The Upside-Down Blessing – pt 1 – Running out of Soul

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven… – Matthew 5:1-3 –

It’s a beautiful day in the first-century Holy Land, just a few clouds in the sky, not too warm, and thousands of people gathered to listed to “this new Jesus guy”. There are rumors that John the Baptist called him the Lamb of God, and that something special happened when he was baptized. There are people in the crowd who have seen him heal sickness, cast out demons, and cure many people and now… he’s going to speak for one of the first times. And right out of the gate, he turns the world on its head.

The son of God’s opening words are “Blessed are the poor in spirit…”

Literally, the people who are “running out of soul.” You know soul right? Biblically speaking that’s everything from the breath that fills your lungs, to the spark that moves you–both physically and emotionally, to the seat of your emotions–the place you feel from. When that’s running on empty, then Jesus says you are blessed.

That’s quite… strange. It doesn’t match my experience. The last time I found myself unable, or unwilling, to get out of bed, or only showering to spare the olfactory experiences of others, or just wanting to stare at the wall for a good solid day… The last time I looked at life and just said “not today, maybe tomorrow but not today”… The last time I lost my motivation to do, really, anything… last time I questioned the meaning of life with troublesome clarity, or was ready to give up because life just kept kicking me… In those moments I may have felt worried, disconnected, and hopeless. I may have felt useless or apathetic, but never would I have described myself as… blessed.

I’m not saying this happens to me all the time, but I’m well past 40 and… It’s happened more than once across my decades.

I have been poor in spirit. Most of us have. There are many, many people who can relate to that concept. And the reasons that bring us to that state of soul-on-empty are wide, varied, sometimes chemical, but always intensely personal.

The psychologist might call it depression, or apathy, or melancholy or a whole host of other words, but I like the Biblical terminology best. “I am running out of soul.” When we are poor in spirit, that’s exactly what it feels like.

Which is why, I believe, that Christ starts his most famous sermon with an upside-down blessing. Truth like this is attention grabbing.

It’s spoken into a world that believes “blessed are the awesome, the upbeat, the self-actualized,” you know… “the good ones, the successful ones.” Into that world, Christ proclaims “Blessed are the poor in spirit”.  Blessed are the people who are down on their luck, hard pressed, spiritually empty, having a rough go, at the end of their rope, running out of soul, and more…  And the crowd says “Wha…???”

But there is a profound wisdom to Christ’s opening words, because when we have been brought to our knees by suffering, depression, anxiety, fear, despair, or any of the many things that can rob us of our spirit… when we are in that place, if we reach out to God we will find him! 

In the words of the Lego Movie, I know a statement like that sounds like a “cat poster”, or a greeting card, or some other oversimplified sentimental and unhelpful saying but… Sometimes spiritual teachings are simple to understand, just not easy to apply.

If you let it, then being poor in Spirit is the place where God will meet you. Look at John chapter 4. Christ went out of his way to meet the woman at the well, who was very much poor in spirit. God went to her and taught that through Jesus we can have access to a wellspring of spirit that never runs out. If you look for one thing when you are poor in spirit, look for that. God is willing to come to you, right there, where you are.

It’s a promise. God both can and will meet you when you have hit the bottom, when you are running out of soul. It is in that place that hope and resurrection can take place.

And that’s what Christ means when he speaks the first of nine upside-down blessings. The kingdom of heaven belongs to those who have found God in the place of their deepest need.  You become a citizen of the kingdom of heaven when you realize that out of all the things you thought you needed, God is the only one that matters.  And sometimes it takes an empty tank of soul, before we realize that we can be not just refilled but made overflowing through God and God alone. 

2 thoughts on “The Upside-Down Blessing – pt 1 – Running out of Soul”

  1. Running out of soul can lead us to the Lord, through prayer, the receiving of a Christian reaching out to us with love and encouragement, and possibly using your demonstrated faith as a witness to others.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *