What Did Jesus Mean by "Poor in Spirit" and How Can We Become This?

Maggie Cooper

Contributing Writer
Updated Aug 31, 2021
What Did Jesus Mean by "Poor in Spirit" and How Can We Become This?

Accepting that there is One who knows us so well, and knows what we need, even more than we do...that is becoming “poor in Spirit.” 

Matthew 5:3 (NIV) says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Ever wonder what that means? At first glance, it might seem to point to someone who is sad or discouraged. But when we look closer, it means so much more. I love to compare versions of the Word, and when I look at the NLT, it puts this verse in a little clearer light as it says, “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for Him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.”

Now, before we dig deeper, I’ll be honest and tell you I have struggled with walking through this verse because I believe it is so very important to understanding what being a follower of Jesus is all about. I don’t think it’s any accident that Jesus listed this Beatitude first, because the truth is, that if we can get this one, the others naturally fall into place. 

What Does It Mean to Be “Poor in Spirit?”

So “poor in Spirit” is the next area to tackle. Well, this is where the rubber meets the road. If we look back at the NLT version, it says that “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for Him…” I don’t believe that He meant physically poor necessarily. Those circumstances might drive us to know our need for Him more, as we think about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor.12) or the “woman with the issue of blood” (Luke 8:43-48). I don’t think He was solely referring to monetary limitations either, although again when we are unable to provide for physical needs, that sometimes makes us see our need for Him more clearly. But the truth is that those are too easy.

Jesus wants us to humbly accept that in and of ourselves, we are not enough. We just aren’t enough, y’all. And we try to be. We try so, so hard to be self-sufficient and independent, as we sometimes believe the lie that those things are what make us strong. But oh, my sweet friends, those are the ways of the world, not the Kingdom of Heaven.

Accepting that there is One who knows us so well, and knows what we need, even more than we do...that is becoming “poor in Spirit.” To open our hands, bow our heads, and say, “I can’t make it on my own.” When we release control of our next minutes and hours and days to Him, it can be scary. I know. And many days, I lay things at His feet, acknowledging that He knows best, only to pick them back up again a few hours later.

I know what it’s like to see the “lists of dos and don’ts” in the Bible and think that God is controlling and unreasonable and unfair. But y’all, those guidelines and parables and teachings are there for our good. Because He knows that the opposite ways are not His best for us. He has given us, in His immeasurable grace and mercy, the path that leads to life...while our own way leads to death. It’s that simple.

We have a choice to make. Will we allow Jesus to “become greater” as we “become less” (John 3:30)? Will we obey His commands (John 14:15) because we love Him above all else, even more than ourselves? Will we put His ways into practice instead of forging our own paths (Phil. 4:9)? Will we accept His teaching (Deut.33:3) or toss it aside for the world’s lies? If we choose Him, we choose the Kingdom of Heaven, y’all.

What Does It Mean to Be Blessed?

“Blessed” is a big word, right? Not so much in a number of letters, but in meaning. In our day and age, we see this word a lot. In books, on t-shirts, hash-tagged on social media posts announcing new homes or jobs or accomplishments. But the truth is that many times, we are misusing this word. You see, just a few verses later, Jesus calls those who mourn and are persecuted “blessed.” Those are hard things that no one would ask for or call “blessings” in our first-world context.

Y’all, when Jesus told His people they would be “blessed” in the circumstances listed in the Beatitudes, it wasn’t because they would earn or be worthy of any blessing, but because in feeling and seeking and giving and working through these uncomfortable, difficult things, He would be with them. He alone is the Blessing!

When we are obedient to Jesus’ desires for us, it naturally draws us closer to His will and His best for us. We are close enough to be held by Him, comforted by Him, truly seen by Him, truly heard, and truly known. That is the blessing, my sweet friends.

A Biblical Example of the “Poor in Spirit”

Throughout the Bible, we find numerous examples of those who were “poor in Spirit,” but this one stands out because of the way she showed her need for Jesus. Passionately, with no holds barred. She grieved and was raw and open with Him, yet her heart never wavered by growing stubborn or prideful or demanding. And so, she is one of my heroes...because I can’t say the same.

I have questioned and wept over many situations over the years, maybe trying to bargain with God and then not follow through on my end...as I decided I knew better. And maybe you have too. If so, I hope you’ll join me in learning from this sweet, steadfast soul in the story below.

Hannah is the woman I am talking about. And to fully understand her story, you really need to read all of 1 Samuel 1-2. But let me share the high points:

Hannah was married to Elkanah, and his other wife had children, but Hannah did not. The longing of her heart, her greatest desire, was to have some of her own. His other wife taunted her, and one year she could take it no more. She went to pray at the entrance of the Tabernacle and was so overcome that Eli, the priest, thought she was drunk. But she refuted his claim and told him, “...I am very discouraged, and I was pouring out my heart to the Lord...I have been praying out of great anguish and sorrow” (1 Samuel 1:15-16, emphasis added). In this passionate prayer, she told the Lord that if He would see fit to give her a son, she would give the child back, dedicated for his entire lifetime to the Lord’s service.

Hannah went home, and “in due time” (1 Samuel 1:20), she gave birth to her son Samuel. On the next annual trip to the Tabernacle, Hannah did not go. This was out of the ordinary, but she said she would wait until “the boy weaned” (1 Samuel 1:22). In response, Elkanah said, “Whatever you think is best...Stay here for now, and may the Lord help you keep your promise” (1 Samuel 1:23). This line makes me wonder if our sweet Hannah, with her faithful heart, was struggling a bit. I know I would be. I can’t imagine how her heart was torn looking at that sweet baby boy, knowing he would not be hers for long.

So, fast forward a few years, and what happened? Hannah kept her word. She took Samuel to the Tabernacle, presented him to Eli the priest, reintroducing herself as the one who sat crying in anguish years before and gave her baby back to the Lord. She gave him back.

And how could she do this? Because she knew that the Lord was the one he needed most. The Lord was the one she needed most. He had been faithful. And she knew he would continue to be.

Y’all, she allowed the Lord to be greater. She obeyed His will. She followed His path. She accepted His teaching and will, over her own. And I believe with all my heart, we will see her when the Kingdom of Heaven comes one day.

How Do We Become the “Poor in Spirit” Going Forward?

Hannah was able to give Samuel to the Lord because He had shown His faithfulness in the past. As you look at your life, think about the times that the Lord has done what He said He would do. Times that He has held you up when you couldn’t stand by yourself. Times that He provided when no one else could. Maybe even times that He didn’t do what you hoped...but helped you survive, even in the midst of great sorrow.

We need Him, y’all. We just need Him. We are not able to make it in our own strength. We don’t have all of the answers. But He does. He goes before and behind us (Deut. 31:8). He leads us like a shepherd and carries us close to His heart (Isaiah 40:11). He knows what we need more than we do (Matthew 6:8).

And more than anything, we need Him. I pray that you will join me today in telling Him you need Him, not for a minute, or an hour, but always.

Further Reading

Who Are the Poor in Spirit? & Why are they Blessed? - Meaning of Matthew 5:3

What Does "Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit" Mean (Matthew 5:3)?

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/BrianAJackson

Maggie Cooper, author headshotMaggie Meadows Cooper is a wife, mom, educator, author, and blogger with a longing for women to grow a heart for Jesus and others. She is the author of the children’s book “Bumper” and blogs at The Little Moments about what the Lord is teaching her through her children and everyday life. She contributes to Blogs by Christian Women, Devotional Diva, She Disciples, and Connecting Ministries. An educator with an M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education from Auburn University (War Eagle!), she has twenty years of experience working with young children. She loves all things chocolate, real Coca-Cola, and lives with her husband, three children, and two rambunctious dogs in Opelika, Alabama.