“I’m more humble than you think I am,” said a well-intentioned believer one morning. His comment may or may not have been true, but I find it both humorous and interesting. I wonder if that’s how many of us think about ourselves. Have you ever been impressed by your own humility?
Humility is foundational to our Christian walk. If we as image-bearing creatures are to be who God would have us to be, whether it’s in our family lives, the way we manifest love, demonstrate authentic discipleship or even pray, we must start with humble, yielded spirits. Humility is being fully aware of who we are before an incredible, unending holy God.
A famous Greek orator was asked, “What is the first rule for being eloquent in public speaking?” He answered, “Delivery.” “What is the second rule?” “Delivery.” “And the third rule?” “Delivery.” On this note, one of the great church leaders Augustine said, “If you ask me what are the great precepts of the Christian Religion, I will answer, first, second and third, ‘Humility.’”
With humility, the goal is not for a believer to live in such a way that he or she is never perceived as being proud or arrogant. What do you mean? What are you saying? The humblest person who ever walked the earth was tortured and killed because he was accused of blasphemous arrogance. Yet, His claims were true. (Jn. 5:18) So I’m not suggesting that “the bar,” so to speak, is for us to live in such a way that you will never, ever be accused of being prideful. If you’re a humble, yet outspoken witness for Jesus, your boldness and confidence may very well be perceived as arrogance. There’s a fine line.
What we must desperately seek to avoid is the reality of pride. You and I need to have true, real humility within. As John Piper says, “The kind of humility that God sees and that spiritually discerning people see, even if the world doesn’t see it.”
Clearly, humility is at the foundation of a God-centered life. I’m not writing on this topic because I’m an expert on it, and it’s certainly not because I’ve mastered it in my own life. I chose this topic because I believe it’s needed. I need it. I’m certain most, if not all, of you, need it. Also, when we stay away from such convicting conversations we can become blinded to our own sin and brokenness. Have you ever felt on occasion, if someone slights you, disrespects you, or embarrasses you, resentment start to surface? Pride. When it’s extremely easy to point out others’ faults – pride. When we’re impatient as if the world revolves around me – yup, pride. When the person in traffic comes all the way up and then tries to scooch in and I’m like, “No way!” Could that too be pride?
I suppose that humility is one of those topics that’s a challenge for all of us on a daily basis. Leonard Bernstein, a conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, was asked which instrument was most difficult to play. He thought, “The second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm – that’s a problem.” Humility, like metal and a magnet, draws us closer to God. (Ja. 4:6)
A good passage that serves us well in setting the stage concerning the heart of God is 2nd Chronicles 7. You remember that after Solomon had finished the house of the Lord, God appeared to him:
I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, 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. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.” (vv. 13-15)
I believe that there is a Continuum when it comes to humility and how we view and posture ourselves. A continuum is “something that changes in character gradually or in very slight stages without any clear dividing points.” When it comes to pride, arrogance, humility, etc., I am saying that there’s a sliding scale. Sometimes from our vantage point, things can be very obscure. There’s a subtle piece in all of this. When Ronald Reagan was governor of California and had an embarrassing moment after he had given a speech in Mexico City. Reagan writes:
After I had finished speaking, I sat down to rather unenthusiastic applause, and I was a little embarrassed. The speaker who followed me spoke in Spanish – which I don’t understand – and he was being applauded at almost every paragraph. Well, to hide my embarrassment, I started clapping when he spoke – before everyone else and longer than anyone else-until our ambassador leaned over and said, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Mr. Reagan. You see, that man is interpreting your speech.”
Now think about how that innocent mistake illustrates the fact that it is very easy for us to look prideful or slip into prideful actions even without knowing it. So there really is a great need for us to be “self-aware.” Benjamin Franklin once said, “There is perhaps none of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases-it is still alive. Even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it I would probably be proud of my humility.”
So back to the continuum – I don’t think, necessarily, that it’s so much contrast between Pride and Humility. In my judgment – you decide for yourself what you think – it’s not that Pride is way over here and on the other side of the continuum is Humility. I think rather it’s Pride that’s on one side and over there is False Humility. There’s Pride, False Humility and then somewhere in the middle is what God wants – True Humility. More to come!