On Being Poor in Spirit

By Deane Proctor
Lead Pastor
Queensway Baptist Church, Brantford

Although differing somewhat from person to person, the “poor in spirit” mentioned in the first Beatitude of Matthew 5 might be an apt metaphor for those of us who live with a diagnosis of mental illness. Going beyond simply addressing financial or material poverty, Jesus specifically identifies those who are poor in spirit. In fact, the deepest meaning of the word “poor” in this context actually speaks to a poverty of faith. This is not addressed merely toward people without any faith to begin with, but rather to those with a firm Godly conviction but an inability for some reason to fully express themselves through such disciplines as prayer and worship.

Many of us who live with the challenges of mental illness are familiar with this way of being poor in spirit. The poverty of spirit that accompanies mental illness can tear at—and even tear down—our faith lives and prevent us from fully exercising our faith in either word or deed. When in the throws of a depressive episode or when anxieties are heightened beyond what is manageable, the thought of attending worship or small group can be anguishing. When you struggle to pray at all because of your mental health challenges and a well-intentioned believer asks if you “have ever prayed for healing from it” or asks what “unconfessed sin has caused it,” the poverty of spirit only grows.

Thankfully this Beatitude, as with the ones that immediately follow, holds promise for all people. That includes we who recurrently find our spirits weighed down by a dark mental cloud that we have not chosen. Jesus completes this blessing with the promise: “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Praise God! Those in spiritual poverty are not forsaken or forgotten! Instead, it is into the dark cloud of mental illness that surrounds entire lives where the Messiah himself enters, searching for that member of his flock who is too poor in spirit inwardly to seek him outwardly. The Shepherd understands our weaknesses and fills our spiritual poverty with his abundance of spiritual riches. To all who recognize their own spiritual poverty (whatever the cause), Jesus knows what we need most, and blesses us as even as he keeps his promise to us that ours “is the kingdom of God.”

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