Search! That’s what life is – a great search. We search for all sorts of things – fame, fortune, good health, knowledge, a wife or husband, just to name a few. Always high on the list of “searched for” items is happiness. The sad part is that too many attempt to find happiness in the wrong places.
An interesting section of Scripture in Matthew’s gospel (5.3-11), just nine verses in all, is devoted exclusively to the subject of happiness. You’ll recognize the familiar name given to those verses – “The Beatitudes.” They are so named because each verse begins with the word “blessed” – a word derived from an old English term meaning “happy.”
When compared with that of the world, the beatitudes present a radically different formula for happiness – a Divine formula, God’s formula. He challenges us to seek true happiness, which lies above the world’s fleeting pleasures and cheap thrills.
The beatitudes also describe the character of those happy souls who shall inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. When reading that section of Scripture, Christ’s covenant people should see themselves reflected in the passage. So, you see, the beatitudes are vital, not only in providing instruction for true happiness, but also in molding the soul for an eternal inheritance.
“Happy Are the Poor in Spirit…”
It’s important to remember Jesus’ opening statement as he began to teach His disciples and the vast throng of people on that Galilean hillside long ago. It is the key to everything else he said that day.
To be “poor in spirit” is to be free of pride, ego, and self. This initial characteristic of a happy citizen in God’s Kingdom is exclusively about a person’s attitude toward himself. It deals with that most difficult of spiritual disciplines, the surrender of self.
Like with many other things God requires, poverty of spirit is difficult but not impossible. Furthermore, Jesus doesn’t ask us to do that which He wasn’t willing to do Himself. He became poor in spirit – “have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who though existing in the form of God counted not the being on equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant…” (Philippians 2.5-7). Jesus knew what it meant to be poor in spirit, not demanding His own way. Before He went to the cross, He prayed all night to be spared of the awful ordeal, yet time and again concluding, “…not My will, but Thine be done.”
Poverty of spirit is the opposite of pride, so this first step to true happiness brings us into direct conflict with the world. Pride is a dominant trait in Satan’s realm. Just look at all the emphasis on “self.” The world shouts, “Believe in yourself,” “do it yourself,” “pamper yourself,” “be yourself,” “indulge yourself,” “assert yourself.” In stark contrast, Jesus implores, “Deny yourself!”
Now you can begin to see why this beatitude is so important. It’s impossible to live in both worlds. The “kingdom of light” and the “domain of darkness” are incompatible. The choice must be made at the beginning – to live for self or to empty self in order to be filled with Christ.
Poor in spirit doesn’t mean a person is weak or scared. Neither does it imply we have no value. Jesus, the only begotten of God, died to redeem each one of us. Rather, poor in spirit means the complete and humble surrender of one’s self to God, as the hymn we often sing suggests, “Have Thine own way, Lord…Thou are the Potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me after Thy will…” Such poverty of spirit is an essential characteristic of God’s covenant people.
“Happy are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”