What is “A Spirit of Poverty”? A Pastor Explains

Towards the end of a church service recently, our Pastor made reference to the “spirit of poverty” he has had to overcome. Intrigued, I asked him if he’d be willing to be interviewed about it for Fruclassity. Pastor Ian graciously agreed. Here is what he had to say about his experience with a spirit of poverty.

What does the term “spirit of poverty” mean?

“Spirit” refers to the centre of our being.  It transcends, though includes our mindset, thought patterns, beliefs, and emotional relationship to people and things.  So a “spirit of poverty” refers to the centre of our being relating to life out of a sense of not having enough or not being sufficient.  There is not enough supply.

What are the symptoms of it that you show – that make you recognize it in yourself?

In the past I have had a chronic sense that I don’t have enough – enough money, enough material things, enough personal resources to secure my future. This has resulted in relating to money, financial transactions, and career choices out of fear. I have tended (and I still have this a bit) to make choices that make me feel safe rather than what might actually fit who I am and/or what might move me to a better life.

Where do you think this spirit of poverty came from?

Personally it was from an unhealthy generational relationship to money on my mother’s side, coupled with listening to my parents in chronic argumentation and decision-making around finances:  “Who (as in, which creditor) will we give a bit to this month?”  “Who will have to wait until next month?” They lived in chronic debt and debtor distress in spite of both working at pretty good jobs.  My grandfather was an obsessive bargain hunter.  He would buy large quantities of anything he could get on sale.  He always obsessed, running around to many grocery stores to get all the “deals.”  He pinched pennies.  He grew from poverty in the pre-war years and became a workaholic in order to make as much money as possible and always lived in fear of spending a nickel too much on something.

What impact does it have upon your finances in particular? (In terms of spending, giving, saving, peace vs. worry, contentment vs. dissatisfaction.)  

Personally, it inclines me to be over-controlling about money and emotionally reactive to sudden unanticipated expenditures.  It makes me want to control my wife’s spending because she didn’t grow up in a poverty household and so doesn’t think much about spending or its consequences.  She tends to spend towards a goal that is not financially motivated. I mean she has a more healthy view of money as a facilitator of higher values (e.g. relationship).  I have to resist fear-based financial decisions. Also, I tend to be very, very scrupulous on the expense end, but very generous in giving once I’m sure I have the room financially.  Giving that puts me on the edge financially is very difficult, in spite of the fact I love to give. But honestly, there is no definitive manifestation for all people.

What ripple effects does it have in other areas of your life?

Because God has helped me through this, its impact has been greatly reduced.  However, I still see it in the way I’m suspicious of charges, the way I fight with companies like Bell over $2 increases on my bill, and the way I strive to get the absolute best deal on a purchase.  I’m attending an American school for Doctoral Studies and I have had to really pray to relax with where the exchange rate is on days when I’m paying tuition (as a Canadian).  I’ll want to monitor the currency up and down like crazy to save a few dollars. There is a difference between being wise and careful and being obsessive or over scrupulous.  One is a choice.  The other is a fear-driven compulsion that I am not fully in control of.  Again, God helps me in this.  I can control my fears much more now.

How can a person with a spirit of poverty effectively address it? What has been your personal experience in addressing it? Have you noticed any changes?

Acknowledging it is the first and most important step.  Secondly, partner with somebody that doesn’t have such a fear, but who is wise in their relationship to money. Don’t partner with a spendthrift to compensate for over scrupulousness.  Third, ask God – and be a willing participant – in having Him take you through circumstances where you can see His provision for your needs.

We have nearly been bankrupt three times through no fault of our own.  We have seen God help resource us again and again.  The last time, because of a call to move, we lost $65,000 on our home sale – $80,000 with Real Estate fees, lawyers and miscellaneous expenses.  Folks we knew offered to help bridge the finance for us.  That was a relief.  No interest!  Wow.  That was so unusual.  Then no payback time line – just as we could afford it.  That really motivated me and I began being aggressive about paying it back.  We were down to $70,000 owing when we received a note in the mail with a “paid in full” message on the $70,000 note.

I was stunned.  I still am 10 years later!  Yet that is the way I have seen God provide.  He is a good Father and does give the kind of financial endowments that often do not come through our parental or other human models in life.  You soon learn He has enough to provide – maybe not for all the toys – but for all our real needs.  It truly breaks the yoke of a poverty spirit once you realize He has a great provision for you.

Finally, be proactive about debt and living within your means.  Honestly, many people adopt a spirit of poverty by buying/spending their way into its arms.  If you buy/spend your way into crisis with unnecessary expenditures, you actually wind up with lack, which fosters a sense of lack, which can become a part of your “spirit.”

If there is something that you would like to add that hasn’t been addressed by these questions, please do.

It’s a journey.  Don’t ever think this thing is conquered.  We have a very uneasy relationship with money (or material resources).  It is a spiritual issue.  The world is always bombarding us with “you deserve” and “you can have” and “you should have” and on and on and on.  In other words, the world’s financial construct is to artificially create a sense of lack – to foster a spirit of poverty in us so we will buy their stuff and make them rich (financially speaking).  So overcoming it is not a “state.”  You can be an overcomer today and if you don’t stay vigilant, it can win you over the next day.  It truly is a spiritual reality.  The Bible animates money into a demonic principles called “Mammon.”  It suggests that other-worldly forces are working to put us in bondage to passions, lusts and cravings for security, for pleasure, for staying up with what other people have and so on.  I have found that letting the Bible speak to me on finances, letting God help my heart with finances, staying accountable for my finances and having a clearly articulated strategy with financial goals is a good combination to learn to live with a “spirit of prosperity.”


*Photo courtesy of Amir Farshad Ebrahimi

Do you recognize a “spirit of poverty” within yourself or someone you know? Your comments are welcome.



10 comments on “What is “A Spirit of Poverty”? A Pastor Explains

  1. “It’s a journey. Don’t ever think this thing is conquered. We have a very uneasy relationship with money (or material resources). It is a spiritual issue. The world is always bombarding us with “you deserve” and “you can have” and “you should have” and on and on and on. ” Well said. No matter where you are along the journey you need to remain diligent. Thanks for sharing Pastor Ian.

    1. The idea of diligence, even after a financial goal has been reached, is one that I’m really grasping these days. I’ll make sure Pastor Ian knows of your thanks, Brian : )

  2. My spirit of poverty currently is a career transition my wife & I are currently going through. We expected a different lifestyle but have had some short-term setbacks, family & friends have come through with just enough (no abundance) and we are doing fine. God will come through & provide, it might not be how you expect, it has been steps of faith for me as I’ve been blessed with self-sufficiency in most my life.

    1. “We expected a different lifestyle . . . ” those words speak volumes, Josh. I’ve been in a situation of financial stress and disappointment, and it’s not a great memory. For us, it lasted 6 years. I hope that won’t be the case with you. “God will come through & provide . . .” is something you can count on. And you’re right in saying it might not be how you expect. Thanks for commenting. I wish you all the best as you move forward. I would love to be updated on your progress.

  3. I believe that to be true…the notion that you can spend your way into crisis, buying unnecessary stuff, and end up feeling a sense of lack. There’s a lot of wisdom in this post, and please let Pastor Ian know that it’s appreciated.

    I didn’t realize that so much of finance is really based on Biblical principles, but then again…why wouldn’t everything you need to know about money be in the good book…interesting post indeed.

    1. I was also struck by that notion of “spending your way into crisis” – I think because it goes a long way in describing some of my own experience. I will definitely let Pastor Ian know that you appreciate this post, Laura Beth!

  4. LOVE this and couldn’t agree more. We struggled with the same type of spirit – we call it a spirit of lack – and have seen big changes in our lives as we’ve learned about the promise of God’s provision and renounced this mindset in our home. GREAT stuff, Ruth!

    1. Thanks Laurie. It’s time to replace that old “spirit of poverty” with the “spirit of prosperity” Pastor Ian refers to at the end : )

  5. It’s really cool that your pastor opened up about such a taboo topic in the church, especially admitting his weaknesses. It is so powerful reading about the effects of this straight from someone who experienced it. Great interview.

    1. Thank you, Laura. Time to get rid of all those taboos – in churches and in society. I hope that anyone in a position of leadership in a church would be able to open up about his or her weaknesses. It should be an essential requirement for the job.

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