Happiness through Helplessness
Imagine. A king decided to leave his place of authority, his glorious and regal castle, to walk with those who live in the dirt and the filth.
Thumbing through his wardrobe, he tossed items aside, frantically looking for the outfit he wanted. It’s never where he remembered placing it. It seemed like someone was always trying to hide it from him. Finally, buried under his kingly robes, he found it.
He pulled on the old tattered overshirt and patched pants. He put on a dark gray cloak, dotted with frays and snagged spots that had never been mended. Worn and hardened leather boots covered his ratty socks. He slipped a simple wooden lute in his pocket. A gnarled walking stick and a cheap pipe completed his ensemble. Finally, the king was ready for his afternoon excursion.
According to legend, King James V of Scotland would often dress in disguise as a commoner and walk among his people. He listened to the complaints and problems that beseeched those living in his kingdom and used this knowledge to become a better king. He became known as the King of the Commons because he joined in this activity so frequently.
Imagine. A king decided to leave his place of authority, his glorious and regal castle, to walk with those who live in the dirt and the filth. A king abandoned his riches and willingly embraces poverty.
It sounds so foreign, and yet, so familiar.
It reminds me of the word ptóchos.
One of my favorite things to do when researching scripture is to look at the Greek word originally written by the authors of the Bible. Since I don’t read or understand Greek, I often have to choose carefully which words to examine because trying to decipher the meaning of even one word can take quite a bit of time.
Searching out clarification on what the beatitudes truly mean, I searched the Greek word for poor used in the phrase “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Our word generally means lacking money or possessions. This word, however, has a much deeper and more descriptive meaning. The word is ptóchos. It means “to crouch or cower”. The picture is that you are so poor, so destitute, so despised, that in order to even have any interaction with the world, you must slink away or cower from being seen or noticed. This word was used to show someone who is completely dependent on everyone else for their needs to the point of being despised by the world. They are helpless to provide for themselves and hopeless without the generosity of others.
Jesus offers us happiness not through ourselves or through what the world values. Instead, he offers us happiness through helplessness. He promises that by being totally dependent on him, we will find fulfillment.
When we give up self-promotion and I-can-do-this-on-my-own attitude and trade it for absolute dependence on God, we will find happiness. When we denounce our faulty logic that we can do anything on our own and instead rely on God in humility, we will be blessed. The rest of the beatitudes outline how we act once we have become poor in our own spirit and dependent on God’s Spirit.
George Müller understood this sort of humility and dependency on God for all things. Müller and his wife founded the Ashley Downs orphanage in England in 1836. But he refused to ask for financial support from anyone. He believed that God would provide for all the needs of not only him but all 300 children in his orphanage. And God did. Never once did he go into debt or send out support letters. Yet every day God provided for all that was needed.
One famous story shows just how dependent on God Müller was. The children were dressed and ready for breakfast yet there was no food. The headmistress of the orphanage asked what they should do. Müller replied instructing her to have everyone sit at the tables. Müller then blessed the food the Lord would soon provide. Within minutes the local baker knocked on the door and explained that he had been troubled in his spirit all night at the thought that they would need bread. He arrived with more than enough fresh bread for the orphans. A short time later the milkman showed up. His cart had broken down by the orphanage and his milk would soon spoil. He offered the milk on his cart to the Ashley Downs orphans.
Müller allowed himself to be completely dependent on God. He became helpless to do it on his own. And in this helplessness, God blessed him.
Our actions should be based on a realization that, without God, we are nothing. We are completely hopeless without the grace of Jesus. When we come to this understanding, we become humble. We realize that we are poor in spirit and dependent on God for our very being.
What an incredibly difficult task! As humans we strive to be independent and self-sufficient, Americans possibly more so than other cultures. Yet it is the abandonment of this mindset that opens us to the kingdom of God.
Thankfully, we have the perfect example to follow.
“Your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus’. Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be acquired. Instead, he made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.” (Philippians 2:6-7)
The Greek word used in the text above says that Jesus “emptied” himself. I love that picture. Jesus, who spoke the word “elephant” and then, by the power of his word, the majestic gray behemoth we know came into being, emptied himself of all pride and allowed himself to become a little human, dependent on a teenage girl to care for his every need. Jesus, who formed Adam’s very being with his hands, emptied himself of self-importance and washed his disciple’s feet.
Jesus set the example of being poor in spirit. Despite being God, he did not strive to be equal to God. Instead, he purposefully emptied himself of all pride and self-sufficiency. He became despised by the very world he created and allowed himself powerless without the direct intervention of our faith in God. In his humility, he became fully dependent on God.
Today, my prayer is that I empty myself of desire to be admired or even noticed. I pray instead that through my actions and words, through my thoughts and attitudes, God’s spirit may be evident to everyone around me. I pray for less of me and more Jesus.