In the years before I entered high school, I enjoyed lots of success on the baseball field. I made the All-Star team every year, led our teams in a few statistical categories, and considered myself a pretty good player. All that changed one day at Pleasure Ridge Park High School.

I got my first real opportunity on the varsity team as a sophomore, starting at shortstop about a third of the way into the season. All illusions I had of being ready quickly evaporated in my first several times to the plate. I was terrible. One hit in my first eleven at-bats, including six strikeouts. In short, I was over-matched and not ready.

Enter: Coach Miller. As if being humbled by varsity pitching wasn’t enough, Coach had me align myself with a fence directly in front of me, instructing me to swing and miss the fence. Needless to say, I can still feel the impact of my bat on the chain links. My swing needed work and I was now humble enough to receive the necessary instruction.

In Matthew 5:3, Jesus begins what are known as the Beatitudes with, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” Poor in spirit refers not to the realization that we truly have nothing to offer the Lord, that we cannot receive salvation based upon anything we possess, and that we must come to Jesus “poor” and empty-handed. It must be Jesus plus nothing else. We must come in humility and poverty to Him. Just as I could not count on my past All-Star experiences to fix my swing in high school, you and I have nothing to count on for salvation but Jesus alone. Any attempt to receive salvation by earning it only makes our bat crash into the fence.

Those who are poor in spirit recognize their own sinfulness and hopelessness apart from Jesus. They humbly cry out to Him for forgiveness and receive His salvation by grace and through faith alone; and they are welcomed into His Kingdom.

I wonder how many will keep hitting the fence over and over, refusing to acknowledge their need for Jesus. Eternal failure and condemnation awaits those without Jesus, regardless of how many All-Star teams you make or how many records you set.

I praise God for that fence, which made me a better baseball player. And, I praise Him for the words of Jesus in Matthew 5, which make me recognize my need for Him.