What Good is Humility?

Humility isn’t a very popular topic these days, is it? We are encouraged to put ourselves first, share every accomplishment on social media, post daily selfies, and make a name for ourselves. As Christians, we know that not all of this is good. But it is very difficult to pick our way through this minefield while we are immersed in our own culture—to know what is OK and what could lead us more and more into a self-focused life. 

As an artist, I post my work on social media, and like most people I’m happy when a post gets likes and comments. Sometimes I do struggle with putting my work out for the world to see, though. Am I showing off? Is this all about me? I know God gave me any abilities that I have, but am I trying to “make a name for myself”? Well, yes, I guess I am. In order to build my business, it’s important that people see what my work is like and associate my name with it. Anything wrong with that? If I am truly “making a name for myself,” like the ambitious tower of Babel folks (Genesis 11:1-9), the answer would be . . . yes. So, when I find myself in this position (which I have more than once!), what should I do?

I think the key is where my eyes are focused. On self or on Christ? Sounds simple, but it’s not a once-and-done choice. I chose to follow Christ a long time ago, but staying near to him involves tiny, directional adjustments that keep me walking beside him and toward him. “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:6). One of my favorite ways to acknowledge his presence is to ask him questions. Even a simple “Is this OK?” before I make a decision, or even post something on social media has been helpful, especially if I was hesitant for some reason. If I sense a smile or a go ahead, I go ahead. Sometimes scripture pops into my head at that moment, or even just a feeling that he is shaking his head causes me to reconsider. Conversations are deeper and better when we have eye contact. Once I look away from his gentle and humble eyes, I am so easily distracted. It’s natural then to look where I want to go and take steps toward my selfish inclinations. 

As always, Jesus draws us to himself to teach us. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29). More and more, I am realizing that each separate problem I face is an opportunity to go to him for a big hug. As I confess my sin to him, he never shames me but kindly teaches me how to think differently. And here’s the heart of humility: He knows everything. We don’t. Sounds stupidly simple, but how often do we think in the back of our minds that we know better than God how to handle things? When this happens to me, I go to the verses that my mom instilled in me when I was little, so that I remember that I am still little, and he is big:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

From this basic place of humility (knowing our position under God), we can better follow him into humility with other people. More difficult. But again, he teaches us and leads by example. 

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:1-8)

The closer we resemble Jesus, the closer we are to being truly humble. And the more we humbly realize we are totally dependent on him to be genuinely humble, the farther we are from false humility (arguably worse than pride!). Jesus’ humility drew people to his heart. Humility attracts; pride repels.

I was recently shown this in a relationship that I value highly. We were arguing. I was right. He was wrong. Seriously, though! I did not want to admit it to myself at the time, but my pride in being right completely took over. It was a tricky situation, because looking back, I still see the other person’s wrong as greater than my own. But in the moment of anger, in my zeal to prove their wrong, I totally overlooked mine. It was obvious what my pride did — it repelled this person I love and created a gap in the relationship. I asked the Lord to take over, realizing I could not manufacture humility. The next day my thoughts became clearer, and I admitted to the person how wrong I had been and said I was sorry. I felt the immediate change, as two magnets pushing away from each other suddenly click back together when turned around. He was genuinely humble and also apologized, and together we calmly talked about how we would handle things differently in the future. 

Relationships are obviously super important to Jesus. He prayed for unity among believers, even stating that by our unity the world will know that God sent Jesus and how much God loves them (John 17:23). This might be the most important reason God talks so much about humility. It is essential for unity and ultimately attracts others to Jesus. In these last days, when pursuing humility is so deeply counter-cultural, it may be more important than ever to learn from the only one who is completely humble in heart.

Originally posted on the blog of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA at https://intervarsity.org/blog/what-good-humility.

Anxiety (or, pursuing Peace) · prayer · Uncategorized

Too Many Details

I used to think I was a “detail person.” But over time, I realized that pretty much applies only to my artwork, and even in that details can overwhelm me. That’s why I prefer painting a close-up of an object rather than a landscape. I know a lot of amazing people who do so many things and handle so many details with energy and confidence. I’m just not one of those people. And I’m ok with that, until the schedules, needs, and expectations of my family, others and myself go beyond a certain point. My brain goes haywire and I can turn into a rather unpleasant person.

Life can be overwhelming. Besides the necessary things of daily life, and the unplanned surprises (pleasant or unpleasant), we are more or less under the influence of our culture, which pressures us to be busy, to have more, volunteer more, have a clean house, a mown lawn with no dandelions, make more money, be more social, be doing all the time. Some people thrive on lots of activity (you go, you extrovert energizer bunnies! I admire you!). But some of us are drained by it all, overwhelmed by all the details of life. We require more simplicity, peace, and quiet in order to function well.

Even though we haven’t read it yet, my husband and I often talk about the basic principle of this book: Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard Swenson. Some of us do just fine with 1/4” margin all around their “page.” Some of us do better with one or two words on the page and a whole lot of white space (yes, give me that!). But no one does well with zero margin, words to the very edge of the page in every direction — everyone needs some space to deal with the unexpected, whether it’s a friend (or stranger) that needs help, or a tree falls on your house during a storm. And everyone needs some time to process life and not to hide behind a busy schedule.

Each detail of life carries a bit of weight. The more anxiety or worry attached to it, the heavier it is. I’m continually learning to “Cast all your anxiety on Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7). Some time ago, during worship at our church, I had a vague mental picture of Jesus smiling at me. It looked like there was something in His hand. I was mostly wondering if I was just making this picture up in my head, but also felt I should ask, “What is that in Your hand?” So I asked, and added, “By the way, I don’t have enough faith today to even hear your answer.” At that exact moment, our worship leader prayed, “Thank You that You hold the details of our lives in the palm of your hand.”

Anxiety (or, pursuing Peace) · Uncategorized

The Love of Most Will Grow Cold

During a very difficult time, when someone had hurt me and people I loved, Jesus brought this verse clearly to my mind: “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.” Matt 24:12. My first thought was something like, “Surely not me, Lord!” It was actually the first time I had ever considered that verse as applying to myself personally. To me, it had always been a more general verse, for the future, for other people in the end times. But as I pondered it, with Jesus there with me, I began to realize that my heart already had heavy frost around the edges.cold

In the following months of journaling (my therapy, my best way of communicating with God and seeing His work and presence in my life), I came to realize I could do nothing about my cold heart. Outward attempts to be kind made me feel artificial. My prayers for this person were bitter. I discovered in a new way that the only cure for my frigid heart was to draw close to the pure and warm heart of my Father God. In this case, I retreated, took refuge. Spent days and weeks, not trying to love or even pray for the person, but instead running to His arms, and staying there. Not doing anything. That is where my heart began to melt. I looked to Him, He comforted me. I didn’t have to do anything else (I kept asking) for a long, long time. Every time I asked, “Should I call? Text?” I heard, “Wait.” Every time I got bombarded with hateful thoughts, I learned to run to His arms, take refuge there, hide in Him. I learned to stay there longer, and return more often.

As I spent time there, I learned that He cared much more about my situation, and justice, and grace, than I did. I was able to fully hand it all over to Him (with a few hundred set backs). I had to hand over the “record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13) I was keeping, and let Him deal with that. I realized He had things timed, and that much was going on that I couldn’t see. I had to wait. I was learning to enjoy just being in His comforting, sweet presence meanwhile. I realized even more that there was no where I would rather be.

Then an opportunity came to show love, through an act of service, (not my spiritual gift, so it was extra difficult to obey). I had an attitude, but I knew the time was right. And, though it didn’t solve everything or bring on the apology I felt I deserved (I’ve since been able to give that expectation to God to keep, as well), it was a big turning point. It served to thaw that person’s heart and to enable them, and me, to see more clearly.

Heaven · Uncategorized

The Accent of Home

I used to wonder at my mother when she cried over, it seemed, every little thing.  Now I find myself doing just what she did and still does.  This afternoon I was out getting the mail, and a big truck from the tree farm on which we live pulled in our drive (which leads to the place where big trucks pick up trees to take them places).  The driver stopped to talk to me, and it took me a minute to realize that he is the same man who plows our driveway when we get snowed in.  I don’t know much about him at all, but by his looks, mannerisms and accent, I know he is from this area and most likely grew up on a farm.  Where we live right now, and have lived for the past six years, is the area where I grew up.  But for the time between ages 12 and 36 (excepting visits and four years of college nearby), I lived far from “home.”  Part of that time was spent in a foreign country. So I can’t quite describe how it feels, now, to hear the accent of home.  It is similar to whatever it is that the sense of smell does to you – like when you smell the perfume that your grandmother used to wear.  Instantly, childhood emotions and memories are evoked. You can almost feel your grandmother’s soft shoulder under your cheek as she rocked you on the yellow rocking chair in her green and yellow kitchen.  When I converse with someone who has this accent, I hear my own voice  mirroring it, and I feel an odd acceptance, as if this person (who could be a stranger) must have known me as a child.

This led me to wonder about the language of Heaven. I don’t know what language we will all speak there, or if we will all speak the same language. I’m pretty sure we’ll all be able to understand each other’s languages, if there are different ones (all I know for sure is that there will be people there “from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Rev. 7:9)).  In any case, I think it will be a language that will allow us to fully communicate our thoughts with much greater depth than we are able to here and now. And it will be beautiful to listen to (like French, but better), and pleasurable to speak.  And I think that when we first hear it (and I thrill to think of the One from whose mouth we will hear it), we will have that sense of “Home,” as we never have before. No matter if our earthly experiences of “home” were positive or negative, when we hear the language and accent of Heaven we will feel an instant sense of belonging and acceptance, knowing that we have always been known and loved.


(originally posted four years ago)