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Poverty of Spirit as Psychic Pain

This is a reprint of an article I wrote on a different page on March 11, 2015.

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Quickie Peek: Poverty of spirit is not something a person can either fake or force, yet someone who has it knows they have it. How? By what I call their psychic pain. We live in an era of “me-ism.” The world sells us the concept that we must build ourselves up in our own eyes. But when our world is not right, either within or without, we suffer, because we hurt. Yet our internal world can never be right, because the world itself is not right. That’s when Jesus comes along and says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

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

The Meat: So is Jesus saying that pain is good? Or that we should cultivate pain, as certain medieval monks used to do? Not at all. Pain hurts, and the hurt tells us that it is not good. But the poverty of spirit which results from a pain-filled life is good, not good in and of itself, but good because it is a door, a gateway to what Christ offers–the kingdom of heaven. Let’s look at how this works.

First, the setting. We are created; God is not. God is the life-giver; we are the life-receivers. But Jesus as man is also God, and God the Father ordained that Jesus, who is God-in-flesh, or God incarnate, should have life in himself to give to others. He alone of all humanity has life independently in himself, and this life is his to give to whomever he chooses to give it. (1) He chooses to give eternal life to those who are poor in spirit. That is God’s choice, not ours.

But poverty of spirit can be a difficult concept to grasp. It is the opposite of spiritual pride. Spiritual pride manifests itself as independence: I don’t need anyone’s help, because I can do this myself. Or, worse yet, I don’t need God’s help, because I am god, or, I am as good as God, or as some might even say, I am better than God. Spiritual pride is Satan’s manifesto, but Satan is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)

Poverty of spirit comes through failure: failure in life, failure to overcome pain, failure in relationships, failure to achieve happiness, just plain failure. People who persistently fail tend not to have high ideas of themselves, but to think of themselves in lowly words. Luke 18:9-14 provides a good example of the difference between spiritual poverty and spiritual pride. The spiritually poor man, “…would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner,’” while the spiritually rich man congratulated himself on being better than others.

Once again, pain of any kind is not good, and it signals that something is wrong. The psychic pain that results from a sense of spiritual poverty also is not good in and of itself, and it, too, signals that something is wrong. But a spiritually poor person is one who realizes, “I am what is wrong!” Jesus calls this spiritually poor person “blessed.” How so? Because those who are spiritually poor shall receive the kingdom of heaven.

That is because a spiritually poor person is in perfect position to cry out to Jesus, or to God the Father, for help. If he cries to the Father, the Father will point him to the Son. The Son, Jesus, has life in himself, abundant life, to give to everyone and anyone who cries to him for help: “Lord, help me! I need your help!” And the good news is that God always hears and responds to such a cry for help. (Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13)

Inexpressible blessings of peace and joy await the one who lays down her arms, her weapons of life, and submits to God the Father and God the Son. These blessings completely overwhelm the pain and sadness of life itself. Although actual conditions and circumstances may or may not change, a new Person has come upon the scene in the unfathomably deep  intimacy, support, love, and blessing of Relationship. This is the “kingdom of heaven” Jesus grants to the blessedly poor in spirit. And the kingdom is so wonderful that those who pass through its gates willingly offer, as a sacrifice of praise and love, allegiance to their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, eternally.

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1 RSV  John 10:10b I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

NIV  John 17:2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.

John 6:37, 51; 10:28; 17:2.

See also Derek Prince, Bought with Blood: The Divine Exchange at the Cross, (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 2000), 75. He mentions 1 Corinthians 15:45.

Psalm 142: You Are Not Alone–Help Is on Its Way

 

Have you ever or are you now being pursued by an enemy who is too strong for you? Perhaps an employer who has it out for you, maybe a violently irrational spouse who blames you for everything, could it be a sibling who wants your share, or even, God forbid, a pastor who views you as a personal threat and is bent upon shaming and eradicating you? These people hotly track you down like a predator its prey. They lay traps before you, that you will fall into them, become ensnared, and succumb to their violence. Hyperbole? Not really. This and so much more happens countless times every day to people all over the world. And it happened to Jesus. Crafty lawyers and religious politicians monitored his every step, lurking nearby whenever he publicly spoke, secretly meeting and plotting in advance, asking difficult questions calculated only to trap in order to later destroy.

The most amazing thing about Psalm 142 is that the Bible contains it. Imagine yourself overpowered  by your enemies, at your wits’ end, looking to your right and finding no one to help you–no colleagues, no friends, no family, no neighbors, no one in your congregation of fellow believers. Where are they? Vanished like a mist on a scorching, dry day. You are alone, vulnerable, like a mouse already in the cat’s claw. So you turn to the only friend you have–he is someone you have just met, are about to meet, or whom you have known for a long time. You turn to God.

Who else can hear you? Who else can you trust? To whom else can you bare the secret insides of every crevice of fear and anguish in your heart? You open your Bible and you read the words of this psalm.

Psalm 142:1 A Maskil of David, when he was in the cave. A Prayer. With my voice I cry out to the LORD; with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD.
2 I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him.
3 When my spirit faints within me, you know my way! In the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me.
4 Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul.
5 I cry to you, O LORD; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”
6 Attend to my cry, for I am brought very low! Deliver me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me!
7 Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your name! The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me. (ESV)

The Holy Spirit reaches into your conscious awareness as you say these words, perhaps even out loud because no one else is with you, “I cry to you, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.’ Attend to my cry, for I am brought very low! Deliver me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me!'” (verses 5-6 ESV)

As you gradually recognize your very own personal heart staring at you from the page in front of you, it dawns on you that God is the one who oversaw the printing and publishing of this book you are holding in your hands. And he is the one who caused you to read these exact words at this exact moment of your despair. And if you are very blessed, the Holy Spirit will show you Jesus, God the Father’s own Son, crying out to his Father in the days of his ministry and passion on earth. As the physical presence of Psalm 142 sinks into you, You sense God speaking inside you, “I have been there and done this. I am with you now.” And you are no longer alone. God the Word, the great communicator, speaks loudly and clearly to your heart, “Peace, my child. I see you; I hear you; I know exactly where you are. I love you so much, and I will help you. See! I seal my love with the cross of my Son.”

When the story ends and the crisis has passed, you will share your testimony in the great congregation and the righteous will cheer their God on your behalf, just as verse 7 predicts, “The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me.” You might even add to your story the words of Psalm 119:71, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” “Statutes” is a tough word. Which statute is it that God wants me to learn? In his Son’s own words, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34 ESV) Our troubles teach us love–first, that God loves us, second, that he loves others and wants us to love them too. As we see God helping us through all our difficulties, we come to realize that God loves us, and he wants us to love others the same way he loved us. And this is why I am writing about Psalm 142. I want to share God’s love.

 

 

 

Psalm 82: God Favors the Poor and Needy

 

Psalm 82 raises puzzling questions: 1) Who are the “gods” of verses 1 and 6, the mighty ones among whom God stands? 2) Who is the first person speaker in verse 6? 3) What is the meaning of the final verse, “Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!”

1) In view of John 10:31-39, a passage in which Jesus quotes verse 1 of this psalm, the “gods” are the judges and rulers who stand in the place of God as arbiters over the affairs of people. Because of their power and their need to represent justice fairly, it is as though they are “gods” in relation to other people. But they are botching the job. They are judging unfairly and favoring the “wicked.” We can read into the psalm that the judges are favoring the rich, the powerful, those with influence, those who offer favors in return, and so on.

God favors the poor and needy. This psalm is very clear. God’s indictment is against the rulers who are so unlike himself. God says, “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” God continues, They [the gods/judges] have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.” (Psalm 82:3-5 ESV) When human rulers go against God’s goodness and his kindness toward the poor, the very “foundations of the earth are shaken.”

2) Is the “I” who speaks in verse 6 the same as God who speaks in verses 2-5? Patrick Reardon (Christ in the Psalms, 161-162) points out that the Orthodox Church recites Psalm 82 in their Easter liturgy just before the announcement of the Resurrection of Christ in Matthew. He relates that the Orthodox Church applies verse 8, “Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations! (ESV),” as a cry by God’s people for the resurrection of Christ. If Christ is addressed as “O God” in verse 8, perhaps then he is also the speaker of verses 6-7?

3) The New Testament supports a reading that Christ is referenced as the one who shall inherit all the nations in verse 8. (Matthew 28:18; Romans 8:17; Ephesians 5:5; Philippians 2:9-11) If Christ is indeed referenced in verses 6-8, then this psalm supports the presence of two persons of the Trinity within the Old Testament.

The Point: However we may choose to answer the questions Psalm 82 raises, the psalm leaves no question about God’s view of the poor and needy. Neglect and mistreatment of the poor and needy by those with power to help provokes the judgment of God against those who hold the power. God does not view the poor and needy as a threat, a danger, as scum, as those to be locked out and avoided. His instructions are clear,  “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 82 promises a day of judgment in which God will judge the judges. This psalm warns them that he is not pleased with their judgments. O that we would be a godly nation who obeyed his Word.

 

 

 

 

 

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