Living Out Poor in Spirit

Life_in_Tension_revision_front_20200101So when they had come together, they asked him, 

Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? 

He said to them, It is not for you to know times or seasons 

that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 

But you will receive power 

when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, 

and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem 

and in all Judea and Samaria, 

and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:6–8)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The First Beatitude—Honored are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven—pairs humility in tension with power. Humility makes room in our lives for God but pride pushes God out. Guelich (1982, 262) writes: 

This tension between the Kingdom present and the Kingdom future, between the fulfillment and consummation of God’s promise of salvation for human history, applies not only to history but to the experience of the individual.

Ladd (1991, 57–69) sees the kingdom of God as already here, but not yet fully realized.

Kingdom of Heaven

The obliqueness of the First Beatitude arises because the phrase, kingdom of heaven, is a circumlocution (a round-about way of describing) for the name of God. In Jewish tradition, the covenant name of God (YHWH) is holy and can only be properly used in the context of public worship; in other contexts, other words—such as kingdom of heaven, LORD, or, simply, the Name—are substituted out of respect for the holiness of God’s name. With these substitutions, the First Beatitude might accordingly be rewritten: honored are the humble, for God will come into their life.

Understanding the First Beatitude sheds light on another distinctive teaching of Jesus. Jesus and John the Baptist both taught—“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt 3:2; 4:17)—but John focused on judgment while Jesus focused on forgiveness. Because forgiveness leaves space for God’s judgment and humility makes forgiveness easier, both forgiveness and humility work to make room for God in our lives (Matt 6:14–15).

Humility in the Old Testament

Humility signals that God is welcome in our lives, as the life of Abraham illustrates. Abraham was clearly hospitable, a kind of humility (Gen 18:2–5), and God blesses him: “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:3) God’s blessing is clearly meant to be shared—Abraham is blessed to be a blessing to others. God blesses Abraham with His presence, with sharing His plans for the future (Gen 18), and with offering His provision and protection in spite of Abraham’s obvious duplicity (Gen 20). 

The importance of humility is most clearly stated in God’s response to King Solomon’s prayer dedicating the first temple in Jerusalem:

if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chr 7:14)

Here we see that humility is a precondition for God’s presence, forgiveness, and healing.

Space for God

Pride, the opposite of humility, may also be an occasion for God’ to enter our lives, as is revealed in Jesus’ response to the disciples’ impertinent question in Acts 1:6-8,cited above.

In his response, Jesus tells the disciples that they cannot usurp God’s sovereign authority and then, like a good leader, refocuses their attention on the mission. In his explanation of the mission, Jesus refers to the two types of time, translated here as times (χρόνος; “chronos”) and seasons (καιρός; “kairos”). Chronos time is time measured by a wristwatch (or calendar) that might be thought of as is a season of waiting on the Lord. Kairos time is a moment of divine revelation, a crisis for us when everything changes.

When we humble ourselves, we invite God to enter our lives, which can be a time of blessing, forgiveness or healing. When we do not, God acts sovereignly to accomplish his plans, with or without us.


Guelich, Robert. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing.

Ladd, George Eldon. 1991. A Theology of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdman.

Living Out Poor in Spirit

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

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Rare Human Being: Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela by Rev. Sindile Dlamini

Sindile Dlamini
Sindile Dlamini

Rare Human Being: Nelson Mandela

Our guest blogger today, Rev. Sindile Dlamini, comes from South Africa.

Nelson Mandela Tribute

The outpouring of sympathy at the passing of Tata Nelson Mandela still intrigues me. (Tata means father in Mandela’s Xhosa language). The global leader has left an indelible mark in the lives of many people the world over.

When I spoke to a colleague recently, he continued to express his grief for Mandela describing him as a rare human being.  As I pondered, Nelson Mandela was indeed a rare human being who was marked for greatness from his birth.


At birth, he was given the following name: Rolihlahla. In our culture the naming ceremony of a child carries great significance as it determines a child’s destiny. When translated, Rolihlahla, means trouble maker. And Mandela would become a troublemaker of great significance as he dared to speak truth to power to the point that he was incarcerated for twenty seven years. At the dock, he dared to say he was even prepared to die for the cause of a free and democratic South Africa. In prison, he continued to be a troublemaker fighting for the rights of prisoners who were subjected to unbearable conditions. This caused him to win the respect of his jailers and on a wider context those who had imprisoned him to the extent that they were willing to begin negotiations for his release and set the stage for transforming South Africa into a democratic state.


Another flash back to his names–while he attended primary school, his Methodist teacher gave him the name, Nelson, after the great Admiral Lord Nelson, a British Navy service man. It was the missionaries practice to give African people English names when they arrived in Africa.  Perhaps most African names were a tongue twister and they wanted African people to assimilate to the religious culture. Yet, on hindsight, this has led to DuBois’s “double consciousness.”  Like Lord Nelson, Nelson Mandela led and lived a life of service, consumed with serving his people through the political machinery and movement of the African National Congress party; leading to his appointment to serve as the first black President of a free and democratic South Africa. In this position he modeled reconciliation, forgiveness, and social justice.


After his death, we continue to reflect on a life well lived, a life that fulfilled its God given purpose and destiny.  As a South African living in the United States I marvel at how much our histories intertwine. When I mention that I am from South Africa, most people will invariably ask me about Nelson Mandela. Indeed he is a rare human being who touched lives not only in South Africa but in Europe, North and South America, and Asia.

In Psalm 2:8,  the Psalmist poses the following question: “ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for your possession”. Sublimely Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela asked the question and God answered a resounding, yes, as evidenced by his life, service, and rare status.

Biography for Sindile

HU Stage Rev Sindile Dlamini
Rev Sindile Dlamini

Rev. Sindile Dlamini comes to Washington DC by way of Johannesburg, South Africa. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

In May 2011, she graduated with a Master of Divinity from Howard University School of Divinity. She started as the Research Assistant in the Office of the Dean and served as Secretary and Elections Coordinator for the Student Government Association.  In 2009, she was a Graduate Student Assembly Humanitarian Award recipient. She also received a Special Recognition Award from the School of Divinity Student Government Association.

She advocates for youth to participate in service projects in the city such as Martin Luther King (Jr) Day of Service and Howard University Alternative Spring Break Service Project. In this context, youth learn the value of giving back and making a difference in the community. In this way their service competence will effect positive generational change for the community, locally and internationally.


She is also an associate minister at Michigan Park Christian Church under the leadership of Pastor. Marvin Owens and has served as a Board Secretary in 2011-2013 and participates as a Christian Education teacher.  In addition, in the wider community she is a board member for Life Restoration Ministry, Baltimore, MD. She serves as a Diaspora Coordinator for Vuka Africa Foundation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Currently, she is a Professional Chaplain at Howard University Hospital providing pastoral and spiritual care to patients, families and staff. In addition, she has previously worked as a chaplain at George Washington University Hospital. There she strengthened her pastoral care skills with palliative care patients and the trauma unit.

Publicly, she has appeared on ABC, NBC Channel 4 and Sheryl Lee Ralph Radio Show. There she talked about the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela and highlighted Mandela as a symbol of social justice, reconciliation and service and truth.

Therefore she desires that her gift and calling advance the kingdom of God in all spheres of society.

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