I’ve never felt more compelled to write a piece than I feel about this particular one. Preaching a sermon several weeks ago led me into a deep study, and during that study the Holy Spirit ministered a seemingly simple phrase to me. He said,
‘Poverty leads to appreciation’
Now, let’s backtrack.
I first encountered the Gospel 10 years ago, and the one thing I vividly remember is that it fascinated me! So much so that after hearing, I was compelled to read more and after weeks of reading, I wholeheartedly came to accept the message of Christ. After 10 years, the Gospel has become an integral part of my life. In simple terms, I love God, I love people and I try to live Christ like. Just a normal Christian plight.
However, during a collective worship session one Sunday, I became aware of an uncomfortable trait I had developed over the years. Whenever I was in church and the name ‘Jesus’ was mentioned by the preacher or shouted expressively by vigorous worshipers next to me, I felt nothing. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t like what was being said, I just didn’t feel anything. Instead of euphoria, excitement and joy, a deep indifference would overwhelm me as I saw people on the floor, eyes closed and hands lifted during worship. It was almost as if I was immune to the Jesus flu. I just never caught it, never cried in worship, never really felt my head swell or hairs stand on end. I just didn’t understand this expression.
So, fast forwarding to the present day when I was preparing for this sermon, the Holy Spirit seemed to be speaking to this exact issue. Why was it that 10 years ago I was wowed, perplexed, excited and invigorated by the gospel but now I had become indifferent? Why was it that the name Jesus no longer got me jumping up and down or full of excitement? Well, the answer was simple, I was no longer poor. You see, poverty leads to appreciation.
Consider this example:
Take a simple commodity like a sandwich. Give it to a friend at lunch and what you might find is that he is marginally grateful. He says “thanks, but I don’t really like egg mayo.” Or he might say “thanks, but no thanks, I have my own lunch.” You see, to your friend, the sandwich is a nice gesture, but sandwiches are hardly in short supply. Food is simply not something you or I tend to have to worry about.
However, take the exact same sandwich to a deprived village in Ethiopia, and there’s no doubt its presence would elicit a different response. Anticipate children swarming at your feet, begging for a piece of your humble offering. They don’t care whether it’s egg mayo or bacon, they are overwhelmed by the prospect of real, hunger-satisfying food. Knowledge of their poverty, of their emptiness, drives them to appreciation.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3)
The secret the Holy Spirit was showing me was that, if you want to appreciate God, if you want to worship him properly and feel the right feelings about him (because God does care about our feelings), you must understand your poverty before him. In other words, knowledge of your poverty must grow in order for you to appreciate the Gospel more.
To be poor in spirit is to recognise your utter spiritual bankruptcy before God. It is understanding that you have absolutely nothing of worth to offer God. Being poor in spirit is admitting that, because of your sin, you are completely destitute spiritually and can do nothing to deliver yourself from your dire situation (Psalm 46:1).
When we understand this, we begin to better understand our need for the Cross. We get excited at the mention of his name because we understand that without him, we can do nothing (Isaiah 40:29).
Light’s greater power is revealed in darkness. We must always remember that it is God’s light that illuminates the darknesses of our lives. One example I learnt in Sunday school as a child really brings this point home; the difference between the glory of the Sun and the glory of the Moon.
You see, the Moon is just a gaseous ball of dust. It’s absolutely useless, redundant and powerless. However, when the Moon positions itself so as to refract the light rays from the Sun, it suddenly morphs into this beautiful feature of the night sky. Children point to the sky every night admiring its beauty. However, the truth is that the Moon is still just a gaseous ball of dust. Its great glory is simply positioning itself in front of the Sun. Really, it’s all about the Sun! Gigantic and powerful, the Sun is the source of life on Earth as we know it.
The Sun is God and we are the Moon. Our job is to reflect his light but never forgetting our original condition without him. Staying in a perpetual state of spiritual poverty helps us to appreciate him as we should. It helps us to remember that essentially, we are balls of dust without him (Acts 17:28).
What had happened in my 10 years of Christianity was that I had forgotten I’m only reflecting his light; I produce no light of my own. I had started to forget my absolute need and dependence on him and his finished works (Psalm 3:3).