Deeper Hope:

An Abiding Virtue

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How Can We Humble Ourselves? The 'How To' of Humility:

In my earliest years I attended a parochial school. I remember second grade distinctly because the “character theme” one month was humility. At the end of that month, in an assembly before the entire school, I was named the winner of the “Humility Award,” but they took it away from me because I actually accepted the award!

OK, perhaps the story is not true, but it does illustrate the conflicting ideas Christians entertain regarding what it means to be humble. Where do we get our ideas about humility? If God “gives grace to the humble,” how can I eagerly pursue his best for me without falling into mere self-interest?

This blog draws its identity from the words of Jesus in Matthew 11: 25 - 30. These words point to an important revelation: Jesus invites anyone who would follow him to come under his instruction and learn his way of life. Surprisingly, his first reason for calling us to follow him is that he is “gentle and humble in heart.” Even as he offers the benefit of rest, he highlights his own personality--a gentle and humble man. The Teacher does not want to impart merely information, at least not first and foremost. His first lessons are his very own attributes--gentleness and humility. It is a bold offer to follow him, and perhaps the boldest aspect of this offer is the unimaginable possibility that we can learn to become like him.

Jesus uses the image of a yoke. This image was common enough in his day: A yoke is a large collar which places the strength of an ox or horse at the disposal of someone else. We are the ones placing our strength at his disposal. He will not conquer us, we must bow before him as a matter of choice. The path to becoming like Jesus starts with his invitation, “Come to me;” and after he speaks we can choose to accept that invitation by only one method: to humble ourselves.

In fact, on four separate occasions Jesus employs this phrase: “the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” These passages are not simply repetition caused by the gospels re-telling the same story--each passage is unique (Matt. 18:4, Matt. 23:12, Luke 14:11, and Luke 18:14). Four times Jesus lays out the challenge: humble yourself. But how?

I invite you to read each passage and meditate on each setting. I would like to suggest that each passage teaches us the “how to” of humility:

Matthew 18: 1 - 4. Lay aside dreams of greatness and embrace dreams of dependency. This is the highway of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus said that among men there was none greater than John the Baptist, yet the person who was “least” in the Kingdom of Heaven was greater than John. Living in the Kingdom requires God’s intervention every day. We cannot “make the Kingdom happen,” we can only proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven is breaking in, and then depend on Him to invade the ordinary with his presence and power.

Matthew 23: 1 - 12.
Lay aside the thrill of recognition and find the joy of serving. If we are honest we will recognize ourselves in the people Jesus describes--those who strive for recognition by the way they dress, or where they park, or by the titles they hold. It is thrilling to be noticed, to be selected from among the crowd for recognition. Meanwhile the servants come and go in the midst of all the clamor, quietly attending to the Master’s business. But in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus reveals that the Father is the one who “sees in secret.”

Luke 14: 7 - 14. Lay aside the thirst for honor from others and seek to honor others instead. In fact Jesus tells us to honor those who cannot repay us. True, there is a time of reckoning and a place to receive repayment, but it is not here and now; it is later. Can we delay gratification or does our thirst drive us to be satisfied now?

Luke 18: 9 - 14. Lay aside self assessment and depend on God’s mercy. Jesus draws a picture of two men at prayer. The first begins with “thanks” but quickly tallies up the score of the game he has been playing. He has been keeping score all along and reminds God that he is the winner. The other man starts with God's mercy instead of self assessment. Score-keeping (and judgment) belong to God. Let’s be careful. If we have a measuring stick, we will eventually be asked to stand next to it!

These four passages are the very words of Jesus. Later his disciples would encourage all followers of Jesus to stand in the grace which comes to us as we choose to humble ourselves. It’s how we take the yoke. It’s how we position ourselves to learn from him.

Reader Comments (2)

Matt 18:4-6
4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
5 "And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.
6 But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

Matt 23:13
13 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

Matt 23:8-11
8 "But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers.
9 And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.
10 Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ.
11 The greatest among you will be your servant.

I am nothing without Him. With Him I am a child student desiring most to serve His will for us all.

I am my heart, my mind, my strength and my soul within which He graced me the opportunity and responsibility of choice; I am nothing more. I am His as my children are their parents’ because we each had the choice to create life in our image; each creation with choice of their own. My children have sat at my table to receive the wisdom and nutrition their parents provided without any of them knowing what it took to provide that physical and spiritual nurture, as I sit at my Father’s table. My children always were free to choose another action, with certainly another consequence, but by humbly accepting that they could not provide for themselves sufficiently as well they survived. When as children of God we humbly choose to accept the provisions made available by our Father in Heaven we can have full faith that we will survive.

The unique spiritual essence of my heart, my mind, my strength and my soul as one is me eternally, whether I am aware or not. When I am aware I am most alive. When I am not aware I am most dead. The physical essence of my heart, my mind, my strength and my soul are but temporary tools that allow me to be aware of myself and my neighbor. The physical will wear out and perish, to be no more ever, and without accepting God’s table so will my awareness for it is still too inept spiritually to nourish itself enough to attain an able maturity.

We are like many children sharing the spiritual womb of God. We each have freedom of choice to relate with each other in arrogance, in humility or not at all (influence without relationship).

Jesus teaches us that we too, as does He, can sit at the table in awe of His Father’s masterful authority at the head. We, too, can each get to know our Father in Heaven simply by accepting the cup He lovingly offers us. Only by submitting to the reality of His authority over all, including any of our pitiful fantasies of grandeur, do we finally find the true humility and peace of honest dependency on Him.

Mind, heart, strength and soul we understand in symbol and metaphor which is how the tool of physical illustrates spiritual reality. We know that each element united as one makeup the unique body of each of us. We are only just beginning to define that composite physically. We are less able to define mind, heart and strength spiritually and minutely few even attempt a definition of the soul spiritually; even less physically.

As usual, in trying to form an honest picture of my truly humble in awe relationship with our Father in Heaven I have gone on too long. If you have read this far I highly suggest putting together what I just related by meditating inside Matthew 6. Should there be some impact move on into Matthew 7 as those chapters are definitely related to how we may become realistically humble.

Only our Father in Heaven is capable of consistently giving us our daily bread physically and spiritually. Because of my children’s immature abilities only their parents could consistently give them their daily bread physically as they were growing up. If we truly believe that only our skills and abilities are by what we survive we will surely die. If we choose to submit to become an acknowledged dependent in the family of God we will live eternally. How did we relate with our parents and/or adult guardians when we were their immature children, with conceit or humility?

If we all had true humility, as illustrated by our big Brother Jesus as a child of man, within the family of God there would be no possibility of holy wars for we would know none of us are more loved, capable or right than any other child of His. Jesus was crucified only from of the opposite of humility. Jesus died for and by our sins.

We can all choose to join the protection and nurture of our Father in Heaven’s family today and humbly feast at His table together from now on ….

Love you!

September 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHerm Halbach

Thanks, Herm--I can tell this topic energized you. Peace!

September 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

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