Upon first glance these two Beatitudes seem to be asking us to be poor and sad. As a kid I thought that this was the case. I thought that God was saying that the best way that you could be a Christian was to be really poor and really sad all the time. As an adult I see the errors in that understanding. I see now that God wants us to experience joy and that he has blessed many people with material resources.
As we look deeper into what these verses mean when they call us to be poor in spirit and to mourn, we discover that it has much more to do with our attitudes than our present circumstances. It’s not that God does not care for the poor. In fact, God frequently speaks about caring for those who are marginalized economically and politically. It’s not that God does not comfort those in mourning. A quick glimpse through the Psalms would help us discover that God is in fact a great source of hope and joy even in times of great sadness.
In these passages, being poor in spirit means having an attitude of dependence upon God. It is the act of acknowledging that we ourselves are spiritually inadequate and have no ability to rescue ourselves. We become poor in spirit when we consider the greatness of our God and how we measure up to that greatness. Our spirit cannot help but be minimized when we recognize where we stand in relation to our Creator and Savior. When we stop trying to be gods, we move to an understanding that we stand in submission to a king and, in effect, become a part of a kingdom that is much more desirable than our own little principalities we create here on this earth.
In the instance of Matthew 5:4, mourning has less to do with feeling sad about an event but more about feeling sorrow over our sin and our failure to seek after God. This mourning manifests itself as a longing for forgiveness and for reconciliation with God. This is not shame where we engage in self-hatred, but rather it is a brokenness that we experience as a result of our sins against God. As we experience brokenness, Jesus tells us that there is a promise of comfort that comes in the form of forgiveness and restoration.
If we are honest, we don’t tend to desire a life of dependence. We are a people who celebrate accomplishment and self-reliance. If we are honest, we don’t tend to desire a feeling of brokenness. Instead, we push against guilt and try to justify our behavior in all sorts of self-serving ways.
The challenge for today is to actually experience brokenness. Ask God to show you your sin and then break through all of your excuses and confess that sin to God. Confess that you fail to live the life God wants for you. Confess that you struggle with sin. Ask God to change your heart. Ask God to become clearer. Ask God to make you feel more dependent upon Him. Thank God for his forgiveness and for his comforting. As you do these things, may God become more real and may you move from knowing about God to experiencing God.