Now Moses Was Very Humble…

“Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” (Numbers 12:3)

Humility comes out of relationship. It doesn’t come from a seven-step formula. It doesn’t come from a try-hard attitude.

Moses spoke face to face with God. He entered the tent of meeting, and when he came out, he glowed from his communion with the Lord. The Israelites were terrified. They asked Moses to cover his face with a veil. Even the residue glow from Moses’s intimacy with the Lord was too awesome for the Israelites to bear.

Can you imagine such intimacy?

You don’t have to imagine it. It’s yours for the experiencing. We are all allowed into the tent of meeting, thanks to the blood of Christ which has torn down the barrier. We are all allowed a face to face conversation with the living God.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:17-18.   

Our transformation from pride to humility takes place as we relate with him and reflect his glory—as we live our own Moses-like experience.

Let me flesh this idea out. Our relationship with the Lord has tangible expressions of prayer (conversation with him), scripture reading (listening to him), and worship (adoring him alone and together with others). The more we engage in these tangibles, the more we glow. And vice versa. Lack of prayer, Bible-reading, and worship, leads to a dim reflection and makes growing in humility impossible. There’s nothing legalistic about it. It’s just the simple truth: a relationship only flourishes between people who—surprise—relate!

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He Guides the Humble

“He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.” Psalm 25:9

Have you heard the phrase “a teachable spirit”? It’s one of the phrases I heard often growing up, probably because I thought I knew it all. I’ve sense just how limited my knowledge is. Humility comes with age, I guess.

A teachable spirit is simply this: a humbleness to learn. Before we can be taught we must be humble. We must acknowledge our limits of understanding in order to receive greater knowledge.

So why does God guide the humble? Because he can. He can’t guide the proud. They are too busy guiding themselves.

Here are a few questions to test your level of teachability:

Am I offended when someone corrects me?

Do I resist the advice of others?

Do I read the Bible like it has an authoritative voice in my life?

Am I quick to give advice?

Are there people in my life that I listen to and consider wise?

If we don’t find it necessary to listen to the wisdom of others, to put ourselves under the authority of God’s word, then we probably lack a teachable spirit. If we are offended when others provide constructive criticism, or if we snub our noses at the advice of others, then we probably lack a teachable spirit.

A teachable spirit seeks out the guidance of the Lord, and the wisdom of his saints. A teachable spirit looks to others within community and does not fly solo. A teachable spirit prays before offering advice to others.

Cross Humility

Jesus, crucified between two thieves. An innocent squeezed between guilt. It’s not just the guilt of those two thieves that presses in on him; it’s our guilt,  the guilt of a world that pierces like a sword.

More than love holds Jesus to the cross. He’s held to that wood by a willingness to be lower than low. He chooses humiliation. They mock him. And don’t you just want to see Jesus put them in their place? But he doesn’t. He has opportunity, but only the pathway of humility will lead to everlasting life.

Are you squeezed in? Are you pierced? More than love will hold you to the course of your Savior. A lowliness. We all traverse various places of humiliation, and in those moments, will we scramble off his cross, or will we take it up, as he has asked of us?

The place of humility is not always comfortable, but it is necessary. It was necessary for Jesus, for the conquering of death and the delivering of us fully into grace. It is necessary for us, his followers.

Humility: The Eyes to See Honestly

Have you ever observed something like this? In response to a compliment, someone plays down his ability, shrugs off the praise, says lightheartedly, “Ah, it’s nothing.”

We call this humility. We say, “What a humble person!”

Low self-esteem is not humility. It’s pride. Refusing gratitude from others is not humility. It’s pride. Unwilingness to receive praise is not humility. It’s pride. Any self-focus is pride. And low self-esteem is still preoccupation with the self, albeit not the usual arrogance which we attribute to pride.

True humility sees honestly. It’s okay to admit you’re good at something. When complimented, say thank you. You can also credit God for how he’s gifted you. I’m frequently complimented about my piano playing and thanked for my music at church. Sometimes I feel it’s undeserved. Maybe I didn’t play well. But I don’t discredit another’s experience by saying, “My music wasn’t really that good this morning.” If God blessed that person through my music, then I give him the glory. I recognize that God has gifted me and I feel honored to use this gift for others to draw closer to him. So I say thank you. I affirm to others how much I enjoy using my gift. I make it clear to others that God is the giver of callings and abilities.

I know the things I am good at. You know the things you are good at. I also know I have limits. I have weaknesses – even within my talents. Being honest with ourselves and others is foundational to understanding humility. Jesus didn’t shrug off who he was. If someone called him the Christ – something his disciples eventually figured out – he accepted it. Granted, Jesus’ idea of a messiah was not the disciples’ idea of a messiah.

Next time you’re complimented, say thank you. When you speak about yourself, do so with respect – of your strengths and weaknesses. And let us all be quick to compliment each other in regards to the gifts God has given. Humility germinates in the soil of praise.

A Humble Thief

The bravest prayer of humility, after Jesus’ Gethsemane utterance, comes from the mouth of a thief, minutes before his death.

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”  But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:39-43.

The thief is physically at his lowest – his body is stretched out on a cross. He’s emotionally at his lowest – he’s guilty and his punishment is the instrument of shame. He’s spiritually at his lowest – a few more breaths before hell.

It’s almost too late. He could so easily believe there is no hope. But he opens his mouth and confesses the justice of his punishment, the innocence of Jesus, and then he asks. He has no pride left. He asks for grace. “Jesus, remember me…”

Do we have the same level of humility as the thief on the cross? Can we open our mouths when we are at our lowest? When hope seems passed, when the emotional bomb is seconds from imploding our hearts, when the world says, “You fool.” Will we open our mouths and pray the bravest prayer?

Humility leads to grace, and grace is free for the asking. Jesus didn’t say to the thief, “Took you long enough.” He said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

Grace is immediate. Today. You can have grace today, if you ask. The only thing that hinders grace is the pride that keeps our mouths shut. So pray the bravest prayer. Even if you’ve prayed it before, it’s okay to admit again that you need Him.

Humility, the Daily Choice

You don’t come to the cross proudly. You come broken. It’s not a suggestion of God, it’s just reality. A proud person doesn’t see the need to confess a Savior.

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:17

Humility sits at the bottom of the spiritual life pyramid. Our character is built on it. The fruit of the Spirit grows from it. Our Christian community depends on it. Have you fellowshipped before with people who think they deserved the cross? It’s not conducive to intimacy. I’m not going to share my wretchedness with someone who’s got it together, or thinks so.

If humility is so foundational to the Christian life, then why is it hard to come by? Why aren’t well all a humble community of Jesus followers? Well, for one thing, the flesh fights against it. Humility goes against the pull of the sinful nature. For another thing, humility is hard work, and we like things easy. Our spirits work up quite a sweat in pursuit of it.

Humility is a continuous choice. While it is the Spirit’s job to work his humility into the fabric of our souls, it is our job to make choices that comply with Christ’s Gospel – a way of service, sacrifice, losing ourselves to gain ourselves, and the way of “one another”.

“Then he [Jesus] said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23

Daily, we must stoop and pick up the splintered cross. That means I must intentionally follow the way of the cross, not the way of Sondra. “Deny” means that I recognize the death of my old self.

“I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Galatians 2:20

Crucified. Deny. Take up his cross daily. These are words of permanent, life-defining humility. For when we choose the cross, we identify in the death of Jesus, and that death becomes our death, and his life, our life. His humility, our humility. Humility becomes not just a choice, but part of our new identity.

The only thing left for us is the daily work, the choosing that which was chosen for us at the cross.

The Fighting Flesh: Humility’s Enemy

Humility has an enemy, and no, it’s not our culture. It’s not our relationships. It’s not our careers. While these things may hinder humility, the true enemy of humility is our flesh.

Everything within us fights humility. I think this is what Paul meant when he wrote: I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do– this I keep on doing.” Romans 7:18-19

The Spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. Yes, the disciples had good intentions to stay awake in the garden and pray for Jesus, but when Jesus came back and found them sleeping, what else could he say? They were willing, but they were weak.

That sums up our pursuit of humility. The renewed self and the flesh play tug-of-war. We hunger for humility. We know the path to joy and shalom is paved with humility, but oh, the weakness of our flesh. Every time we lay down our rights, the flesh whispers that we are losing out. The flesh pulls at us to go after whatever makes us look or feel good. How true the words of Solomon, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12). The way of the flesh leads to death.

The way of righteousness is sacrifice. You can’t shed blood proudly. It’s a way of emptiness, a way of otherness. Sacrifice is humility’s choice.

Service is the blessing of humility. Through service, we are allowed to give of ourselves to others, to enter into the great Sacrifice with our meager offerings of servanthood.

The way that is wide, the way that many take, is the way of self-aggrandizement. The way that is narrow is the path of humility.

Let us choose the narrow road today.

The Shalom of Humility

What is it about humility that turns me off? Oh, I know, the letting go of my pride (it’s humiliating). I have this idea that I’m losing part of myself by setting aside my sense of entitlement and donning the heart of a servant. And, truth be told, I am losing part of myself – the self-consumed part of me that needs to be lost.

What is the goal of our existence? “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” (Thank you, Westminster Catechism for stating it so well). To truly reach this noble end, I need major spiritual surgery. Many days my goal, disgracefully, is to enjoy myself and glorify my needs. Moving toward my desires naturally moves me away from the cross, and a life lived away from the cross is incomplete, no matter how many of my goals are fulfilled.

Shalom, it’s one of my favorite biblical words. It’s translated peace, but the realm of its definition is far more vast. True peace is not the much pursued “world peace”, meaning political justice and the appeasement of war. True peace is not even serenity within our personal circumstances. True peace is the wholeness of a healed mind, heart, and spirit. True peace is a completeness that comes from God’s redemptive work. Pride impedes peace. Pride holds peace to a cursory definition: absence of conflict.

Humility burgeons the full reality of peace within us. Humility is the portal to shalom. Through humility – that is, setting aside our selfishness, emptying our pride, letting go of control – we enter a realm of identity that is God-purposed as opposed to self-sufficient.

Jesus spoke to Paul, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” What a beautiful picture of shalom, and how opposite of our fabricated peace (do we not seek a peace that is unfettered by weakness?) The true wholeness of being that we receive from Jesus comes through our weakness, our humility. The strength of shalom is his strength at work in our frail circumstances and broken hearts.

But what does shalom look like in my house from 7:30-8:00 in the morning when the rush for school is burdened with grumpiness, impatience, and unkind words? Without excusing sin, how is Jesus’ strength made perfect in our morning weakness? I don’t know. But I do know that our weakness does not hold back his strength. On the contrary, as I recognize our weakness (that is, I humbly acknowledge things are not as they should be), Jesus has opportunity to enter into the situation with his strength and shalom.

So back to the chief end of man: to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Humility is the venue through which we achieve this end. True enjoyment of the Father, Son, and Spirit comes as we pick up our cross (that’s an idiom for die) and follow him daily. And what is more glorifying to God than when we turn from ourselves and toward him?

Let’s glorify him today with our humility.

 

The Roots of Humility

Old Testament

The Hebrew word for humble means: poor, afflicted, humble, meek. Translation is not a cut and dry process in which one Hebrew word equals one English word. Words represent concepts, and translators make choices about which nuance to emphasize depending on context and grammar. Consider these verses:

NIV Psalm 10:12 Arise, LORD! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless. (NAS, afflicted)

NIV Psalm 69:32 The poor will see and be glad– you who seek God, may your hearts live! (NAS, humble)

NAS Psalm 22:26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; Those who seek Him will praise the LORD. Let your heart live forever! (NIV, KJV, poor)

NAS Psalm 149:4 For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation.

NAS Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted

NIV Amos 2:7 They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed

NIV Zephaniah 3:12 But I will leave within you the meek and humble, who trust in the name of the LORD.

There is definitely a sense in the Old Testament that the humble are those afflicted, needy, or oppressed. To be humble is to be barren, without, lacking. In some cases, that without is physical, such as with the afflicted, the poor – they are without provision, safety, justice, and peace, and often at the hands of enemies. In other cases, the without is spiritual, as in being without pretense, arrogance, haughtiness, as in the prophecy of Zephaniah when God promises to leave a remnant of his people who are humble and trust in him.

New Testament

In the New Testament, a group of eight words (nouns, verbs, adjectives) convey humility. In Louw-Nida’s Greek lexicon these words are categorized under Moral and Ethical Qualities. English translations of these words are meek, humble, and lowly. [One Greek word literally means “poor in spirit”, (blessed are the poor in spirit) but this idiom could be translated as meek or humble of heart. Poor in spirit might lead one to believe a lack of spirit which is not the word’s connotation.] Consider these verses:

NIV Matthew 11:29 “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart (KJV, lowly in heart)

 NIV Luke 1:48 [Mary’s Song] “…for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.” (KJV, low estate)

NAS Ephesians 4:2 “…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love…” (KJV, with all lowliness and meekness)

NIV James 4:6 “But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” (Humble, juxtaposed to proud, implies a spiritual state of brokenness)

NIV 1 Peter 3:8 “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” (Humility is an important component of Christian fellowship, as in Eph. 4:2, above)

NIV 1 Peter 5:6 “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (We are to choose to be humble; humility requires action on our part).

Conclusion:

  • Humble is a positional word. The humble are low, not high: low in pride, circumstances, pretense, health, or freedom.
  • To be humble is good. The humble are blessed, honored, lifted up (sweet irony), guided by the Lord, loved by him, protected, satisfied, saved, beautified…and much, much more!
  • Humility is either our choice, or sometimes forced upon us by circumstance. The first, God requires of us. The second, God ministers to us and delivers us.
  • Humbleness is an action word – we humble ourselves, we are humble to others. It’s part of Christian fellowship.

Join me this month as I explore these concepts more in-depth.

Humility

In January, I wrote about rest.

In February, I will write about humility.

We are living in the age of grace, an age where God is withholding judgment so that all people have an opportunity to call on the name of Jesus for salvation. This is the age in which we can choose humility. We can choose to bow our knees.

When Christ returns, every knee will bow – whether by choice or by the overwhelming glory of his radiance. Those who did not choose humility in the age of grace, will be humbled.

Today, this month, let’s consider what it means to choose humility, to possess the humility of Christ in our relationships, to offer humility when we are tempted to offer criticism or arrogance.

“Humility and the fear of the LORD bring wealth and honor and life.” Proverbs 22:4