Since I was young, I’ve always wanted to do things on my own. I’ve treasured my independence, always looking to prove that I was capable of taking care of myself. When I first heard the term “poverty of spirit,” I had only a vague idea of what it meant, and I didn’t understand exactly why Jesus recommended that my spirit be poor—didn’t I want a spirit that was strong and rich with life? To me, a poor spirit sounded weak and lacking in energy and passion. It wasn’t until recently that I began to understand what spiritual poverty really meant, and recognized its power.
I realized that poverty of spirit means to believe that I am totally dependent on God. Every gift that I have comes from God, and without Him, I would be empty, and my spirit would be poor because it would lack nourishment. My initial reaction to this explanation was to think, “Of course I knew that!” The idea that I depended on God had been drilled into me over and over again. Then, I began to seriously reflect on whether truly, in the depths of my heart, I was poor in spirit. If I’m being honest with myself, I think that I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking, “I can do this all on my own.” I am tempted into believing that I have within me the power to be happy, successful, and satisfied all on my own. I desire to show everyone that I am strong. When I find myself thinking this way, my faith becomes like a “bonus.” It serves as an enriching supplement to my life, but not a necessary component. My understanding of poverty of spirit challenges this thinking, and invites me to humility by making me realize that without God, I am weak and powerless; my spirit is poor.
Reflecting on poverty of spirit brings me back to the story of Peter walking on water. As Peter steps out of the boat, he takes a few steps, and finds that he can walk on top of the water. I’d imagine that he was pretty pleased with himself in that moment. But then, his faith falters, and as soon as he thinks that he’s gotten the hang of walking on water, he begins to sink and finds himself struggling to keep from drowning. Immediately, Jesus is by Peter’s side, reaching out His hand and urging him not to be afraid. I’d like to think that in that moment, Peter realizes how completely his life depends on Jesus.
I think we’ve all related to Peter at one point or another. We’ve all thought that we could walk on water—we find ourselves on top of the world at one moment, only to find everything collapsing around us in the next. We all try to do things on our own, only to fall down. I am often foolish enough to think that my spirit can merely benefit from God, and fail to realize that it needs God to live. God’s love is what feeds my spirit; when I allow myself to be dependent on God, I will finally be free to walk on top of the water without the fear of drowning. Sometimes we learn poverty of spirit gradually, but often we learn it the hard way, when we go abruptly from walking on water to drowning. The beautiful thing is, when we find ourselves drowning, God isn’t standing back saying, “I told you so!” He’s right by our side, reaching out his hand, and telling us not to fear. He turns our rejection, our failure, and our misguidedness into an opportunity to take our hands and draw us back to Him. When we embrace poverty of spirit and admit to ourselves that we are weak without God, we will discover that we are finally strong enough to walk on water.