“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3, NIV).
When I was a kid reading the Beatitudes, they weren’t something that seemed all that desirable. Why would I want to be poor in spirit? It sounded like someone who was bummed out or depressed, and Jesus was calling this person blessed. What in the world? Of course, that was a total misunderstanding of the verse. The following versions put it this way:
“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,” (NLT, italics mine).
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule” (The Message, italics mine).
“humble, who rate themselves insignificant” (Amplified, italics mine).
“those people who depend only on him” (CEV, italics mine).
“those who know they are spiritually in need” (ERV, italics mine).
“those who recognize they are spiritually helpless” (GW, italics mine).
“the humble-minded” (Phillips, italics mine).
The descriptions above are of someone whose total dependence is on God. A person who realizes they are nothing and have nothing without Him is a person set on a course to change the world. It’s basically the gospel, and it’s no accident that Jesus put it first in a list of eight attitudes that we should be fostering in ourselves and in our kids. It lays the groundwork for all other work that God desires to do in us, making no space for arrogance or allowance for self-sufficiency. Without this basic acknowledgment of our need for Him, we’re just like everyone else in the world wandering around trying to do life on our own.
The most amazing thing about Jesus is that despite His divine nature, He was still fully human giving us the perfect examples throughout Scripture on how to do humanity well. His most significant example of His own dependence on God while on earth is that moment in the Garden of Gethsemane when the anguish is palpable. Though fully God with the power to back out of the sacrifice He was about to make, His full humanity kicked in and with it an awareness that His dependence to do what He’d been born to do was completely on God.
Three times He prayed the same thing. “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39, NIV).
If Jesus, who is God, still needed God and was dependent on God, why do we so often think we can do life without Him? At the core of this term “poor in spirit” is an understanding first and foremost that we need God for salvation. Just as we have come to that point in our lives of recognizing our need for a Savior, our kids need to come to this basic understanding of their need. It’s in that moment of realization where we simply can do nothing without Him that everything changes. We are suddenly at a point where God can do His most amazing work, first in saving us and secondly in dealing with life and its circumstances.Though the ultimate decision belongs to our kids, it’s our job to provide the training, teaching and atmosphere that will foster such a decision. Having accepted that they are in need of Jesus for their salvation, and having accepted it, the rest of the verse is the promise that the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
So what does this look like in the everyday? The sooner our kids learn that God has a plan for each of their lives and that to experience it to the fullest and with the most joy despite whatever their situation they need to be fully dependent on Him, the better off they will be. So I have asked a friend to guest blog today and to share with us how she is teaching these principles to her kids in the everyday. Some of you know her as Elizabeth Grant, some of you know her as the author of the blog deadmanskipping, and some of you don’t know her at all. But I could think of no better person to speak to this subject of teaching our kids total dependence on God, than her.Thank you, Elizabeth, for sharing with us.
Let me say, first and foremost: I am a complete parental failure! I am absolutely in no position to give parental advice. When Kathryn asked me to guest write for her blog, I was honored, indeed, yet when my head returned to its normal size, I realized just how inadequate I am to contribute to a piece about teaching our children to live in total dependence on God. Even as I type, I have one child screaming his head off in his bedroom because “life is so unfair” and another child bored to tears. I lose my patience more often than I care to admit, and I secretly count down the years and days until my children will be out of the house and I can once again hear myself think. But rather than beat myself up about all of my failures, I recognize that it is good….so very good, to be weak and helpless. It’s in those frustrating and helpless states that I have no other choice but to rely upon my God to fill me and use me.
One of my favorite scripture verses is found in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. The Lord says,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul replies, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecution, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Seems like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? But I love this! I find myself almost being glad that I’m so incapable. I’m happy that I feel helpless. I rejoice in my weaknesses. I’m tickled when I can’t go on and don’t have the answers. Why? Because then I can lose myself in the power of Jesus Christ. He wants to completely fill every ounce of my being. And boy do I need Him. I can try and try and try, but I’ll never be good enough. Isn’t it freeing to know that we’re not supposed to be good enough? Whew! Talk about taking the pressure off of us moms! When I’m too capable, I get too prideful. Oh, believe me….I love the attention. I love being right and getting the recognition. But then something happens within my spirit. I feel dirty. I feel overwhelmed. But most of all, I feel further away from my Father. And that, my friends is all the more reason to “delight in my weaknesses.” My deepest desire is for more of Christ and less of me.
To me, this is what it means to be “poor in spirit:” It’s realizing I have a spiritual need. It’s a knowing that nothing good resides in me, apart from Jesus. I am desperate for Him….His breath, His life, His light, His power, His everything.
Now I haven’t always felt this way. This scripture came alive to me when I was 28 years old. I had a 2-year old girl and a 4-month old boy and had just been diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. Suddenly all the “plans” I had made for the year (you know, like potty-training and having a garage sale) didn’t mean anything. Instantly my focus changed. I realized that I had nothing. Nothing. Do you know what that feels like? When nothing is certain anymore. Not my health. Not my future. What else matters? All else is trivial. I realized an important truth: You never really know that God is all you need, until He’s all you have. God is the only certainty in life. Count on it.
My children are now 11 and 9, but something happened all those years ago that will forever shape how I parent: The news was fresh. I sat in the middle of the night, rocking my 4-month old son back to sleep. Tears were quietly streaming down my face as I looked into his perfect face. I squeezed him tighter and never wanted to let him go. Never wanted to leave that moment. I wondered if I would ever see my precious baby grow up. Should I start making videos and writing letters to my children for them to view in future years? What milestones would I miss? How do I prepare for something like this? I was a mess. Suddenly, in that quiet, dark room, I distinctly heard the still small voice of my Father speak to my heart: Let me wipe away those tears, my child. Let me carry this burden for you. Remember? You gave your children to me when they were born. I’m their Father. I love them more than you. My perspective shifted. Of course! There is truly no better parent than God the Father, my King, my Creator. My children are in good hands. They are safe. I trust, You Lord. You will watch over them and guide them and teach them. For however long they have me here on earth, please work through me. Use me. I don’t want to parent them….I want YOU to parent them. I can’t tell you the instant relief and peace that filled me from then on. Even now, I sort of find myself pushing my kids away from me and on to Christ. I remind them that I fail and I make mistakes and I may not always be there to listen to them. Even while I’m alive, I get too busy and too cranky sometimes. I want them to find all of their answers in the One who holds all the answers. I want them to know the certainty of Jesus Christ — beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Fast forward 6 years. The cancer came back. My children were 8 and 6 at the time. Now, almost 3 years after that, I have widespread cancer all throughout my skeletal system, multiple lesions in my liver and at least two tumors on my brain. It’s been a long journey. But I am praising God and delighting in my weakness, because I have seen firsthand just how true Christ’s strength is being made perfect in my weakness.
Want to raise children to be fully dependent on Jesus? Want to raise them to be “poor in spirit?” — totally and desperately in need of Him? Let me just say, “It starts with you.” When you realize that Jesus is your all and there is no way that you want any part of yourself sitting on the throne of your life, then something magical happens. By default, the Holy Spirit gives you fresh eyes. Eyes to see the world and others and relationships and life and hardships and circumstances as opportunities to die to your flesh and glorify His Name. No longer is anything about you….it’s all about Jesus.
When I’m forced to deal with many parenting issues, I wish I could say that I always turn to God. Hey, I’m human and I fail. But it’s getting easier and easier to quickly pray for wisdom in the moment, for patience and for understanding. And God never fails. He will just as quickly fill me with some supernaturally wise way of handling my children. He’ll give me words or a story or an image and a way that is just perfect to relate to my kids in that particular moment. My heart swells when I see the light bulb go on behind my childrens’ eyes. They get it! It’s amazing. To be a bragging mom here, I think my children have a spiritual maturity well beyond their years. Oh my goodness, do they still bicker and disobey and even disrespect (can you say “6th grade girl?”), but they are learning and growing and asking questions just as we all are.
So yes. Being “poor in spirit” is perhaps one of the biggest blessings we can have here on earth. The poor in spirit get to know Christ in such an intimate way. “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And I’ll even go so far as to say, “Theirs is the ultimate freedom and peace here on earth.”
You can read more here about how I envision this looking like in our daily lives and here about how I tackle some of these issues with my children.
If you want to read more of Elizabeth’s testimony, you can catch her at deadmanskipping.com. Definitely worth your time.