Humility and How I Achieved It … ???

Many have pointed out that humility is the essential virtue that we cannot “work on.” Think about the fictitious book, Humility and How I Achieved It. It’s a joke, right? If you’re writing a book about how you achieved humility, how much humility do you really have? Humility by definition does not focus on its own presence or quality. This is what Paul had in mind as he wrote his Philippian friends about how to live together:

“… complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Because humility is a supremely Christlike virtue, we often find in the Christian community the oxymoronic attempt to act humble. The reason is clear; we wish to acquire the respect that comes with being perceived in the Christian community as a Christlike or humble person, while at the same time enjoying a very hefty prestige based on this “humility.” How odd. This is especially present among long-time, well-churched Christians. It is a spiritual malady of the “mature.”

How should we respond then? Since we can’t “cultivate” humility like we would certain other virtues, is there any hope for us to actually grow in it? Good News: There Is! Christlike humility is attempting to spring up within us all the time.  It is growing through the only means possible in a pride-saturated world—humiliation. Interestingly, our culture treats the idea of humility as a virtue and the concept of humiliation as a vice, even though they come from the same root. Nobody in western society, tutored as we are in the gospel of self-esteem, embraces humiliation in any form. We are nagged relentlessly to “stand up for ourselves,” “demand respect,” “fulfill our potential,” and “get our best lives now.”

Humiliation is the acquisition of genuine humility through the most honest means available. It need not be public humiliation, or even very severe for that matter, but it is the piercing, conscious awareness of specific failure coupled with a sense of needing and receiving grace from the Lord. It is one of the essential ingredients in what the Bible calls repentance, the first step into eternal life. But it’s not just the first step, is it? Do we not learn to walk in this humble repentance always? Is this not walking in the Spirit? (Gal.5:25-26).

Let me suggest that true humility is actually growing in us when the Lord arranges for us to be sinned against, slighted, ignored, embarrassed, or in some way hurt by others. At moments like these, when angry self-righteousness so naturally erupts, we might ask ourselves the same question God asked Jonah, “Do you have a right to be so angry?” What would our reaction be if we really didn’t care about our reputation or prestige and only cared about the truth, the needs of others, or the will of the Lord in the situation? In other words, what would it be like if we thought like Jesus on the subject at hand?

I have heard Christians seriously teach that, “It’s a sin to allow anybody to sin against you,” which would mean of course that our Lord is the worst sinner of all time (!). Do we have to let others sin against us in every case? Of course not. Justice is also a virtue. But as Christians we have the right and the power to let others hurt us unjustly without retaliating. And the exercise of doing just that is the one way we can cooperate with the growth of humility in our hearts. How else could our Lord teach and demonstrate his famous instruction to turn the other cheek (Take a moment to look up the following verses: Matt.5:38-42; Romans 12:14-21; 1 Peter 2:19-25). Jesus saved the world by doing precisely what he instructs us to do in strategic situations—let pain and humiliation happen to us. The result in us is a true selflessness, a relief from the burden of appearing perfect, of living up to the unbearable weight of our own reputation for maturity. Under the grace of the Lord, we will sense the love, joy and peace—the relief—that comes from simply loving and being loved by the Lord himself (See 1 Cor.13).

Just a Thought,

Pastor Rick

Christian Prayer

In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.

John 16:26-27

New Covenant prayer is arguably the single greatest practical privilege we have as Christians. Jesus is basically telling his friends that soon they will be able to pray the same way he does—directly to God as their Father based on a personal covenant love relationship that cannot fail. This is a distinctly new sort of experience he bestows on his disciples, or he wouldn’t have been as excited about it as he was. He is far more enthused about our potential prayer life than we are (Lk.11:1-13; 18:1-8; Jn.15:16; 16:23-24).  Note four things he says in this passage about Christian prayer:

First, prayer is in his name. That makes it in some mysterious and powerful way an improvement over prayer offered under the Old Covenant. A Christian is metaphysically joined to the authority and identity of Christ, the Messiah, God’s own Son (the name), by simple faith (“believing that I came from God”).  And because we are under his grace and authority we come into the Father’s presence in a relationship to him unknown prior to Christ (Rom.8:14-17; Heb.4:14-16). Before the gospel, before the work of the cross, this was not available. Jesus (shockingly) said that among the OT believers there was nobody greater than John the Baptist (A very radical thought in light of all the great names in the Old Testament!). And yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater (in a better position) than John (Lk.7:28). He must be referring to the work of regeneration and justification that comes in Christ to the simplest Christian, and with that New Covenant work—the right to pray like the Son of God himself. Wow!

Second, we call God “Father” when we talk to him, just like Jesus did. This was not done prior to Christ and was in fact one of the outstanding characteristics of his own prayer life. It is not found in any other religion and not available through any other message than the gospel of Christ. This means that what passes for “prayer” in much of the world, because it is emphatically not in the name of Christ, is not anything like what goes on in the smallest gathering of the most humble Christians. Wow!

Third, the Father hears us directly and personally, just like he heard Jesus. Jesus says that he will not ask the Father on our behalf, but our prayers are heard immediately by God himself. This means, among other things, that we don’t need other angelic or saintly “mediators” to “get God’s ear” for us (1 Tim.2:5; Heb.4:14-16). This does not mean that Christ does not speak to the Father about us. He does (Heb.7:25; 1 Jn.2:1-2). But it does mean that our access to the Father is, like Jesus’ access, instant, constant, secure, personal, and effective through the Holy Spirit (Rom.8:26). Wow!

Fourth, the Father hears our prayers because he loves us. Because we love Jesus, the Father loves us like he loves his own son. Consider the fact that God loves you as much as he loves Christ Jesus himself. In fact, he gave his son up to die for us so that he could have us in his family forever (Rom.8:31-32). Most of us simply do not believe this, and because we don’t believe it we feel less confident than we should about our prayers. Wow!

So, Christian prayer is a unique and powerful right. It is not like pagan prayer, Old Covenant prayer, New Age prayer, non-Christian religious prayer, or mystical meditation on the numinous. It is personal, perpetual, open communication with the God of the universe as our Father. Let us pray.

Pastor Rick