Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Lesson in Humility

Dear Friends,

Decades ago, as director of a men's ministry, I had prepared an insert for the Sunday bulletin in which I was encouraging the men to join me in a workday to help the widows in our church. My then-wife read it and told me that if the only way she could get anything done around our house was to become a widow, she'd be willing to give that a try. (I was smart enough to be able to penetrate this subtlety and discern that perhaps I wasn't doing enough to help her with the family chores.)

That Sunday afternoon, I was determined to redeem myself and asked what I could do to help so that she could just spend the afternoon with her book. She gave me her list and I strode confidently out the door to hunt, purchase and conquer. I was so proud of myself when I came back! I burst into the house and couldn't wait to tell her about returning the items to Sports Chalet and how I had to get pretty assertive with the manager before he would give us our money back. I told her about the hassle of getting the right cat food at Petco and how I'd prevailed. I'd found exactly what she needed at Linens-n-Things using the coupons and at Vons I was proud to say that I had gotten everything on her list. I even told her about ignoring the woman who was flirting with me in the produce section. Of course I was making myself sound like the world's best husband and when I finally ran out of things to boast about, I noticed that she was giving me one of her “disapproving looks.” I was still standing in the entryway and she was sitting on the couch and just staring up at me. There were a few moments of uncomfortable silence and then she said, “And so the entire time that you’ve done all this your zipper’s been down?”

God’s word tells us that pride goes before a fall and it does seem that just when we get caught up in our own magnificence, we so often experience a heavenly-sent smack-down. And as we mature in the Lord and these holy attitude adjustments continue to take place, we eventually progress to become the person God has created us to be. When I was a kid and came home my mother would always call out, “Is that you?” Today my answer would be, “Not yet but someday I will be.”

We are all works-in-progress and on our journey of spiritual growth, it is through the grace of God, we transition from “full-of-ourselves” to “full-of-God.” And it’s only when we find our God-revealed authentic self that our humility can be safely unveiled.

Humility has gotten a bad reputation these days. Our American culture has worked hard to infuse the younger generation with a sense of grandeur and self-esteem (self-love). We have promoted pride while demonizing humility and turned out what behavioral scientists and psychologists are calling the Narcissistic Generation. Our culture today has tilted toward an unhealthy focus on appearance, money, and fame and even many of our churches have attracted adherents by feeding those humanistic desires.

We need to get a grip on the reality of who we really are! To develop a grace-based understanding of Godly humility we need to first see that it’s not piously beating ourselves up for our fallen human nature. Humility embraces the contradictions, failures, and glories of our humanness. Humility is just an honest appraisal of who we are as we see our true self through the eyes of God. 

O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what He requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. [Micah 6:8] If the first two instructions are difficult, the third is particularly challenging. And then Paul adds a new requirement that really skewers our pride. Don't be selfish; don't try to impress others. Be humble, think of others as better than yourselves. Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.  [Philippians 2:3-4]

Humility keeps things in perspective. It helps us to understand that we are not exceptional. Like it or not, we are simply part of the human race. 
Lord, save me from thinking that I am better than others. Keep me from my tendency to impress others by glorifying myself. Help me to enjoy the praise I receive for my accomplishments and then to immediately empty that praise into the ocean of your love and give You all the glory. Help me to elevate the interests of others above my own and to manifest Your love and grace to those who You have brought to me. Lord, have mercy.  Amen.

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