I was first given Andrew Murray’s Humility: The Journey Toward Holiness while I was serving on a ministry team at a rather large church. It was a gift to each member on our team from our director – a really thoughtful one at that. Yet, this gift came at a time in my life where pride was my greatest quality trait. In fact, while I was thankful to receive a gift from our ministry director, I thought myself above reading this small, short book. After all, I didn’t need to read the same book that everyone else would read – I’m above that. I needed to read more challenging things – you know – more books that were actually worthy of my caliber. So, I set the book on my shelf and neglected it…until now.
In case you were wondering, that paragraph is laced with delicious irony, and you are meant to chuckle at me.
You see, I have a certain problem with desiring to be the “best.” When I was in high school, I was really into music – which meant that I absolutely needed to be the “best” musician that I knew. When I was in college, I was actively involved in martial arts – which meant I needed to be “better” than everyone that I knew. When I became a Christian and realized I love theology and religious thought, I needed to be the “best” and “smartest” Christian I knew – able to outsmart anyone I knew and “beat” people in debates that I started. All because I needed to be the “best.”
Some years ago, Pastor Timothy Keller gave a series of lectures at Gordon-Conwell called “Preaching to the Heart.” In one of these lectures, he tells the story of a football player whom he knew in college. This guy was the all-star football player on campus, and was known for being able to sleep around with any woman that he desired. By college standards, he was the “best” on campus. So it was a great shock to Keller and his friends in college when this individual converted to Christianity. Yet, what they soon came to find out was that the football player – while he now conformed to Christian morality – was still obsessed with being the all-star. He had to be the “best Christian” and the boss of everyone in the college ministry. He simply traded one idol for another.
For a long time, I was exactly like this football player. I traded one idol – the desire to be the best at my various hobbies – for another. Needless to say, this didn’t work out so well when I decided to enter into a path towards vocational ministry. What I thought I would be the “best” at, God had completely different plans for. He knew this would be the time when he would break me and teach me some of the biggest lessons that I’ve needed to learn.
Andrew Murray describes humility conceptually in this way, “When we realize that humility is something infinitely deeper than contrition, and accept it as our participation in the life of Jesus, we will begin to learn that it is our true nobility, and that to prove it in being servants of all is the highest fulfillment of our destiny as men created in the image of God.” He goes on to describe how pride is the most insidious and natural thing to our own human nature – it is the very presence of pride that made the act of redemption necessary.
Humility has never been one of my strongest attributes. When I became a Christian, theology became a means to be better than others and win at intellectual ascent. I had no desire to care for or minister to other people – if I had any concept of such things, it was only in the manner by which I could prove to them that they were wrong. Murray describes my particular form of pride perfectly when he says, “Let us consider how our lack of love, indifference to the needs, and feelings of others, even sharp comments and hasty judgements that are often excused as being honest and straightforward, are thwarting the effect of the influence of the Holy Spirit on others. Manifestations of temper and touchiness and irritation, feelings of bitterness and estrangement, have their root in nothing but pride. Pride creeps in almost everywhere, and the assemblies of saints are no exception.”
You see, the community of saints are no exemption to the insidious nature of pride. In fact, pride is probably our biggest blindspot as the church. How often do we genuinely pray for a real Christ-like humility? How often do we run from the very means by which God intends to humble us? Murray says it this way, “Many Christians fear and flee and seek deliverance from all that would humble them. At times they may pray for humility, but in their heart of hearts they pray even more to be kept from the things that would bring them to that place. They have not reached the level of seeing humility as a manifestation of the beauty of the Lamb of God.” He goes on to diagnose the problem, “Why is it that those who have joyfully given themselves up for Christ find it so hard to give themselves up for fellow Christians? It seems that the church has failed to teach its people the importance of humility – that it is the first of the virtues, the best of all the graces and powers of the Spirit. It has failed to show that a Christlike humility is what is needed and is also in the realm of possibility.”
I am grateful that the Lord has seen fit not to exempt me from his discipline (Hebrews 12). As a good and loving Father does, he has chosen the correct form of discipline to begin rooting out my otherwise unconquerable pride. For the sake of my humility, the Lord has placed several trials and afflictions in my life over the last few years. For the sake of my union with Christ, the Lord has often chosen times of severe mental anguish, anxiety and even depression to teach me some small aspect of what it means to be humble.
Were it not for Christ’s intervention in my life, I would likely be headed down a much different and darker path. Murray describes what could very easily become my future when he writes, “We find professors and ministers, evangelists and Christian workers, missionaries and teachers, in whom the gifts of the Spirit are many and manifest, and who are the channels of blessing to multitudes, but of whom, when tested, or close interpersonal relationships reveal their true characters, it is only too evident that the grace of humility, as an abiding characteristic, is rarely to be seen.”
So how do we begin to pursue genuine Christian humility? Simply put, it is coming to understand that Christ’s humility “became our salvation. His salvation is our humility.” We must understand what it means to truly press in to our union with Christ in both his sufferings and afflictions, his compassion for others, and most of all his desire to exalt the Father in all that he did. Murray writes, “It is only in the possession of God that I lose myself. As it is in the height and breadth and glory of the sunshine that the smallest speck dancing in its beams is seen, even so humility is taking our place in God’s presence to be nothing but a speck dancing in the sunlight of His love.”
Oh Lord, I ask that you would have mercy upon me, a sinner. I pray that you would see it fit to discipline me in the ways I need discipline, humble me even if it comes at the greatest cost to me. For in humility, your Son was spared no cost for my sake. Teach me and guide me in the ways of humility – the path to true holiness. Forgive me for my pride, my lack of empathy, and the ways in which I have forsaken the identity of Christian for my own vain glory. Exalt your name in my life not because of me, but in spite of me.