Courtesy of CCC Art Team
One shortcoming many of us struggle with from time to time is pride. Few of us would think of ourselves as prideful, but could it be that the enemy of our souls has blinded us to our own sin? Jonathan Edwards, the well-known Protestant revivalist of the 1700s, revealed some clues to uncovering what is often a camouflaged spiritual malady: finding fault with others, displaying a harsh spirit, defensiveness, craving the attention or accolades of others, and failure to show concern for those around us. Surprisingly, pride is also involved when we see ourselves as being less than or inferior to others. Such a perspective is inconsistent with God’s Word that assures us we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).
Regardless of the form it takes, whether through an attitude of superiority or inferiority, pride often goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18). It is only when we appear before the Lord humble and stripped of all wrong thinking that we are free to enter into an intimate relationship with Him. Andrew Murray, the renown South African writer, teacher and Christian pastor, defines humility this way:
“Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised.”
God has always delighted in using humble people who exemplify the spirit of servant leadership. Booker T. Washington, the renowned African-American educator, for instance, was such a person. The story is told of an event that occurred shortly after Mr. Washington assumed the presidency of Tuskegee Institute. One day, as he was walking in an exclusive section of town, a wealthy white woman stopped him. Not recognizing who he was, she asked if he would like to earn a few dollars by chopping wood for her. Because he had no other pressing business at the moment, Professor Washington smiled, rolled up his sleeves, and proceeded to do the humble chore she had requested. When he was finished, he carried the logs into the house and stacked them by the fireplace. A little girl recognized him and later revealed his identity to the lady.
The next morning the embarrassed woman went to see Mr. Washington in his office at the Institute and apologized profusely. “It’s perfectly all right, Madam,” he replied. “Occasionally I enjoy a little manual labor. Besides, it’s always a delight to do something for a friend.” She shook his hand warmly and assured him that his meek and gracious attitude had endeared him and his work to her heart. Not long afterward she showed her admiration by persuading some wealthy acquaintances to join her in donating thousands of dollars to the Tuskegee Institute. Just as this small gesture of humble service was rewarded with extra funds for his beloved school, God rewards those who willingly assume the role of servant. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:10, NIV).
A few years ago, I saw that very truth enacted in real time when a well-known author agreed to speak at my seminary—the famed Reformed theologian, J. I. Packer himself. Over the course of his lifetime, he authored such classics as “Knowing God,” “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God,” “Growing in Christ,” to name a few. Among his many accomplishments, Packer also served as general editor for the English Standard Version Bible and as theological editor for its companion ESV Study Bible. As you might guess, I was eager to take the measure of this stalwart of the Christian faith to ascertain the secret to his stellar reputation and relationship with God. If there ever was a person who had bragging rights, this was the man.
The school scheduled one evening for students and the public to listen to this hero of the faith talk about what it meant for him to walk with God over the course of his lifetime. At the time, he was in his late 80s and in ill health. In fact, he was so bent over and bowed that he required assistance just to move to the platform. I’ll never forget wondering why such a frail man would continue to expend his dwindling energy by speaking to audiences around the world.
All eyes were trained on him as he stood still for a brief moment with his hands placed on the lectern as if gathering strength for the task ahead. At last he began to speak in a weak, faltering voice. As he did, I was amazed to watch a gradual transformation take place before me. His back began to straighten even as his voice took on a more commanding tone. Where a weak shell of man stood only moments before, here was a man strengthened with purpose and holy dignity. I knew in that moment I was witnessing the power of the living God being poured into this willing, but visibly aged vessel.
Over the next 30 to 40 minutes, the audience sat in rapt attention as Packer spoke about his return to one predominant truth he believed had fallen out of favor with the Church; that is, Christ’s mandate to pursue holiness through humility. Such a simple message delivered without pretense, but one that brought me to my own place of submission, as I suspect it did others. As his talk came to an end, I witnessed yet another transformation as he returned to his former state. His spine bent once again, and as before, he required help. Without doubt, God’s power was clearly demonstrated in His humble servant that night.
The sad truth is that an overblown sense of either entitlement or worthlessness disconnects us from those who are desperately looking for people whose lives reflect the teachings of the humble Servant, Jesus Christ. You might remember that after Jesus washed the feet of his disciples he said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you,” (John 13:15). Can we do less than follow His example?
If we truly desire to enter into intimate fellowship with Christ, we must strip ourselves of all pretenses. Daily confession and repentance humbles us and beautifully prepares our hearts to receive all that Christ has promised. Only then are we free to minister to others in a way that will cause them to hunger and thirst after righteousness. Remember, the New Testament makes no attempt to paint the disciples as perfect human beings. They faltered in their faith much like us, yet they doggedly pursued personal closeness with Him despite the cost. As a result, Jesus used them to take His message to the far corners of the earth. He will do the same for us if we approach His throne of grace in total submission. God has always chosen the humble to display His power and usher in a move of His Spirit. Now, more than ever, we need that the fresh wind of the Holy Spirit to blow through our midst and give us a desire to put Christ and his work above all else. Won’t you allow the Lord to lift you up and use you on the basis of His merits rather than your own?
May God teach us to believe that to be humble, to be [as] nothing in His presence, is the highest attainment, and the fullest blessing of the Christian life.
– Andrew Murray
– Francine Thomas