Bible Study

Upside Down Blessings

“We think being blessed means being happy, fortunate, honorable, someone others might be enviable of.” by Captain Catherine Fitzgerald

Jesus had a way of turning the world upside down. During one of His long sermons, He describes those whom He called “blessed.” We think being blessed means being happy, fortunate, honorable, someone others might be enviable of. But the blessings He listed aren’t the sort of things we normally celebrate around the Thanksgiving table. Perhaps they are the sort of things that God uses to get our attention and bring us closer to Him. Maybe they turn out to be upside-down blessings after all.

The first blessing Jesus mentions is in Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (NIV).

“Poor in spirit” isn’t a reference to lack of wealth. Though there are many examples in scripture of God’s special closeness and provision for the poor, this isn’t one of them. Nor does it refer to a lack of spark or character in one’s life. Rather, it refers to a person’s dependence on God. A poor spirit does not rely on their own strength to get through the day but depends on God instead. The poor in spirit know their limits from past mistakes and difficult circumstances. The poor in spirit have come to a place of gladly accepting God’s authority over their life and therefore get to experience the benefits of the kingdom of heaven here on earth. The poor in spirit know and accept their need of God.

There are many examples of people who are poor in spirit in scripture. Zacchaeus comes to mind. He was a very wealthy man as a tax collector. He probably didn’t have many friends who were Jewish, but he would have easily surrounded himself with other tax collectors and influential Romans. From the outside looking in, he probably looked like he had everything he could want. But when he heard Jesus was coming to town, he knew he wanted to see Him. Abandoning all prestige and position, Zacchaeus climbed up a tree in order to see Jesus. It would have been humbling for Zacchaeus to even admit that he was desperate to see this prophet preacher who was rumored to be able to do miracles. But Zacchaeus didn’t let shame, humility, crowds or anything stop him from seeing Jesus. Perhaps he didn’t even know why he wanted to see Jesus. He might not have been able to articulate the deep spiritual need he felt which led him to go see Jesus at all costs, but we know it paid off for him. Upon seeing him in the tree, Jesus invited Himself over to Zacchaeus’ house. Spending a few moments with Jesus changed Zacchaeus’ outlook on life. He declared he would give half his possessions to the poor and pay back anyone he had cheated four-fold. Jesus affirms what we can all see in his transformation: “‘Today salvation has come to this house’” (Luke 19:9 NIV). Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Another person who exemplifies being poor in spirit is Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. The first time we meet in her in scripture, she is sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to His teaching instead of helping serve with Martha. Martha is upset by this. Mary knew her place as a woman in this culture would have been to help serve, but her desire to hear Jesus teach pulled her away and she choose instead to sit and listen to Jesus, whose words were words of life. She knew her need for Jesus.

Later, after Jesus raised her brother Lazarus back to life after four days in the tomb, Mary interrupted a dinner meal to pour a pint of expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet. Mary could have been celebrating Lazarus on this day. She could have poured perfume on his feet. As an unmarried sister, Lazarus would have been the most important person to Mary, her protector and provider. But Mary knew who deserved all the honor. She poured out what would have been very expensive and costly, perhaps even the whole of her dowry which would have helped attract a good and suitable husband, and she poured it on Jesus’ feet. She knew she was lost without Him. She realized her need of Him was far and above any material provisions or even earthly relationships. Jesus saw her gift as beautiful and honored her for it. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

My friend Donald exemplifies being “poor in spirit” today. Donald grew up believing in God and going to church, but as a young adult he was overprescribed pain pills and became addicted. They freed him from the guilt and self-hatred he had known in his life. He went on to spend 10 years using heroin and meth. He assumed that drugs would eventually kill him, like they had many of his friends. He would steal in order to support his drug habit and was arrested 20 times in 10 years. During his final incarceration, he got ahold of some drugs and he felt his life slipping away. He could feel his heart going and the jail guards offered no medical help. He experienced a sense of evil coming to get him and he knew he was going to hell if he died right then and there. But just then Donald cried out to Jesus for help and he sensed God come running to him and he did not die. This experience profoundly changed Donald and it began his road to recovery. Once finally released from jail he entered a six-month rehabilitation program with The Salvation Army. Today, Donald has achieved three years clean and sober and is serving the Lord with his life. He knows he should have died many times during his years of addiction. He lives each day knowing he is fully dependent on Jesus. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

My friend Krissy was checked into a mental health hospital as a young adult. She was so full of anxiety and depression that she was put on significant medications which kept her in a nearly comatose state. Wanting to find a church home but feeling overwhelmed in a church crowd, she would sit in the car while her family attended church. She had no source of hope. Around this time, her husband came to believe that Jesus was the Way, the Truth and the Life and they began attending The Salvation Army. She finally gave her life to Jesus after seeing the power of prayer through the ministry of her grandmother. It took her years of working with her doctor to wean off the medications that had helped her through the anxiety and depression, but she felt God leading her at every step. She knows that her life changed completely because of God’s love transforming her from the inside out. She gives Him glory every day. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

It’s hard to be thankful for times of trouble, problems or pain. God can turn these difficult times into moments of blessing as we seek Him and experience His love, comfort and direction. What may appear as tragic from a worldly perspective may turn out to be some of our greatest blessings, because we recognize our poverty and seek Him with all our heart.

What circumstances have shown you your need of God? Are you thankful for them today? Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

Captain Catherine Fitzgerald serves as the Corps Officer in New Albany, IN.