The Transformational Gospel of Jesus #11: Coming to the End of Yourself
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. -Matthew 5:3
Poverty is not what first strikes us about living out the gospel. We expected this good news to be comfortable, fulfilling. But the longer we live within the good news, the more readily we acknowledge that what we might in the past have thought was going to be a Sunday stroll in the park has turned out to be hazardous and we lack the goods to ‘pull it off.’
Jesus starts here because living within the gospel requires a ‘reset button.’ Many, if not most, of his followers are impoverished and his special twelve crowding in to hear him that day have abandoned their means of income at his invitation. Certainly, they welcome the idea that being poor gives them special standing.
But Jesus is not suggesting that those who do not have two nickels to rub together are better connected with God than anyone else—or that days of plenty are ahead. He is inviting these already poor people to consider what kind of poverty they need in order to move into deep relationship with this reigning God.
The poor in spirit of Jesus’ transformational gospel is what I translate as ‘coming to the end of yourself’—the moment when you recognize that what you think are your resources and strength for spiritual health are totally inadequate. This Beatitude marks the death of pride in your personal resources for reforming yourself. You cannot even start your journey towards becoming whole until you surrender. Up till that instant you still vainly believe you can find some power, however slight, in you to reform yourself into the image of Jesus. His kind of poor is about surrendering in naked humility that you have nothing.
But to come to the end of yourself is to belong. It is to receive the kingdom life for your own, to be granted access to the transformational power you personally lack. As Jesus will teach his disciples later, this is the work of the Spirit in us. Every time you come to this point of surrender, your grasp of God’s reign over you is renewed.
Do not be confused by the words “every time.” This is not about needing to be saved from the penalty of sin over and over again. God reveals that being justified is a onetime deal. I refer here to being freed from the power of sin. This is the ongoing pursuit. The gospel reminds us that we will need to come to the end of ourselves every time we become aware of sin’s control over our lives. In other words, poor in spirit is continually confessing that you have no personal power to stop sinning—not once.
To come to the end of yourself you consciously confess your dependency on the Spirit. You have no power to rid yourself of the pride that clutches at your soul, feeding the lie that you will find a way to be good, to overcome—the illusion of control. If you humble yourself and ask, the Spirit will guide you on. If you resist, don’t worry. God will allow you to crash and burn so you can see how weak you really are! So it is better to surrender willingly than to go kicking and screaming. I know this to be true because several times on my journey, I went the hard way.
For you who have grasped the need for humility, you know there is nothing to fear in placing yourself into God’s hands. You may have suffered the loss of things that really offer no help. You may have lost face with people whose opinions you formerly valued. But what God has done in exchange is to bring you wholeness. You are beginning to live free as a child of God. This is the blessing of this first Beatitude.
The Fall has conditioned us to fight or flight in response to sin’s power; the first Beatitude shows us that the more quickly we give up to God, the sooner we will be on the way to becoming whole. Stop and ask yourself, “How long does it take me to give in to God?” As you continue in the process of transformation by the power of the Spirit, the speed of your surrender should increase as you learn to trust Him better. This is how you know that you are making progress on your journey.