Over the course of the last year, Mike and Julie Yoder, our Senior Pastors at the Vineyard Church of Central Illinois have reinforced over and over again two words: humility and unity. These two words have been a grounding and stabilizing force that God gave them for our church during this really uncertain and strange time. In bizarre times like this it is critical to have things to hold on to like this! As this has been a consistent reminder to our church family, I've been giving more thought to these concepts than I otherwise would have. What is the essence of humility? Of unity? How do we know if we have them? How do we cultivate them? What happens when we don't have them? I'm still on a journey with these questions and concepts - I find with topics like these the more I press in the more I see there is a lot to them that I don't yet know or understand!
I recently heard something about staying humble that really has me thinking though; I was listening to a podcast of a well-accomplished faith leader: a church of a significant number of thousands, involved with an extensive network and so on. In the interview, the host asked this person, "How do you stay humble?" My curiosity spiked: what would he say? His answer really struck me. He said:
You know, I think anyone who truly meets with God is struck by enough awe of him that they don't get too impressed with themselves. I regularly have powerful quiet times with the Lord and that helps me stay in a healthy place.
Wow, what an answer to that question! I've been chewing that over ever since, and it strikes me as profoundly true on a number of levels.
God is better at keeping us humble than we are
One of the lessons I've learned over and over in my faith journey is the many ways where I have a tendency to assume responsibilities for things that God actually wants to do for us. In my instance, I remember when I first encountered the things of the Spirit, I was deeply concerned about being deceived. I had never heard of or seen this stuff, and I didn't want to veer off the path into false teaching. I remember feeling excited about what I was learning, but also insecurity about where it might take me. I felt trapped and unsure what to do.
One day in the middle of this struggle, I remember reading the book of Jude and something jumped out at me:
But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life...Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. Jude 20–21, 24-25
Truth jumped off the page: my job was to keep myself in the love of God, and God's job was to keep me from falling. I was confused and anxious because without knowing it, I had switched those around: I was trying to keep myself from falling, and as I thought about it, because I was working on keeping myself in a good place, I wasn't working to keep myself in the love of God. I wasn't exactly trying to perform to earn God's love, but that was how it played itself out.
This was the key I needed: I repented and told the Father that I did choose to trust myself with him. I gave him the responsibility for keeping me out of deception and I chose to keep myself in his love. It was a powerful spiritual transaction that resulted in a changed course moving forwards that I have never once regretted or looked back upon. In the years since then, God has proven himself faithful in that area.
In a similar way, I believe it is easy for us to assume responsibility for our own humility. We probably don't do it on purpose, but because we want to stay humble, it is so easy to just begin to take responsibility for keeping ourselves there. But that's not our job! At least it's not a job we can do: our job is to keep ourselves connected to God, and he will keep us from falling in every way. Somehow I had connected these dots as it came to false teaching, but not with pride.
God-focus naturally leads to humility
It also seems to me that missing the mark on humility (whether it is overt pride or a kind of self-effacing false humility) is probably rather a natural byproduct of too much attention being directed at people. When our attention is on others, we can't help but see strengths and weaknesses; places where things are being handled better than we would handle them, and places where things are being handled worse. Each of these interactions is an opportunity to grade ourselves according to others that we see around us, and there is a lot of room in that for pride or false-humility to take root. In fact, I would say that probably the key difference between true humility and false humility is whether we have God or other people in sight when we are making the assessment of ourselves. It is only while our eyes are on the Lord that we can perceive ourselves accurately, and that includes walking in true humility.
Once again, this is such an easy mistake to make! It's so easy to take others around us as a kind of "grade" against we evaluate ourselves. I find that when I'm doing that, most of the time I don't even realize that is what is happening. It's always a trap though; to try and extract a healthy picture of myself from a fallen world is destined to miss the mark. God is the only source of a fully healthy self-concept, and focus on him naturally aligns everything in our lives with his kingdom design.
I loved how the podcast I listened to specifically highlighted awe. I think awe is probably the quality that cultivates proper humility. I'd suggest that Moses is probably a wonderful example of this. Here is the man who met with God on mount Sinai. The man who saw and talked with God face-to-face, and what the Scriptures say about him is profound:
Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth. Numbers 12:3 NIV
Moses' powerful encounters with God didn't provoke pride, but extreme humility! I'd bet a fair bit of that came from a front row seat to God that could only spark awe at who he is.
Humility is important: God resists the proud, but he gives grace to the humble. Without humility's cousin, purity of heart, we will not see God. Humility is a critical kingdom value - and one that we get best by allowing the Lord to give it to us.