The Poor in Spirit is Next Door – My Neighbor’s Story from Desperation to Hope

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Where are the poor in spirit obtaining the kingdom of heaven?  Heidi Baker has found the poor in spirit in the hearts of the physically starving and orphaned people of Mozambique. Yet, where are the poor in spirit here in America?  I have found one …next door.

On the outside, this one poor in spirit wouldn’t look exactly poor.  She has a nice house, clothes on her back, a car. Food each meal. A hot shower. Dogs to keep her company. However, on the inside she was desperately needy. Hungering for something more than what her life had given her in 50 years of living. A starving beggar crying out for the Bread to give her life in the now and forever. Insecure in her future, finances, and failures.

Heidi Baker mentions in her book, Compelled by Love, how in Mozambique the poor are so desperate for simple food to survive that God shows up to multiply a small portion of chickens or bread to feed the masses.  People are miraculously healed, raised from the dead, and released from demonic torment. While the power of the Spirit is still evident in these ways here in the West, God sometimes uses different methods to open our eyes by bringing us to our breaking point of desperation.

My neighbor came to that breaking point in the form of banging on my door at 10 pm one night. Brett and I were watching a movie and I looked over at Brett thinking, “Who in the world?” I immediately thought of Tracey, our next door neighbor, but she usually texts me before coming over. I open the door to find her panicked with her phone to her ear barely able to get words out. The 911 dispatch was on the line. Tracey was afraid for her life.  Two hours and four cops in and out of our house later, she stayed the night with us.

That night was a turning point in her life. Let me start from the beginning of our relationship. Brett and I moved into our house almost 8 years ago.  We met Tracey, but we didn’t have much contact because she kept to herself and I was working and gone most of the time.  At this point in my life I was apathetic to sharing my faith and the gospel of Jesus.  Then I had Kherington and since I stayed home with her, I started seeing Tracey more, especially when we were out playing and she was walking her dogs, which Kherington always wanted to pet or hold a leash.

Over the next few years, little by little Tracey started opening up more about herself and her life. I tried to empathize with her even though there is an age gap and we have different life experiences. But I mostly listened. I discovered quickly that she was very alone and needed a friend.  More importantly, she needed Jesus. Jesus to be her source of joy, security, and identity. Tracey has lived a really hard life mostly of rejection.  She didn’t know her father and has a strained relationship with her mother, resulting in her grandmother raising her. She’s been divorced twice, had a traumatic experience with her son who is in prison, and tries to see her daughter and grandchildren as much as allowed.  She’s been verbally, emotionally, and physically abused. Suicide attempts have been a part of her past.  There’s been little hope.  When I looked in her eyes, I saw a soul who was hurting, alone, hopeless, lifeless, and trying to survive each day.

I had the answer to her desperation, loneliness, rejection.  I started sharing the gospel with her. Planting seeds of who Jesus is and what He has done in my own life. Telling her I was praying for her. Sending her encouraging Bible verses.  Gave her a copy of our film The War Within. Then one day last summer of 2016, I was enjoying peace and quiet in the sun at my parents’ house while the kids napped when I received a text from Tracey. She was done living this life of pain and loneliness. She was hungering and thirsting for what I had in Jesus.  She told me she wanted to pray and give her life to Jesus Christ. I asked her if she wanted me to call her but she said that she wanted to do it alone. I made the gospel clear to her again, told her she needed to confess and repent of her sin, acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God and Lord of all, and to surrender her life to Him.  I stared at my phone waiting, praying, crying.  She responded back and said she had finished praying.  She was filled with joy. She immediately told me that her room had become brighter and could feel a heavy darkness lift.  Praise God for another soul saved for all eternity!

However, her ex-husband who lived with her came home soon after and the darkness appeared again.  The following few months were very rough for Tracey.  Even though she was free in Jesus from her sin and past, she was trapped and controlled in her daily life. Then that day in November came when she banged on our door frantic for her life like I had never seen before. Something needed to change. The next few weeks, Brett and I encouraged her to make changes in the relationship with the ex-husband.  It was not healthy. Brett became mediator and tried to reach out to him, but he resisted.  God was telling me to love Tracey like Jesus loves her.  So I got up a few times a week to sit with her early in the morning while she got ready to listen to her, encourage her and pray over her, especially against the dark spiritual warfare. She needed a reason to get out of bed and live that day.  I told her over and over again that she’s worth something, she’s loved, she’s not abandoned. Jesus will never leave her or forsake her even when she feared she would lose everything: her house, her finances, her dogs, her sense of purpose.

Then finally it was over.  He was gone.  And then the pain of being torn apart from the soul tie she had with her ex-husband hit her like going through withdrawal from a drug. She knew she needed to do it because it was unhealthy, yet she was desperately crying out to Jesus to help her.  I always tried to be a text or phone call away to help speak Truth into her against the lies of the enemy, Satan.  Or I ran over to continue to sit with her, listen, hug her, and pray.

We encouraged her to come to church with us and since she was finally free to do as she pleased, she started coming.  Week after week, Kherington and Damon anxiously waited for Tracey to come to our door Sunday morning so she could ride with us and then eat Mexican with us after church (Kherington and Daddy’s favorite, of course).  Although Kherington was excited to have a friend come each week, Brett and I were overjoyed to notice changes in Tracey’s demeanor and spirit instantly.  It was evident: the power of Jesus Christ changed her soul.  He took her broken, desperate, poor spirit and gave life, hope, and wholeness.  A once anxious and fearful spirit was renewed with joy and peace.

A few short weeks ago I was on a flight to Florida alone to care for my grandparents. When I landed, I turned off the airplane mode on my phone to see I had a missed call and voicemail from Brett. My first thought: “Oh no!!! Why would Brett be calling me in the middle of church?!” I listened to hear Brett excitedly tell me that Tracey was getting baptized right then and wanted to FaceTime me.   I immediately called him as I was still sitting in my seat.  There was Brett and Tracey on stage while someone held the phone.  I literally was walking off the plane crying and trying not to bump the person in front of me to watch Brett baptize Tracey.

Our pastor had given an invitation that morning for anyone who needed to accept Jesus as Lord of their lives and/or for those who have already chosen to follow Jesus to then make a public declaration of their faith by being baptized.  Brett felt a tug of the Spirit and he had no idea why. Right then Tracey grabbed his arm and said, “I need to do this. But I’m afraid.”  Brett said, “That’s the Spirit. Let’s do this.”

Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”   I didn’t have to go to Mozambique after all, even though I hope to someday.  I found the poor in spirit next door. And because Tracey was broken enough to realize…

her need for something more than herself…

her need for Bread that is fulfilling and sustaining when everything else she was striving for left her empty and wanting…

her need for security and peace when her world was crashing down…

now… hers is the kingdom of heaven. Where she will experience Jesus for all earthly and eternal time.

The desperate, broken, poor, insecure are all around you. You don’t have to go far. In fact… a few steps is all it takes to show someone where to find the kingdom of heaven.

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*Written with permission from Tracey.

 

 

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Blessed are the starving beggars…even in the rich land of plenty

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I’ve been desperate for more of Jesus and in order to know Him better, I am reading through all 4 Gospels chronologically and in harmony with one another.

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Recently I read Matthew 16:5-12 and Mark 8:14-21. Here is Mark’s version:

“The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. Be careful,” Jesus warned them. Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?

“Twelve,” they replied. And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.”

He said to them, Do you still not understand?

Before this conversation the disciples sat and watched Jesus perform the amazing miracle on two different occasions of taking a small amount of bread and fish and multiplying it to feed thousands upon thousands with food leftover. The disciples didn’t get Jesus’ point here. It wasn’t even about the bread yet that was their focus.  Many times in my pride I read about the disciples and think, “Duh!!! Don’t you get it! Jesus is right in front of you! You can see His miracles, touch Him, and yet you still don’t trust Him or have faith?! C’mon!” Oh and then I immediately hear the voice of the Spirit in me…”Um…Christina? This is you. Don’t YOU get it? Don’t YOU understand what I’m doing? Don’t YOU see Jesus? I AM in You. Oh, YOU of little faith.”

Ouch. I hate the conviction but love when the Spirit speaks to me. Yes, I am the disciples in so many ways. When I am in one trial after another, I forget what Christ has done for me through the previous trials!  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He has never left me. Even in times that I have strayed from Him, He was always there. He will supply all that I need, and not necessarily what I want in this life. Even when it hurts. But the bread that He offers me over and over again, Himself, the Bread of Life, is more than I could ever imagine. It’s more than anything I would ever desire on this temporary earth. Oh, why does my heart long for the things of this world?  Why can’t I see that Jesus is enough? That even when I don’t understand like the disciples…when I miss what He is trying to teach me to change my heart…when I take my eyes off Jesus and onto the storms of life like Peter….when I can’t seem to have enough faith that Jesus is the One that can help me conquer my temptations….Jesus has always been and always will be enough Bread.

I have to be humble enough to desperately need this Bread. But that’s the problem isn’t? We don’t know what it’s like here in America to be so needy for physical bread to the point that we are starving beggars; we can’t comprehend being that needy for the Bread who supplies the bread. Have you noticed that it’s hard to show people how needy they are for Someone to save them when they don’t believe they need to be saved from anything? It’s common to hear, “Look at my life. Why would I need God?” And for American Christians, we acknowledge that we need Jesus to save us from sin and hell, yet we are guilty of living the rest of our lives like atheists. We got the “get out of hell” card and don’t live each day desperate for Jesus.

What a complete contrast to what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It’s only taken me 26 years of being a Christ-follower to comprehend what this means.

As I’m passionately studying the life of Jesus, I am also reading the book, Compelled by Love by Heidi Baker. I read Always Enough last year and pretty much wept through it from conviction.compelled by love Heidi and her husband, Rolland, have a ministry called Iris Global. If you want to be so heavily convicted by our apathetic Western Christianity and your eyes open to the love and compassion of Jesus, you need to check out their ministry and read their books.  The first chapter in Compelled by Love is on the verse above about the poor in spirit. The Bakers minister to orphans and the poor in Mozambique, Africa (and their mission has spread globally). These people have nothing. And I mean…nothing from war, famine, floods.

Heidi asks the question that I started asking a year ago, “Many ask why Jesus reserves the kingdom of God for the poor in spirit. Why is it that the wealthiest people and cultures experience fewer miracles and less of the supernatural? What does it mean to be poor in spirit? There is something about the poor that delights the heart of God. They are contrite. They know they are in need. But what is it about them that draws the kingdom of God to Earth? The answer to this lies in their dependency, hunger, need, and desperation.”

What does that look like in Mozambique? She continues, “If God doesn’t show up, no one else will either. If God does not heal, we will be dead. If God does not deliver, demons will torment the people to death. Every day we depend on Him for our daily bread to feed the multitudes. We rely on God. In Jesus we have all that we need. He died that there would be more than enough. We watch God multiply food to feed the masses, just as Jesus took a few fish and loaves of bread to feed the hungry.”

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Picture from Iris Global. Click here for more.

What does this look like in America?  I pause. I pause at my keyboard because I’m perplexed. What does it look like to be poor in spirit living in the richest land of the world? Ask Brett, and he will tell you that some days I wake up and want to give away everything we own, and then other days I remember that God has blessed us with what we do have and we are to be His stewards. God in His sovereignty created me to be born in this century in upstate New York to a mid-class family. Raised in the Big Valley of Pennsylvania and corn fields of central Indiana. Not an orphan in Mozambique. I am in the land of the free and plenty. And God has placed me right where He wants me.

Many of you reading this may have a similar life. We have never had to live meal to meal wondering if there will be enough bread. I’m convicted: are we truly thankful for the food in front of us?  We ramble out a quick prayer of “God thank you for this food that we are about to eat” before our kids start to devour their plates. Oh and as a dietitian, my favorite is, “God bless this food that we are about to eat for the nourishment of our bodies.” I usually take a peek at the actual food we are about to eat and silently laugh with God when it’s pizza or some other type of food that barely has any nutritional value in it except for a bunch of empty calories to grow our waistlines or satisfy our food addictions. Here me out; I ain’t hating on pizza. Just making a point hey.

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We don’t take the time to look at the food in front of us and weep over the fact that we don’t have to worry about our next meal!  I don’t have to beg for food so that my kids can eat!  Or God forbid, sell myself so that my child doesn’t have to die or be sold herself.  I shudder at the thought, but it’s happening to other moms somewhere.  Or we are too busy worrying about which diet works best, try this new product or nutrition phenomenon, whether we should or shouldn’t be eating gluten, organic, or GMO foods when we’ve missed the point of eating and WHO the Bread is that supplies the food.  If you’ve read my previous blog posts that I am linking throughout this (which I hope you do to hear my whole heart), I’m all for eating healthy. I mean, I kinda went to 4 years of college, finished a certified internship, took a national exam, and take continued education to keep my passion for nutrition alive. However, I can’t help but think that the people in Mozambique wouldn’t even know what the word “organic” meant. (Do YOU even know what it means? Because the food industry, media, wants you to be confused. Ok…I regress…a topic for another day).  Someone puts food in front of the poor, they won’t care if it’s gluten-free, all organic, non-GMO, etc. It’s life-giving food. That’s it. It’s.that.simple. Just like the gospel is eternal life-giving food. Jesus really is.that.simple. Maybe we’ve complicated Him like we’ve complicated our food.

Then I can’t help but think, why can the poor who have no food be able to eat what is put in front of them without fear of the food damaging their bodies? I mean that is why we are trying figure out which foods are “good” and “bad” so that we can be healthy rather sick and miserable, right? Their bodies have not been fed the vast variety of what we have put in our bodies. They have nothing and are fed and healed by a small portion of bread that was multiplied. Why? Because they have faith in the One who supplies the bread to live and heal them from physical AND more importantly spiritual death. It then hit me. We in the West are actually killing ourselves with plenty. We have obesity, immune disorders, inflammatory diseases and many other preventable disease because of plenty. Because of too much of a good thing. Because the snack aisle has 1000 choices. Because of lack of self-control. Because of addictions. Because we act like we do not.need.Jesus.

Our lack of desperation for Jesus is not only spiritually killing us but may actually be physically killing us.  “Ok, Christina. You are being so extreme.” Yes, maybe I am but you know…maybe I’m not. God has tremendously blessed us with plenty, but we have taken for granted the bread He has provided rather than glorying Him with it, taking care of our Temples with it, giving it away, blessing and discipling others around the table with it, multiplying it rather than wasting it. Instead of using the bread for God’s glory, we’ve become sluggards, addicts, food snobs, made our bellies our gods, shortened our life expectancy, given into what tastes good at the expense of our health and pocketbooks, and even judged, secluded, and inflicted on others our own opinions on food.

And Heidi agrees with me: “The challenge in the West is that many are too full. We have smorgasbords, buffets, and restaurants at almost every corner. So, people in the Western world are often just not hungry…I see that the church is often surviving on spiritual crumbs…I was looking out on a conference crowd of people who all seemed to be well fed. But superimposed over these people, I saw bloated bellies like my malnourished African children. I saw these people scavenging in the garbage like our homeless children, barely surviving off crumbs under the table. Now, we need to get them to understand how God teaches us that He can feed all the hungry, both rich and poor.”

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Picture from Iris Global

We’ve missed the point. We are like the disciples and really don’t understand. We forget and have to be reminded over and over the reason why Jesus is the Bread of Life. That His body was broken for us, like He broke the bread to feed the masses. The miracle was in the breaking of the bread. The miracle is in Jesus’ body breaking on the cross so that we can find forgiveness, redemption, and eternal life. And when we are distracted by the bread that this world offers and are not desperate for the eternal Bread, we miss the miracles that Jesus wants to display in our lives every single day. He is the Bread that fills me so that I can be a miracle that overflows with His love. As I desperately eat, I am filled to pour out to others. To help feed the rich and poor alike who are starving for more, even in the land of plenty.

Looking deep in the waitress’ eyes, she is hungry because when we ask to pray for her, she says “that I’ll be happy.”  That neighbor is desperate for something more because after asking her to come to church she replies, “Maybe I will. I need to do something different.”  That dancer wants someone to love her and is doing whatever it takes to provide for her children.  That co-worker needs to be invited over for dinner to show him how to feast on the Bread of Life instead of sharing coffee and donuts in the break room.  And it doesn’t stop there as Heidi continues: “God calls us to the emotionally poor and broken….those who are hungry, sick and needy, the old and the forgotten…the latchkey children and the fatherless….prisoners, felons, the homeless, immigrants, addicts, and those in great pain. Those who know they need help and are desperate for God and hungry for His presence will be satisfied, as this beatitude promises.”

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Therefore, to answer my question: what does it look like to be poor in spirit living in the richest land of the world?  Heidi answers, “Poor in spirit is a posturing of the heart other than an economic position… I believe being poor in spirit is a choice – a decision – we all have to make to go low still, fully dependent on the One who is always dependable.”

Your belly is full and your pocketbook has plenty (don’t kid yourself…if you have a roof over your head, food on the table, and clothes on your back you are wealthy), but are you poor in spirit? Are you desperately depending only on Jesus?  In America, we sure don’t look hungry on the outside, but we are starving beggars inside.   Maybe it’s a trial you are facing and you are focusing on the storm rather than the One who says, “Be still.”  Your health is suffering and you are looking for the magic nutritional supplement instead of the Healer. Your finances are running out and you need the Provider. You’re under spiritual oppression and you need the Deliverer. You are in bondage to that sin when you need Freedom. You are running away rather than into the Arms of Grace. You are anxious about your children, marriage, job, [fill in the blank] and need the Prince of Peace. You are fighting depression and looking for happiness in your false idols instead of the Ultimate Joy. Your identity is in  _______ and not the One who purchased you with His blood. You are chasing the fleeting American Dream rather than the eternal Kingdom of Heaven.

Regardless of who you are, where you live, what storm is in front of you, how much bread you will or will not eat today, Jesus is speaking to YOU not only the disciples! And wants to bless YOU not only the physically poor… but only if you are poor in spirit; spiritually needy, desperate, insecure, and dependent only on Him.  I want more of this Bread. I don’t want to miss Him and His miracles in my life, even in my Western worldview and the land of plenty. I don’t need to fear tomorrow’s bread, so I surely don’t need to fear the next trial, temptation, and storm that comes my way. He is with me. He supplies everything I need to then go feed the spiritually hungry that I meet every day.

Oh, my heart’s cry is that we will finally understand. It gives me hope that the disciples finally understood; they all died as martyrs so the gospel of the Bread of Life will continue to be multiplied so the masses can eat this Bread and live for all eternity.

My desire is to someday go to Mozambique and look into the eyes of the poor in spirit there. I have been told that is one place where you will find the kingdom of heaven. But until then, I am striving to find the kingdom of heaven right where I am at so I pray…

“Oh, Jesus, help me with my unbelief and to understand how to be poor in spirit so mine is the kingdom of heaven.”