The blessings we receive by surrendering our life to Jesus are too numerous to list but one of the few downsides is a tendency to come down too hard on ourselves. When the Holy Spirit opens our eyes and we finally see our sinful nature in all its despicableness it can be a staggering blow to our ego. Understand that recognizing how overinflated our pride is should rightly put us on our knees to profusely thank God for His compassion and forgiveness. But for some the awakening is so overwhelming they become convinced even the cross can’t save them and they seek to escape their shame by running away from the church and wallowing in even more sinful behavior. Call it “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” syndrome. Brennan Manning wrote, “The more guilt and shame we have buried within ourselves, the more compelled we feel to seek relief through sin.” Ironically, focusing on our contemptable actions in the past can erode our self-esteem to where we think that only by hating ourselves can we demonstrate we’re truly humble. Nothing could be further from the truth. Self-loathing results from a lack of humility and actually proves our pride is still in control. How so? Feelings of insecurity, uselessness, inferiority and unworthiness fix our attention on ourselves instead of our Savior. To quote Manning again: “Humble men and women do not have a low opinion of themselves; they have no opinion of themselves, because they so rarely think about themselves. The heart of humility lies in undivided attention to God, a fascination with His beauty revealed in creation, a contemplative presence to each person who speaks to us, and a ‘de-selfing’ of our plans, projects, ambitions, and soul.”
Honest humility arrives after we’ve relinquished all our self-centered demands by demoting every concern for our intellectual, emotional and physical well-being to a position far below that of serving God. It comes when we finally stop caring how others view us, when we quit hiding behind a rubber mask of righteousness and present ourselves as the complicated but still fully redeemed mess we really are. When, despite our acknowledgement of being broken vessels, we boldly display our gratefulness that God’s driving the bus of our lives. We’re humble believers when we’ve come to accept ourselves as we are because we know Jesus has accepted us as we are. Remember, “God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). We gladly give up self-concern because we’ve given our self to God. Now, that doesn’t legitimize intentionally putting ourselves in harm’s way to test some misguided notion our trust in God has rendered us bulletproof. Dumb idea. The great I AM doesn’t need more fools. On the contrary, we should become more cognizant of the devil’s destructive schemes while we simultaneously continue loving others without pretense because we’ve been liberated from any sense of spiritual superiority of any kind. We’re not depressed over our bankrupt human condition because Jesus Himself tells us, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them” (Matthew 5:3). That message of hope keeps us from being overly sensitive to criticism or getting puffed up and taking ourselves too seriously when we receive compliments because we know that we, like everyone else on the planet, are innately poor in spirit and in need of a Savior.
Does this mean I’ve been given license to sin like there’s no tomorrow? No way. I have sins aplenty without adding more to my list of transgressions, thank you very much. I’m a sinner. I talk the talk but don’t always walk the walk, if you catch my drift. I’ve often said if I were to go to the front at our weekly Celebrate Recovery meeting and get a blue surrender chip every time I’d been hypocritical I’d have too many to count! But staying in a funk for days or months over sins I’ve repented of and Christ (via His atoning blood sacrifice) has already pardoned is as unproductive as a joint session of congress. I can’t help anyone if I’m bogged down in my own helplessness. In my role as a sponsor to other men I have to be humble enough to do what Galatians 6:1 instructs me to do: “Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness.” It’s not easy to correct someone when I know I’m no squeaky clean saint myself but it’s what being a sponsor requires once in a while. In one instance I was counseling a brother in Christ over his frustration that his God-given talent wasn’t being properly appreciated and utilized by his church’s music minister. I asked him if he’d been praying for God’s will to be done in the matter. He said he fervently had. I told him if that was the case God must have other plans for him and to wait for Him to open doors of opportunity. He didn’t appreciate my assessment one bit. In fact, he went on the defensive, pouting and sulking for quite a while. However, when I did hear from him again he was thankful for what I’d suggested because soon after he got a request to contribute his gift at a church in dire need of a music leader. His reticence to humble himself and let God lead was the main obstacle to his discovering fulfillment.
Denial about our individual brokenness may be the nastiest bug infecting the collective body of Christ today. Too many believers try to cover up, ignore or label insignificant the hurts, habits and hang-ups keeping them from being who, where and what God intended them to be. They’re disguised in their “I’m fine” costumes instead of risking exposure as an insecure, frightened individual who employs self-deprecating humor as a substitute for honest humility. Sadly, the joke’s on them. In their effort to camouflage their wont to be judgmental, their procrastinating mindset, their lack of trust in God and their paralyzing fear of losing face they fail to see that the face they’re trying so desperately to save is the face of an imposter. Their true face is buried beneath layers of cheap cosmetics. How can we followers of Christ effectively propagate the transforming power and wisdom of God Almighty if we don’t transparently present ourselves to the world as the saved-solely-by-grace sinners we are? No one’s going to listen to the Gospel message if it comes from someone who acts holier than thou. No one.
Our brokenness is our strongest asset. When the Apostle Paul complained to God that the thorn in his flesh had done a splendid job in keeping him from getting the big head and would He now be so kind as to please remove it he was told, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” God’s response made a huge impression on Paul for he went on to pen something extremely profound that applies to all Christians: “So then I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties, for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
I’ve been privileged to be a leader in our local chapter of Celebrate Recovery for many years. I originally crawled in dragging behind me a heavy bag of a particular sin that had burdened me for most of my life. Over time, as I worked the 12 steps and 8 principles, Jesus Christ not only healed me but showed me I could be of service to Him right there in CR. What I didn’t recognize until recently was that I’d gradually picked up another addiction – ministry. Say what? Yep, the respect/admiration I’d gained through being an active leader, through my teaching of step study lessons, through my reaching out to newcomers and my dogged dedication to showing off my fidelity had become an obsession. My relationship with my Father in heaven was wrapped up in my CR identity. In a sense, my walk with God had become a substitute for God Himself. The result was I lost sight of the fact I still had unresolved character defects to step out of denial about and deal with. I was so caught up in trying to impress God with my commendable punctuality and dependability I began thinking whatever residual blemishes occasionally rising to the surface in my personality were things I could fix on my own. That never works. It took the pride-shattering realization that I’d become as much of a phony as any Pharisee to remind me I’m an imperfect human being who’s nothing without the power-packed love of Christ. My trusty defense mechanisms had, brick by brick, rebuilt the wall around my heart intended to protect me from rejection, loss and emotional pain. Manning wrote, “Through the smokescreen of rationalization, projection, and insulation, we remain on the merry-go-round of denial and dishonesty.” Glad to report, because of that breakthrough, my ability to defeat temptation and my recovery in general has never been healthier. To God the glory.
Richard Rohr wrote, “Humility and honesty are really the same thing. A humble person is simply a brutally honest person about the whole truth. You and I came along a few years ago, and we’re going to be gone in a few years. The only honest response to life is a humble one.” Jesus announced, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). Inheriting this violent planet doesn’t sound like a bonus unless we recall that Revelation 21:1 promises us “…a new earth…” where God will reside with His children. Humility is directly related to holiness and thus it’s a trait we should strive to cultivate. Our ideal model for how to live humbly is Jesus Himself. In Matthew 11:29 He said, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.” He always had much more concern for others than for Himself because His trust in the Heavenly Father was without peer. He deliberately chose to hang out with society’s marginalized outcasts, the pitiful and the woefully disenfranchised because He knew His Father’s love is indiscriminate. He said, “I tell you the solemn truth, the Son can do nothing on his own initiative, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise” (John 5:19). Manning commented, “His single-minded orientation toward his Father freed him from self-consciousness. Lost in wonder and gratefulness, he taught us the true meaning of humility.”
Therefore, honest humility was something Jesus emphasized. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14). He also indicated being a humble person isn’t easy. “Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). When the guilty criminal dying on the cross next to our Lord humbled himself and asked for mercy Jesus told him “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Peter, who denied his Master three times, wrote, “…All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). Christ-like humility allows us to be pleasantly surprised by the good we see around us rather than to be downcast over the evil deeds of men and women. We’re able to give thanks for our successes and not be disheartened by our failures. We can enjoy God’s blessings while, at the same time, own up to our mistakes. We can smile whether the stock market goes boom or bust. We can work on overcoming our shortcomings without the struggle involved getting the best of us. Our humble faith in God’s unending love steers us away from the trap of self-absorption, freeing us to unreservedly love our neighbor as ourselves.
Honest humility is the hallmark of someone who fully trusts in God. Jesus compared God’s kingdom to the improbable harvest reaped by farmers. I think it also applies to those who simply sow seeds of trust in their hearts. We need only scatter them in faith as we go about living our daily lives. God does the rest. We can sleep in on Saturdays, take vacations, play checkers with the kiddos, fly a kite, root for the home team, etc. and never give a thought about what God’s up to. Then one day we notice those innocuous seeds have grown tall and we stand amazed at what God’s done. “By itself the soil produces a crop, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. And when the grain is ripe, he sends in the sickle because the harvest has come” (Mark 4:28-29). Jesus was teaching us that, in time, our seeds of trust mature into a healthy, robust confidence in God’s love without us even breaking a sweat. His comparing it to a farmer who randomly tosses seeds on soil, steps out of the way and lets God take all the credit for the rich harvest that ensues is a fitting allegory that illustrates the rewards that come from maintaining a humble countenance. God nurtures trust. “So neither the one who plants counts for anything, nor the one who waters, but God who causes the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7). How God took my mustard seed sized faith and turned it into a sturdy tower of trust mystifies me. One of the flaws I had to tackle at Celebrate Recovery was my conceited “know-it-all-ism.” But Christ has helped me immensely with that malady and I’m finally comfortable answering many questions with, “I don’t know.” So if someone were to ask me what makes me so sure God’s in control when the world seems so out-of-control I have no problem responding with “I can’t explain it, exactly, but I can assure you He is. I feel it in my soul.”
Jesus’ talk at the Last Supper really shines a light on the trust/confidence issue some believers wrestle mightily with. Each of His disciples had come to think of Jesus as their closest friend. They’d seen Him not only heal folks with terrible afflictions but bring certifiably dead people back to life. They’d heard Him deliver parables that took complex spiritual concepts and uncomplicate them to the extent even an illiterate bondservant could savvy the fundamental truths being conveyed. They’d been on site when He preached the pivotal Sermon on the Mount. Peter, James and John had witnessed firsthand His divine glory on Mt. Tabor. Though they didn’t always get along with each other they always got along with their Master. They entrusted their lives to Him. He offered them encouragement, informing them that, though He was going away for a short time, they’d spend eternity with Him in heaven. As the hour of His betrayal drew near He spoke, “I’ve told you all this, so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But have confidence. I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, The Message).
Walter Burghardt wrote, “When I trust you, I wed faith and hope. I rely on you to be faithful, to be true to your promises, true to yourself. It’s not quite the same as confidence. Trust, Webster’s Second Unabridged tells us, ‘is often instinctive, less reasoned than confidence, which is apt to suggest somewhat definite grounds of assurance.’” For me the Jesus of history, the very same Son of God who graciously reached down and saved me from my wicked self, has provided me with definite grounds of assurance. I don’t need to see Him work more miracles and wonders to be convinced. I’ve seen Him change lives, restore marriages and bring shattered families back together repeatedly. His strength has brought me through seasons of grief, doubt and disappointment. He’s shown me that even when I stumble and fall He hoists me back to my feet, dusts me off and urges me to continue forward in my recovery. I’ve learned I can be completely honest with Him at all times and that He will never condemn me for my weaknesses because I belong to Him. That knowledge alone keeps me humbled. It’s my sincere prayer that you have that same knowledge, as well.