I know precious little about humility. However I know one big thing: God requires it in His people.
Scripture is filled with teachings, examples, violations, commands, and encouragements regarding humility. Even our Lord Jesus Christ was humble and became our example. (Try these passages for starters: Matthew 11:29; John 13:14-15; Philippians 2:5-8.)
Scripture tells believers to put on humility (Colossians 3:12), be clothed with humility (I Peter 5:5), and to walk with humility (Ephesians 4:1-2).
The Lord wants His children to be humble so badly that He has given us seven aids to accomplish this and to keep us that way.
1. Common sense.
Look around at the billions of people. You’re just one of them. Look above at the zillions of stars. You’re sitting on one small planet circling one humble star. They’ve been around for eons, while you have only a few more years of life here. If that doesn’t humble you, you’re not paying attention. (See Psalm 8)
2. The Holy Spirit.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, humility…. (Galatians 5:22-23).
3. Our family.
I heard the wife of a well-known preacher say on television once–and probably shocking her audience–“I tell my husband, ‘Don’t start that big shot thing with me. I saw you in your shorts this morning.'” (My wife thought the woman spoke out of turn, that she should not have said that publicly.)
The old adage says, “No man is a hero to his valet.” To the Obama children, Barack is simply “Daddy.” To Billy Graham’s offsprings, he is “Daddy.” None tiptoe into his presence and genuflect.
4. Our friends.
Our closest friends are not in awe of us. They will tell us our breath smells bad, we need to use a hankie, or that we have a stain on our clothing we had not noticed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy (Proverbs 27:6).
5. Affliction, hardship.
You shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you…. (Deuteronomy 8:2-3)
Scripture cites so many instances of this, it’s hard to know where to start. God let Israel fail to conquer the tiny city of Ai to humble them because of sin in their camp. He let Samson fail because of his headstrong ways. Same with Nebuchadnezzar. Time and again, God allowed foreign nations to conquer Israel and dominate them until they humbled themselves and cried out to Him.
A friend told me that after his wife left him, thus ending his pastoral ministry that had made him a household name in his part of the world, God truly humbled him. I said, “My guess is you are doing far better work for the Lord now than before.” He said, “Before, I was working for myself. Now I work for Jesus.”
Nothing drove Moses to stay close to the Almighty like the constant carping of the Israelites. Many a pastor has stood in the pulpit and preached God’s message before people looking for flaws and eager to pounce on any mistake he made. It’s an awful way to live, but God can use this to build character in him and deepen his commitment to Christ.
A gospel song says it like this–
I thought number one would surely be me;
I thought I could be what I wanted to be.
I thought of myself as a mighty big man.
But I can’t even walk without You holding my hand.
Question: Why do we have to keep learning these lessons? Why does pride become such a dominant, malignant factor in our lives?
Answer: Because we live under a constant barrage of forces that neutralize humility.
Here are 7 forces that work against humility.
1. Our ego.
We are born self-centered and, unless something intervenes (like a spanking or discipline or instruction), we grow up full of ourselves, thinking the world revolves around us. That may be the essence of original sin, that we are all about us.
My friend Jerry Clower used to say, “People say I have an ego. Listen, friend–if you don’t have an ego, go get you one. Because you’re going to be needing one in this life!” He meant the kind of self-awareness and confidence that accompany success in life. That’s the good ego; the bad ego is pride, self-centeredness. Romans 12:3 says God’s children should “not think more highly of (themselves) than (they) ought to think.”
2. Our successes.
No one wants to fail; everyone wants to succeed in life. Yet we learn far more from our failures than from successes and accomplishments. Let a young writer receive great acclaim for his first novel and he/she automatically thinks of themselves as a great author. However, if the aspiring writer receives a series of rejection slips that drive him to work at his craft and perfect his skills, he can become far more than otherwise.
In the ministry, few people are as full of themselves as young pastors who have achieved notoriety early. After watching them preen and listening to them prate, one finds himself hoping they will be humbled in order to be of genuine service in the Lord’s work. My opinion is that no one in the ministry ever amounts to anything without being broken at some point.
3. Our underlings.
Our groupies, our fans, our employees, our admirers–call them what you please. Sycophants. Many of these attempt to curry favor in order to use us for their purposes. But as stated earlier, one’s spouse generally will set you straight. Woe to the minister who discounts his wife’s solid assessment in favor of the glowing praise of his adorers.
4. Our forgetfulness.
God sent us failure and humbled us, but we quickly forgot the lesson and soon were back to speed with our ego running the show.
The Apostle Peter wrote of various Christlike virtues, then added, He who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins (II Peter 1:9).
We must never forget how life may have turned out without the redeeming intervention of a loving Savior.
5. Our enemy, Satan himself.
Jesus told Peter that the devil wanted to sift you like wheat. For one called “The Rock” (Matthew 16:18), Peter was in danger of being turned into sand. Satan is forever trying that approach with us today, in two primary ways: by running us down, destroying our confidence and faith, and by puffing us up, making us believe in our self-sufficiency.
Our adversary will take whatever approach works best in order to neutralize our effectiveness. We think of the publican praying, “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men…” (Luke 18:11). Jesus was unimpressed by the man’s prayer, motivated as it was by his pride.
6. Our blindness.
Even without successes to puff us up, we still find ourselves carrying inflated ideas of who we are. Where does this come from? We are clearly turning blind eyes toward reality. The Old Testament prophets and our Lord Jesus spoke of those who have eyes but will not see (Matthew 13:13ff).
When we look into the mirror, we do not see “truth” but we see what we want to see. As with the wicked queen, the “mirror mirror on the wall” showed her what she wanted to see, told her what she wanted to hear. Let the child of God beware.
“You are so wonderful.” “You are the best pastor we’ve ever had.” “I read everything you write.” “How did you learn to draw so well?” “You are so handsome.”
My friend Frank Pollard, wonderful pastor now in Heaven, had a good line that fits here. After receiving a glowing introduction in a service, Frank approached the pulpit and said, “I’m going to ask the Lord to forgive my brother for that introduction. And to forgive me for enjoying it so much.”
The ugliest trait in all the world–bar none, no debate about it–is conceit. An actor can take home more Oscars than anyone in movie history and adorn the covers of all the fan mags and we are fine with that. However, let them begin to act like they are hot stuff and we’re outa there. Few things adorn accomplishment like humility.
Okay, third and maybe the most basic question of all: Why? Why does the Lord want us humble? Why is this an important topic? What is the point?
For that, we turn to Scripture. Here are seven reasons God wants us humble.
1. That He may exalt us in due time.
“Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (I Peter 5:6).
2. So that we may learn. Only the humble are teachable.
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29).
3. That God can use us in His service. He cannot use the prideful.
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart–These, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).
4. To receive more grace.
“He gives more grace. Therefore He says, ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
5. To enter His presence.
“Thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit….” (Isaiah 57:15).
“The Lord is near those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
6. To be saved and enter the Kingdom.
“Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4).
7. That our prayers may be heard.
“He does not forget the cry of the humble” (Psalm 9:12).
Does this exhaust the subject? What a question! Never. This one is as deep as the ocean, as unlikely to be nailed down and summed up as the mysteries of the future. The human heart is a mess. The human animal is a rebel. As puny and flawed as we are, the fact that we accomplish a few things and then decide we can live without God is all the proof anyone should ever need of our precarious condition in this universe.
The war to remain humble must be fought on many fronts every day of our lives. Even then, pride will slip up on our blind side. Before we know it, we will start sounding as though we deserve more from God and others than we are getting, like we have been mistreated in life, as though the universe was built for our comfort and our being deprived of anything ranks as a great injustice.
Every day of our lives, the wise among us will join with the publican who stood afar off and unwilling to even lift up his head, prayed, O God, be merciful to me the sinner (Luke 18:13).