Deeper Hope:

An Abiding Virtue

This book explores the meaning -- and application -- of Christian Hope. It takes the fuzzy concept of Hope and reveals it in everyday settings



Say yes to Students of Jesus in your inbox:




Entries in humility (6)

Meditation: What Captures God's Heart?

The Creator of the Universe is not easily impressed. Some theologians suggest that because God knows everything, he cannot be moved, but I think some things can capture God's heart. Not power or beauty or intellect--those are the things that impress fools like us. But imagine that moment when the King of the Universe sits up and takes notice of you because of something you thought, said, or did. Could you stir his heart? I think it's possible.

Based on my reading of the scripture, here’s my simple list of what catches the Lord's attention. I’ll bet you could add a few more:

  • Jesus loves humility. It turns his head. He told us not to worry about power or position: "Whoever humbles  himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:4). The scripture says simply, "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (1 Peter 5:5). If we humble ourselves before him, he stops to listen.
  • Jesus is impressed by faith. When he encountered genuine trust he was astonished. What’s more, he usually discovered faith in the socially unacceptable places of his day (Matthew 8:10 and 15: 28 are two examples).
  • Jesus stops for the bold: A blind man screaming on the sidelines evoked this question from the Lord, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18: 35 - 43) Can you imagine Jesus interrupting his schedule to ask you--personally--”What do you want me to do for you?”
  • Jesus defends outrageous acts of worship: When Mary crashed a party and lavished attention on Jesus, others criticized her impropriety. But Jesus said “Leave her alone!” (John 12:7) The Lord actually came to her defense. It leads me to ask, do I pour out my passion in a way that would bring Jesus to my defense?

Jesus loved these traits. They caught his attention. But there is one human trait that never seems to impress God: our intelligence. In fact, he said, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise," and in Jesus he did just that. One thing is sure: God is never impressed by our intellect, but he is frequently impressed by our heart.

Monday's Meditation: Our Greatest Need

Here’s a disturbing trend in the Christian blogosphere: we would much rather talk about other people than ourselves. When I post something about the church at large, the number of visitors to this site soars and comments pour in. Everyone rushes to the table where the state of the church is sliced, diced, and analyzed in detail. With the mere mention of a Christian celebrity I can purchase hundreds more visitors to my site.
If, however, I post something about our individual need to wait for God in silence, or our personal destiny to become conformed to his image, I get the internet equivalence of chirping crickets. Nothing. Like a busker singing at the  Metro, everyone hurries by. And why not? Christianity is way more fun when we’re talking about other people. Following Jesus isn’t such a joyride if he wants to talk to me.
I am one of us as well. I would much rather pontificate on the issues facing Christendom across the continent than listen to the still small voice addressing the secrets of my heart. I would rather do significant things. I want to be a part of important conversations.
Recently I found the private notes of a world leader who longed to hear the whisper spoken to him alone. This man held a position of national significance, no, wait--historical importance. Yet he was a man who positioned himself in the quiet place and waited for his best friend to come and sit with him.
My heart is not proud, O LORD, 
       my eyes are not haughty; 
       I do not concern myself with great matters 
       or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul; 
       like a weaned child with its mother, 
       like a weaned child is my soul within me.
 O Israel, put your hope in the LORD 
       both now and forevermore. (~ Psalm 131, a psalm of David)
God took a boy out of the shepherd’s field and put him in the palace, but not before embedding the hillside, the breeze, the night sky and the quiet times into his heart. The Biblical histories of Samuel and Chronicles will tell you the palace was a place filled with intrigue, politics, war and power--and it was. The Psalms and Proverbs will tell you that David took time to climb the stairs, shut the door, and pick up the harp.
Our greatest need--my greatest need--is the daily presence of the Holy Spirit. When David knew he had stepped over the line, claiming power and privilege as some sort of birth right, he repented before the Lord and begged that the presence would remain:
Create in me a pure heart, O God, 
       and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence 
       or take your Holy Spirit from me. (Psalm 51: 10-11)
At the end of each day my Father won’t be impressed with my intellect or insight. He’ll be concerned with the beat of my heart. In the quiet (if there is quiet) he will want to know if I lived a whole-hearted life that day. Did my actions spring from the well of the Spirit or the treadmill of importance? He will be concerned with these questions because he knows that spiritual formation happens each day. The only question is: what have we formed?

The Private Side of Grace

The Father communicates his grace in ways both big and small. When you’re on the interstate, doing 85, you need a big sign: white reflective letters two feet high against a green background, shouting “Exit Here.”

Late at night, when your baby is sick, you’re looking for a much smaller sign, in print so small you reach for your glasses and turn on the light, Ages 2-4, one teaspoon every four hours, do not exceed four doses in 24 hours. You read the label twice to make sure you’ve got it right. Both sets of words communicate God’s grace.
It’s easy to see the public side of grace: it’s represented in the cross. The cross is splashed across church buildings like so many interstate signs, signaling that the love of God is available to any who will stop. The news is so good it deserves a elevated platform. But those who see grace written large on the landscape might think that’s all there is. Still, grace has a private side as well.
Consider some of the private sides of God's grace:
  • Richard Foster points out the kind of grace you cannot see from the highway: “Grace saves us from life without God--even more it empowers us for life with God." The grace we receive at the new birth is only the introduction. Students of Jesus need grace for growth as well. Grace opens up the startling possibility that we do not have to yo-yo between sin and forgiveness, sin and forgiveness. It becomes possible to yield every choice, every thought to God, because his grace can teach us to say “no” to ungodliness (Titus 2:11-12).
  • Three times the scripture reminds us, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Humility is part of the private side of grace. When the Father sees one of his children willing to take the low place in the family he pours out a special portion of grace to strengthen us in service to one another. Humility draws the blessing and favor of God. The same one who stripped to the waist and washed our feet rejoices when we learn to prefer one another.
  • Dallas Willard’s famous phrase, “grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning” reminds us of the proper response to God’s saving work. The Apostle Paul understood the private side of grace as well: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (I Corinthians 15: 9-10)  The “famous” apostle is the same one who described his task as one of “great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger,” all in order to share what he himself had been given. Paul had no trouble seeing the connection between grace and effort.
  • Paul was so convinced of our ongoing need for grace that he opened every letter he wrote (every one!) with the greeting, “grace to you, and peace.” Perhaps--just perhaps--the Holy Spirit and Paul considered grace and peace indispensable to everyday Christian life.
What is the private side of grace? The private side of grace is the discovery that the new birth should be followed by growth into the image of Jesus. The private side of grace is when we begin to take on the family likeness. It begins when his children are old enough to understand that the Father sees what is done in secret--not in order to catch us in transgression--but to reward those hearts who joyfully follow his example.

Provoking God's Mercy

Are there any limits to human wickedness? Imagine a guy who practices witchcraft and seances, fortune-telling and necromancy. Picture him engaged in human sacrifice by burning is own children on altars of fire. Give him nationwide authority and influence, so that he not only practices these things, but encourages and trains others to do the same. Now, if there is room left in your imagination, envision this man finding a way to win God’s affection.
What moves God’s heart? Buried deep in the Chronicles of Israel is the story of a despicable ruler guilty of such things. Yet he captured the Father’s grace and mercy by humbling himself before God. His name is Manasseh; you can read about him in 2 Chronicles 33. In the space of one chapter King Manasseh was transformed from a man who provoked God to anger to one who caught God’s attention because of his humble heart. There is a lesson here for every Student of Jesus: it’s not that Manasseh simply experienced God’s mercy, he provoked it.
The Father loves humility. It turns his head. Jesus tried again and again to share this secret pathway to God’s heart: “the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” He used this phrase no fewer than four times. Jesus demonstrated humility as he lived in the low places of Israel’s society. He portrayed children as exemplars of humble trust in the Father’s care. He derided self-sufficiency.
Humility is an expression of truth and integrity. People intuitively hunger for humility in their spiritual and political leaders. It seems this hunger for authentic humility is growing stronger: the Google search-phrase that has most often brought people to this blog is the simple phrase, “How can we Humble Ourselves?” Although that post is more than two years old, people find their way to it week after week. All over the world people enter search phrases like, “how to be humble like Jesus,” and “how do we humble ourselves before God?” There is beauty in the humble way.
Humility is the sail that captures the grace and mercy of God. His ear is tuned to hear the weakest words of a humbled heart. In King Manasseh’s story we find hope for everyone who has wondered if they could possibly grab God’s attention. Here are four sure lessons from Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33) for those whose hearts are inclined:
  • Even in the midst of gross iniquity, God is still speaking: (v10) Even after a long list of rebellious acts against God, the text reveals that God was still reached out to Manasseh. If you’ve been told that God hides from your sin, you’ve been misled. Our sin is one of the very reasons God continues to reach out to us. He loves us and refuses to give up on us. But it's not just that his love reaches down; a humble heart reaches up.
  • God knows how to humble us: (v11) There’s a massive difference between being humbled by the Almighty and humbling yourself before him. God may arrange circumstances that bring us low in the eyes of others, but only we can lower ourselves before God. He can extend severe mercy, in C.S. Lewis’ phrase, but we remain in control of our own thoughts and hearts.
  • Our hearts can move God’s heart: (v13) This is an astounding revelation! God is not impressed by human power, wealth, or wisdom, but he is impressed by the human heart. When a man or woman chooses contrition, the Father tells all heaven to be quiet. Our prayers never have more power than when we take our proper place before him.
  • Our humble example can influence the generations to come: (v25) Manasseh had a grandson named Josiah, who (as a child) sparked a nationwide revival. I like to imagine that Josiah heard first-hand from his grandfather the horrors of rebellion and the grace of humility. Our life-lessons can become the seed that springs up thirty, sixty, and a hundred fold in the lives of those who follow.
These are more than theological considerations, they are postures of the heart. They are examples for Students of Jesus. Jesus embodied the life of humility before the Father. It worked out pretty well for him--he demonstrated that the humble path leads to glory, a glory unimagined by the wisdom of men.
Even more than Manasseh, Jesus modeled the way of humility. Consider Paul’s magnificent description of the humble way:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
   did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing
   by taking the very nature of a servant,
   being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
   he humbled himself
   by becoming obedient to death—
      even death on a cross!
 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
   and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians 2: 6-11)
What is whispered in the Old Testament is shouted in the New: humility is the doorway to God’s Kingdom. Humility spared Manasseh's life. It was the way of life for Jesus. It is no less the way for us.

How can we Humble Ourselves?

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?
If you have time this week, 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.