satan to buffet me in ways I’ve never been buffeted before, perhaps to test me. And the buffeting hasn’t just come from unbelievers, but believers as well. Which is hardest of all to swallow. For of course one has different expectations of those that know Christ.

But isn’t that where part of the problem lies? Why should I have “expectations” of anyone (even other believers)? As God began to show me with the young man I used to work with (see earlier post), I have to continually lay down my expectations of people. If I love them with a need-based love, I am not truly loving them. Loving unconditionally—-loving without expectations—-is what God offers me, and what I must offer others. And the only way I can love that way is by being poor in spirit.

So perhaps it is this poverty of spirit that God is seeking to instill in me, as He has allowed numerous “barbs” to inflict me over the last year or so. I just pray that He would, in teaching me how to be poor in spirit, also restore the immense mistrust that has grown in my heart towards people. I used to trust so easily—perhaps too easily—and now I find myself barely able to trust at all. So I hope and pray that, in time, He will restore this part of me that has been shattered to pieces.

But He is for me! No matter how others might hurt me or let me down, my God, my Rock, my Savior, is for me. And as long as I have Him on my side, I can let the winds blow, and the rains fall, and my house will remain standing. I have endured so, so much already, and perhaps the worst is to come, but as long as my anchor is secure, I need not fear what man can do to me. So continue to teach me, Father, what it means to be poor in spirit. To let go of my need to be accepted, loved, understood, and praised by men, so that I can truly love others freely and unconditionally and never take offense.