An entire shelf of books in my office is dedicated to the beatitudes. (I may have obsessed a bit.) Almost all of them quote Augustus Toplady in the first chapter – what it means to be “poor in spirit.” The words he penned in the old hymn Rock Of Ages may define soul poverty best.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to your Cross I cling;
Naked, come to you for dress;
Helpless, look to you for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior or I die.
To be poor in spirit is to reach the end of our rope, as Eugene Peterson paraphrases it. To become so convinced of our internal lack, of our need for God, of our hopelessness without him that we are beggars, certain we’ll die if He doesn’t pass by and have mercy on us. In fact, the word translated “poor” in the beatitudes means to cower or beg.
Hand outstretched. Receiving mercy like the destitute receive coin.
Which begs a question: How can penniless powerless beggars make requests, even demands, of a God who is not?
Forgive me. Employ me. Feed me. Change me. Heal me. Speak to me. Please. I beg you.
The history of God’s people is full of vagabonds who boldly go before God to negotiate, plead, complain, and even order. One of the most daring among them was a man named Honi. Honi the Circle Drawer, the Jews called him. They recorded his story in their Mishnah.
They said to Honi the Circle-drawer, “Pray that it may rain.” He said to them, “Go out and bring in the Passover ovens so that they might not get soggy.” He prayed and it did not rain. What did he do? He drew a circle and stood in it and said, “Lord of the world, your children have turned to me, since I am like a child of your household. I swear by your great name that I will not budge from here until you have shown mercy on your children!” It began to rain by drips. He said, “This isn’t what I asked for, but for rains filling wells, pits, and caves!”
Empty handed circle drawing. Weaklings in a wrestling match with Almighty. And winning?
Unless God wants to meet the needs of His beggar children.
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! -Matthew 7:9-11
Does it rain because I exercise my power over God? Because I draw my circle in the sand, hold my breath, and refuse to get on with life until I get my way?
Or because rain for the thirsty is God’s way?
Grace is God’s way.
Not stones for those who need bread. Or snakes for those who need fish. But what the beggar needs.
Naked, come to You for dress. Helpless, look to You for grace. And You, all I really want deep down, come by here, hear my needs through my childish demands, step inside my circle, open my empty hands and fill them with daily bread. And the sky with clouds. And cover my back with clothes. And my sin with blood. Yours.
Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven: When they mourn they will be comforted. When their wildness is tamed by God, meek, they will inherit a place of their own. When their souls growl for righteousness they will be filled. They will be merciful and will be shown mercy. They will want one thing, God’s will everywhere always, and they will see it done. They will make peace, make whole what is broken, and for that they will be called sons of God. And they will be hated and hurt for all this now, but only for a little while – then they will go home. Blessed. (Matthew 5:3-12)
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