“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God. ” (Mt 5:3)
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Mt 5:5)
“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Mt 6:10)
Recently, I discovered The Healing Light by Agnes Sanford (1897-1982). Born in China, Agnes was the daughter of a Presbyterian missionary. Her book challenges Christians to re-think effective prayer. Unlike popular writings on “prayer”, which are mystical and lite, Agnes presses readers to pray boldly and evaluate the effectiveness of their prayers by God answers. Jesus’ Kingdom character, described in the beatitudes, is key to God’s power and presence. Prayer becomes more effective as we harmonize our prayers to match God’s will and answered prayers.
Let’s start by thinking about Agnes’ four steps to effective praying.
- I am “poor in spirit” (Mt 5:3). My effectiveness depends on God’s sufficiency. “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10) God’s Spirit fills me with perspective and power. Empowered by His Spirit, I pray that His will is done.
- I am “gentle” (Mt 5:5). I yoke myself to God’s plan and power as I pray. “…but His Spirit within us is actually praying for us in those agonizing longings which never find words.” (Rom 8:26). Father, increase in me this life-giving power!
- I boldly pray trusting that my requests are “His will”. Via Mustard Seed faith (Mt 13:31-32). I trust that God’s character and power is engaged through my request. I do not fear big or small prayers. As His disciple, I lean into His will faithfully trusting that my prayer is molded to His plan. Being a disciple is about learning to get it right.
- I learn God’s Will from His answered prayer. I ask, seek, knock (Mt 7:7-11). Then, I observe God’s answers. I modify my prayer requests so that my prayers match His answers.
Poor in the Spirit: Jesus first Kingdom quality is NOT about fading courage, feelings of inadequacy or damaged self-esteem. This beatitude talks about the Kingdom character of spiritual and physical dependence. Matthew’s word choice (i.e., ptochos) shows someone who understands the depth of their need. He intentionally avoids a similar word (i.e., penes) which suggested someone capable of helping themselves. Divine sufficiency, not self-sufficiency, is a disciple’s fuel.
“Not what I have, but what I have not, is the first point of contact between my soul and God. The good may bring their goodness, but He declares that “there is none righteous, no, not one.” The pious may offer their ceremonies, but He takes no delight in all their oblations. The wise may present their inventions, but He counts their wisdom to be folly. But when the poor in spirit come to Him with their utter destitution and distress, He accepts them at once! Yes, He bows the heavens to bless them and opens the storehouses of the covenant to satisfy them.“ (Charles H Spurgeon, 1909, emphasis added)
Meekness (e.g., “humbleness” or “gentleness”). Matthew’s intent is a far cry from popular notions of passivity, weakness or questionable moral fiber. Theologian Daniel Hawks writes, “Humility means that in the presence of God I gain a glimpse of my true state in the universe, which exposes my smallness at the same time it reveals God’s greatness.” Matthew is writing about humility with moral grit.
Psalm 37 must have been in the back of Jesus’ mind as He spoke. Psalm 37 weights agendas behind meekness and wickedness. The meek delight in (v4), commit to (v5) and trust (v5) God. This character results in power, peace, plenty and an eternal inheritance. By contrast, the wicked sow treachery (v12), infuriation (v12), violence (v14), frustration (v15), death and destruction (v20). Kingdom character accepts Christ’s yoke (Mt 11). Kingdom character is upright, teachable, sensitive, patient, resolute and persistent. In Psalm 37, the meek “inherit the land” (v11). By accepting Jesus yoke (Mt 11), the meek find purpose and peace now and forever.
But there is more! Let me illustrate with a story that Agnes tells …
Consider: My response if nothing happens when I “turn on a light switch” as I enter a room?
I consider whether the bulb might have burned out. Or if the wall outlet might be controlled by some other switch. Or if the circuit breaker might have blown. Or if the wiring might be grounding-out. In short, I contemplate a myriad of tests to fix the problem. I do not, however, cry-out that, “Electricity has ceased to exist in the world!”
Consider: My response if I pray for clothing, healing or employment and nothing happens?
I consider that “God does not exist” or “God does not care” because my prayer request went unanswered. In short, my God lacks my repairman’s competence. Also notice, I’ve conveniently removed myself from the problem/fix. Maybe, God answers prayers and my request was out-of-sync with His plan. Maybe, the problem is “USER ERROR.”
Maybe I should think like a “prayer repairman”. Isolate the problem. Diagnose the potential fix. Test the potential fix. Observe whether the fix worked. Rework, modify and observe a new fix, as needed. Continue until my prayer request matches God’s answer. Since God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Ps 50:7-15), the issue is probably perception; not power! Agnes Sanford changed my perspective on prayer. God’s plan and purpose is consistent with His Law and character. Answered prayer is consistent with His promises and love. Prayer is not whimsical or capricious. Prayer is not about wishful thinking or good intentions. Kingdom character becomes stronger when prayer is worked, tested, corrected and refined. Rather than saying. “There is no electricity,” a journeyman constantly asks himself, “What am I missing.” Prayer is the heavy lifting of faith. Effective prayer is work!
 Writings from the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Qumran community tell us that “poor in spirit” refers to both the physical and spiritual poverty of a believer.