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Monday, February 01, 2010

On Humility

Have you ever known someone that you thought of as truly humble? What was it about their character that made you draw such a conclusion? I remember years ago coming to a conclusion that I was not a very humble man. Seeing that God values humility, I decided to confess to God that I didn't have any. I prayed for humility. And let me tell you, that's not a prayer I recommend praying!

It seems that when I got on my knees and confessed to God that I lacked humility, a discussion ensued. It was mostly God leading me in a dialogue to assess my lack of humility. We had to visit things like pride, arrogance, selfishness, envy and several other unsavory aspects of my being. You see, God was in total agreement with my conclusion that I lacked humility. And it was definitely something He wanted me to have. But it wasn't a prayer He could just answer over night. Rather it was a journey that He had to lead me on.

I'm on that journey - to humility - today. And I'm not foolish enough to think that the journey is anywhere near complete either. The Bible promises that He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it. (Philippians 1:6) So at some point, in the hopefully not-too-distant-future, I expect to be fully humble. Oh what a day that will be!

There's a joke I've heard that says as soon as you think you're humble ... then you're not. I laughed when I first heard it. But on closer examination I don't think that's right. It seems that our worldly definition of humility is not a very good thing. We describe something as humbling, and its in the context of feeling lowly, feeling stupid, feeling like a fool, a loser, etc. That doesn't sound like a virtue that God would call us to.

I've always been intrigued by the story in the Bible where Jesus strips to his underwear and washes the feet of His disciples. (John 13:1-17) If you think about it, Jesus knew He was God. He knew He was the Messiah, the Savior of the world. And yet, He stripped to His underwear and washed the feet of the disciples. What was He showing us here? When the disciple Peter protested, Jesus insisted. Why do you think it was so important that Jesus wash the feet of the disciples? Would eternity have turned out differently if Peter had prevailed and not let Jesus wash his feet?

Jesus taught about humility. (Luke 14:7-11). But that was a teaching. I think the foot washing ordeal was more about a showing. He was showing us humility. Of course, He loved the disciples and wanted to show His love for them by doing this loving gesture for them. Why didn't He keep His clothes on? I think if my pastor asked me to stand in my boxers at the front door of the church and wash the feet of the people coming in, I'd probably be looking for a new church! But seriously, I think we need to examine what Jesus did, compare it to what He taught, and learn some key lessons here.

I've tried to humble myself by comparing myself to other people. I've looked at good, righteous, virtuous people and considered how much of a schmuck I am compared to them. But I have to say that felt really bad. I wondered why. Surely I was doing it wrong. Then I noticed that the Bible says we are to humble ourselves before the Lord (James 4:10) and not before each other. I wondered if there was a difference. Jesus said humble people will put others first. He never said humble people will compare themselves to those other people.

It seems that the key to being humble is not to make yourself lesser than others around you - so much as it is to simply compare yourself to Christ. In fact, a truly humble person will only compare themselves to Christ ... and no one else. The humble person will realize and own their own sinfulness. They'll have an acute understanding of why it is that they need a Savior in Christ Jesus. And they'll know their own limitations, realizing that they could never save themselves. (Romans 7)

But just as Jesus knew His strengths, the truly humble person will also acknowledge their own gifts and strengths. They'll know how God has equipped them. And they'll be willing to use those gifts and strengths to serve as God directs them. So it seems that humility can then be defined as a realistic self-assessment coupled with a strong commitment to serve. And that is precisely what Jesus modeled for us when He stripped to His underwear and washed the disciples' feet!

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