Poverty of Spirit – The Doorway into the Kingdom of God
Blessed are the Poor in Spirit for Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven – Matt 5:3
Jesus Christ begins His discipleship training of His followers with this single overarching principle. The blessed person is the person who is spiritually poor. The experience of the kingdom begins and is maintained through the experience of our spiritual poverty.
Describing the Experience
Just this morning, I by God’s grace had an experience of my poverty of spirit. As I had this experience, I knew that if I could bottle this experience, if I could learn to enter this place regularly, I would find a more consistent love of God and neighbor.
It started this morning as I reflected on my last few months of prayerlessness. A few months back, I had begun a quest to learn how to exercise moment by moment self regulation. Needless to say, I failed in this quest and have discovered that my habits of mind and speech are less regulated and restrained than a few months back. This morning I realized that I was again approaching the problem of self-control and self-restraint directly. I attempted to oppose my bad habits of mind and tongue directly. This approach is decidedly unspiritual. Of course, over the past few months, I have not been aware that I have been taking this misguided approach. As I arose and prepared for work, I realized the answer to this problem is the indirect approach of worship.
So, as I drove to work, I considered this different strategy to solve my problem of character.
As I was driving to work, I found myself accepting just how dreadful my thoughts have been of late. I was reviewing my past few months and accepting that my thought life and my contemplations have been even more crude and worldly than normal and that though I have been striving to behave better, I was actually behaving worse. These habitual ego-laden, worldly contemplations are an immutable part of my emotional makeup. It is not my nature to despair but to simply admit reality as it is. I am fortunate in this regard. But as I thought really how broken my thoughts are a thought entered my mind. Even this unhealthy condition is forgiven. This blessed realization came upon me rather unaware. I am entirely powerless but also entirely accepted. At this instant, I began to feel a joy I had lacked of late. I was experiencing what Luther calls being ‘simultaneously saint and sinner’. The fact is that only in this acceptance of my utter moral failure can I find the presence of Christ from which comes any joy filed power for moral strength. Here is the doorway into an actual righteousness. Here in lies the paradox of our faith.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
The Anatomy of the Experience
As I attempt to define the recipe of this experience, I find two practices that I would consider keys to attacking our sinful habits of heart and mind indirectly. First, if the means that we are exercising do not in and of themselves produce joy in the presence of Jesus then these methods are not likely to work. Therefore, the key is to produce peace and joy in the presence of God. This practice is indirect in that it is not intuitively obvious that the answer to worldly desire is to practice a secret life of worship. This prescription seems rather unrelated and in fact it is. The key though is that the joy of the Lord is our moral strength. Enjoying God is what transforms our affections and it is a deep resolved joy in our relationship with God that produces holy moral action.
Secondly, the path to joy is to enjoy the admission before God of the details of our sinfulness. The fact is that the embrace of grace is deeper realization of our spiritual bankrupt state. Any acts to deny our weakness is a step away from grace. Confession is then an activity through which we are pursuing joy. The conclusion is that we are to pursue joy through savoring the forgiveness of Jesus while sitting in our own moral feces.
Simultaneously saint and sinner,
technorait tags: discipleship; christianity; practical theology