From my soon-to-be-released new book, The Inaugural Address That Changed the World:
Happiness—the joyful state that has eluded mankind for centuries. From philosophers to psychologists, from clergy to laity, from sages to fools, from academics to comedians, from kings to paupers, people have fiercely debated the big question: what makes people happy? Aristotle, one of the greatest thinkers in the history of Western philosophy, spent a whopping twenty-seven pages of his ninth treatise book trying to define happiness. His conclusion: happiness depends on us. Amazingly, Thomas Aquinas, the popular medieval theologian, agreed with him!
How about you? What’s your opinion on the happiness conundrum? What does it take to make you happy? Taking a walk on an exquisite beach? Buying a house in an exclusive neighborhood? Dining a la carte at a fine restaurant? Maybe if you were a dog on a hot day (you know I’m kidding, right?), a fan would make you happy! Here’s the point: the source of happiness is hard to define.
Thankfully, Jesus didn’t leave us baffled with regards to this crucial question that has stumped fine minds for so long. Happiness is the subject of the first be-attitude. It explains the only way to genuine and lasting happiness. That’s good news if you ask me. God wants you and me to be happy so much that He made happiness and being blessed the number one item on His Son’s inaugural address. I hope you say a loud, “Amen!” to that.
What then is the kingdom of heaven? Why would you want to be poor in spirit so you might inherit it? The kingdom of heaven is the greatest treasure anybody could ever have anywhere at any time. Not only is it desirable, it’s jam-packed with joys of every kind. If you are in the kingdom of heaven, you have the best of everything that exists now and throughout all eternity. No wonder the scriptures say, “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.” (Psalm 16:11)
Since the kingdom of heaven is the greatest of all pleasures, it calls for the greatest commitment. Mark puts it this way, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36-37) God’s kingdom is so valuable that, once you get it, nothing else matters.
Let me put it this way: nothing on the planet comes close to the value and joy of being in the kingdom. Do whatever it takes to get into the kingdom of heaven because it’s worth it. The question now becomes, how do you get into the kingdom of heaven?
God’s desire is for broken humanity to find hope, healing, and joy in the kingdom. He wants you blessed and perpetually ecstatic even if you’re being persecuted. But how do you get into the kingdom? By becoming poor in spirit. What does being poor in spirit mean?
- Not financial or physical poverty
First of all, you have to understand that it’s not referring to physical poverty. It’s poor in spirit, not poor in your pocketbook. If it required financial poverty, then a lot of people would be in the kingdom. Clearly, that’s not what it’s about.
- A humble and contrite spirit
Poor in spirit means to have a humble and contrite spirit. Let’s do a quick Bible tour noting what God says about a humble heart. First, God declares:
“For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.” (Isaiah 66:2)
God is searching for people who are poor in spirit and tremble at His word. Proud people do not tremble at the word of God. Self-sufficient people don’t care about the Bible, but those who are poor in spirit do. Poverty of spirit opens up a new vista for mankind.
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” (Psalms 51:17)
“The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” (Psalms 34:18)
God is close to the brokenhearted. What a proclamation! As you’re going to see in a moment, this is one of those great paradoxes: that in order to get up, you have to go down. Everybody who wants to come into God’s kingdom, whether president or pauper, has to come the same way. You lose your life in order to find it. This was Paul’s testimony, that death brings life (Galatians 2:20).
Brokenness, an offshoot of an impoverished spirit, is a route that few are willing to travel as shown by the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:9-14). At the core, the problem with the Pharisee’s prayer was putting self before God. Pharisees trusted in themselves and made fun of everybody else. Actually, the Bible says he “prayed with himself” so his prayer didn’t go anywhere. Enthroning self is popular today. Self-improvement is not just a buzz word; it’s a massive multibillion dollar industry bent on producing self-confident and self-reliant people. The world says you have to believe in yourself, build your ego, get ahead, and be above everybody else. But God comes along and says, no, it’s the other way around—the way up is down, for you to go up, you must go down, die to self and serve.
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. What a wonderful assurance!