Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Two Paths Towards Humility

You can read Part 1 and Part 2 of my thoughts on humility for perspective.

I used to be a fairly good surfer. I remember the first time I tried surfing, I fell down. A lot. Like almost every time I tried. When I did stand up it was for the briefest of seconds. Practice, falling, getting tired because of the physical exertion, watching what other surfers did and more practice is how I became a fairly good surfer.

For several years I would be in the water at least weekly looking for ‘glassy’ waves to ride and enjoyed my time of riding the liquid on the beaches of Southern California. At some point, my life took on different priorities and surfing faded into history. A few years ago, my good friend Neil Cole and I were in Honolulu at a conference and we decided to rent surfboards and relive our younger years. It was not like riding a bike for either of us. I fell many times and was exhausted at the end of our time in the water. I barely stood up on the board, in fact, I may not have stood up at all. It felt like my first day of surfing all over again.

Surfing is one of those activities where you need to keep at it to be able to stay proficient. At least that is true in my life. I tell this story about surfing because it is somewhat like learning humility. It is not easy to bend our flesh to follow the Spirit when it comes to humility (pride is so natural), at least at first. Once humility is developed in our lives and we have learned to bend our flesh to conform with the Spirit, humility must continue to be practiced and applied. When we choose to regularly apply humility (just like patience or kindness), it comes to us naturally as we allow Christ to flow through us over and over again. When we choose to ‘unlearn’ humility by allowing our flesh to bend our choices towards self, getting back in the water of humility is again difficult to learn.

The Development of Humility
In my last post (4.2.2014), I defined humility as “The removing of self (getting a proper perspective of life) so that Christ becomes more in our lives. We know this is right and we also know this is difficult. Humility is not ignoring who you are created to be with your gifts and influence but giving recognition that these qualities flow through you and come from Christ.”

Humility is developed by recognizing that apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5). This is simplified but it is exactly what needs to happen so we can learn humility. I have learned that developing humility happens in at least two different ways throughout our life. Remember, the Spirit of God is excited about our success and offers opportunities throughout our lifetimes for us to remain in Him, oozing the character trait of humility.

The easiest way to learn what humility looks, feels and smells like is to watch others who are humble and imitate them. Paul led a life that should be imitated. Paul led a humble life that was shaped in part by all the opposition he faced. Through that opposition, humility was developed. 1 Corinthians 4:11-13 is a short overview of some of what Paul endured as he learned to follow Christ in all sorts of opposition. He continues in that passage by saying that he is the Corinthians spiritual father and, “Therefore I urge you to imitate me…” (1 Corinthians 4:16-17).

We find another example of learned humility in the life of Solomon early in his life as King of Israel. In 2 Chronicles 1:7-12 Solomon is visited by God and He asks him to make a request that would set the stage for his leadership as King of Israel. Solomon humbly asks for wisdom and knowledge to lead the people in the ways of God. God responded to this humble request by honoring King Solomon with wisdom, knowledge and much more! Solomon learned this humble attitude from his father King David. We would do well to imitate the humility of those mentors/mothers/fathers in our lives. Unfortunately, most of us choose the opportunity of learning humility through more difficult scenarios.

In my personal experience most people learn humility through challenges in their life where they learn to submit to the will of the Spirit instead of the will of the flesh. In Galatians 2:11-16 we find Peter being confronted by Paul for his betrayal of the Gentile believers. Others followed Peter’s hypocritical lead and distanced themselves from the Gentiles too. Paul confronted him on this which lead to Peter learning humility. We know Peter learned this valuable lesson as we read his words in 1 Peter 5:1-7; “Shepherd the flock among you…therefore, humble yourselves therefore under God’s mighty hand.” (NASV emphasis mine).

Even Peter, one of those closest to Jesus while he walked on the earth, wrestled with pride and was nudged/corrected towards humility. God wants to develop humility in our lives and will do as He knows is necessary so that we learn the valuable gateway trait of humility.

Imitation and correction are two ways that God allows us to learn the character trait of humility. Learning it early and remaining humble is key to our development as followers of Christ. We must practice living humble lives even as we fall and get back up. We will never be good surfers or good followers of Christ without a life continuing to live it out. Next time we will wrap us this study of humility by seeing how it leads us to live a Spirit filled life!

What are your thoughts on how humility is developed in the life of Christ followers?

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

How God Develops Humility In Our Lives

You can read Part 1 of this blog post HERE.

I almost split a church in half! It was early in the 1980's and I was a young man wanting to make a name for myself. In high school, I was elected Class President my senior year; I was a football and wrestling captain, and the world was all about me, or so I thought. Once I became a Christian, I looked around the church and realized the Senior Pastor was the one people looked up to, the one who made the important decisions and gave the vision for people to follow. I quickly decided I would one day be a Senior Pastor so I could regain my position of importance. The Senior Pastor at that time was a gracious man who gave me many opportunities to learn and grow in my faith. He asked me to give the talk at a few church meetings and people really liked my energy, presentation abilities and insights. My head began to swell.

A few people whispered in my ear that they wished I would give the 'sermon' more often. Some whispered that I should speak every Sunday morning, which indicated a sort of coup. My head swelled even further and I started believing the hype a few were whispering to me. I began believing in my abilities. I was in a dangerous place!

What do we do when we begin to believe we are larger than life, more important than the next guy or that our situations are so unique or intense that no one else could understand? The above situation in my life presented an opportunity for me to learn humility or to fall backwards into myself (narcissism). God then used a hammer to get my attention. I was seated in an auditorium with a few hundred other leaders and the presenter taught a simple principle of deflecting praise to those who give you opportunities to learn and gain experience. The presenter said some in this room needed to learn this lesson of gratitude and humility right then. At that point, God gently yet firmly touched my heart, and I knew what I needed to do.

I was attending this conference with the Senior Pastor of our church, so at the break I acted immediately on God’s conviction. I told him what had been happening in my heart, and how very close I was to receiving and believing the lie that I deserved more recognition. I sought his forgiveness and received it. I also confessed my pride to the elders and the whole congregation later that week. This was the beginning of learning valuable lessons of humility in my life. 

I am still learning.

Humility is a foundational character trait all Christians would do well to be aware of and develop as early in their faith as possible. Learning humility teaches us to be sensitive to the lessons taught by the Holy Spirit. The Lord exalts the humble (Ps. 113:1). The Holy Spirit deeply desires to protect us from destroying ourselves (removing prideful tendencies) and gives us opportunities throughout our life to learn the ongoing lesson of humility. Proverbs 11:2 instructs us that pride brings dishonor but humility gives us wisdom. When the Holy Spirit leads you to deal with areas of pride in your life, know that He desires you to learn the lessons of wisdom that will guide you towards maturity.

Humility is the removing of self (getting a proper perspective of life) so that Christ becomes more in our lives. We know this is right and we also know this is difficult. Humility is not ignoring who you are created to be with your gifts and influence, but giving recognition that these qualities flow through you and come from Christ. This is the lesson God began to instill in me many years ago. I want to say again that God knows we need this gateway character trait in our lives and He consistently presents opportunities in our lives to develop it.

A friend of mine recently went through some major relational turbulence. God was in process of pointing out a hardness of heart (pride) and my friend began to dig his heels in on the issue God was raising. His immediate response was to point a finger at the other person instead of looking at the impact of his own attitude and actions. Recognizing our own issues and weaknesses is always a struggle between our flesh versus the Spirit. It is always easier to justify ourselves than to look at where we are wrong. This issue is still in process, but pointing my friend to the principles of humility and submission to Christ has been crucial for him in moving through pride towards maturity. The Spirit is about the development of our souls. How will we respond? Responding with a demanding spirit for our own preservation never ends well and is certainly not attractive.

In my next post, we will discuss how to recognize the development of humility in our souls and how this blends beautifully with what a Spirit filled life looks like. I would also warmly invite your comments on the above thoughts.