My thoughts have been all over the place this week but this image of begging for alms has captured my imagination. Beth Moore did a Bible Study on a woman’s prayer life which included this image of a cup held out to God to fill… and I got to thinking about the poor of Jesus’ day. What did the Good News mean to them? Is there any application to my own life?
Jesus said He came to “proclaim good news to the poor”(Lk.4:18). What good news? And why did He call the poor blessed? What did He offer them? We know He healed the sick, fed the hungry crowds, and even raised the dead. What did He offer the poor? On the one hand He assumed there would always be poor people and He did not hand out money, or create jobs for them. But He clearly saw them as potentially blessed, fortunate, in a good position for all he had to offer…"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”(Lk.6:20)
Now, I know we can sanitize this and customize it to ourselves with the sense that it is the ‘poor in spirit’ that He meant and this is partially true, but I wonder if there’s more to it. I investigated the implications of “poor” [Thanks to BLUELETTERBIBLE ] and found that this use does not refer to merely a pauper or day laborer who scrapes by due to his hard work. It means a beggar, destitute in every way—lacking not only money but significance, powerless to improve his lot, absolutely dependent on the alms of others. It is related to the concept of roving about in cowering wretchedness out of fear.
I have difficulty relating to this physically given my standard of living. Who of us in this culture is so bereft? And why does Jesus single out the poor as His favorites? I’ve been mulling this over, even looking to identify any beggarly elements in my life that have not responded to the Good News of the Kingdom! What is that news? Do we miss the fullness of it because we are not in actual fact destitute physically? What does the beggar have that Jesus commends?
He has an empty cup that he’s desperate to have filled.
He is not self-satisfied or distracted with comforts or oblivious to his state. His outstretched hand demonstrates his need.
He’s not rushing about spending money for ‘what is not bread’ and working his life away for ‘what does not satisfy’. He’s all ears, and all eyes for some passerby that will plink in a coin. In short, he’s dependent on mercy.
God’s economy is so full of paradoxes. The beggar is rewarded with a Kingdom while the rich have no inheritance -- He fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty (Lk 1:53) -- He gives strength to the weak and humbles the mighty…
He’s always on the look-out for a hungry heart, an alms-cup if you will, to fill and empower. "For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.” (II Chron 16:9) And He’s not impressed by our assessment of our condition when our hearts deceive us into thinking we are adequately filled:
“For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Rev.3:17)
A poor beggar doesn’t have these delusions. He’s bankrupt and knows it.
It’s possible to be so deluded that I worship what is mere ashes and cannot see the lie in my hand (Is.44:20). Scary. This is the pull of idolatry. No wonder God constantly called his people to remember where their possessions came from. To remember that all they were blessed with was a love gift from the One who was their very source of life. I love that passage in Deuteronomy where Moses goes over these things with the Israelites and reminds them God has set His love upon them and they are His chosen and treasured possession (7:6,7)
This is in fact the good news to the poor and powerless. God invites such to know Him, to share His inheritance, to be filled with His Spirit, to live in His power… The Bible is replete with invitations to come to Him, be filled with Him, delight in Him*…He wants to fill my cup to overflowing—to be as living water to me, eternally springing up. If that is not my experience hadn’t I better have a look in my cup and see what’s in there?
Is it possible that ‘the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things’ (Mk.4:19) have entered in to choke out this life He offers? No wonder Jesus gives so many warnings about riches.
The potential hazard with hanging onto a half-empty cup (which is all you get when you count on the world for alms) is that it invites filling by all the wrong things. Or as Beth Moore puts it: “An unsatisfied soul is a stronghold waiting to happen.” God’s word pictures it this way: "My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Jer.2:13
Still God invites our response to His unwavering love, invites us to fill our hearts only with Him and accept no substitutes.
“Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.” Is.55:2,3
“Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.” Jonah 2:8
He urges us to hold loosely to all other possessions and persons (Lk.14:33) and seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness. All the rest will be added on, and our cup filled in the process.
Maybe we can begin where David recommends: “Pour out your heart before him…” (Ps.62), emptying the cup so He can fill it with the Real Thing—Himself. "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." Jn.7:37,38
God is the ultimate alms giver. These reflections have spurred me on to be sure to get my cup filled in secret with Him so I can leave my post as beggar and follow Him. Not sure what all that will entail practically but I’m pretty sure it has to start with the exchange of my poverty of heart for His love, “…And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” (Eph.3:19)
I want this to be my prayer:
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Ps.90:14
The more I see in the Word the more I see how rich I am in Him. I can’t quit without enumerating some of the ALMS freely given us as converted beggars and now sons and daughters of the King!
As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and [yet] possessing all things .II Cor6:10
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. II Cor12:9,10
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me….Phil.4:13
Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? James 2:5
I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. Rev.3:18-19
Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.Lk.12:32-34
He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Rom.8:32
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance. Is.55:2
"Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Zeph.3:16,17