God is a master storyteller. He knows exactly how to craft our days and shape our world so that we’re reminded of him and his beautiful truths. I’ll often find that he’s been weaving a theme through my life over a period of days – like a gifted writer, subtly infusing the pages of a book with a powerful and lasting message.
In my devotionals, Sunday sermons, words from friends, advice from my mom, my personal prayer life, and so on, God faithfully repeats the message I need to hear or the lesson I need to learn (or re-learn). And because He does it with such beautiful artistry, I can’t help but stand in awe of the truth He’s unfolding in front of my eyes…even when those truths are hard-hitting,
In the past few weeks, he’s been painting a portrait of humility and grace, showing me how the two work in perfect harmony like light and shadow in masterful oil painting. Now, one of those on its own would have been enough to chew on for a while – I mean, humility? Come on, that’s a tough, and often painful, lesson to learn. But God gave me the one-two punch of a lesson in humility and grace. And I’m so glad he did, because what I’ve found is that the two cannot be separated.
Humility: The Prerequisite to Grace
You cannot have grace without humility. It simply cannot be done. And here’s why: to give others grace – or even to give yourself grace – you must have a right estimation of yourself. Now, this is not to say you should be self-deprecating. Not in the least. Rather, to humble yourself is to “demote” or “lower yourself in your own estimation,” as the Amplified translation puts it in 1 Peter 5:6. And, as C.S. Lewis has famously said, “Humility is not to think less of yourself, but to think of yourself less.”
To borrow a phrase from the nineties, if you think you’re “all that and a bag of chips,” you’ll find it very hard to give yourself or others grace because your standards for yourself are much too high, you’re standards for others are also out of whack, and you’re unwilling to let others have the spotlight.
I can only say all of this, because this is me. While I know I am supposed to “rejoice when others rejoice” (Romans 12:15), I have to confess that my first reaction to someone’s good news may initially be one of jealousy or self-pity. And when someone acts in a way that “offends” me, I can be quick to judge their character or read wrong intentions into their actions, instead of understanding that they may simply view life through a different lens.
The Pain of Pride
Contrary to what I thought when I was younger, pride doesn’t just hurt other people. It does hurt others when it results in jealousy, rage, bitterness, and other conflicts (James 4:1-2). But pride also hurts me. When my path is a little less glamorous than someone else’s, or I find myself on a lonely road for a season, my first instinct is to fight God on it. I want to ask Him why…Why did she get chosen for that honor and not me? Why does his career path seems to be progressing much more quickly than mine?
When I see all of this written down, it’s easy to recognize the ugliness in those thoughts. But when I’m trapped in the moment, not yet submitting my thoughts to God (2 Corinthians 10:5), it’s all too easy to get preoccupied with my selfish thinking. When I fail to recognize that God is leading me along a path is uniquely right for me, I can get unhealthily focused on other people’s paths and lock myself in a downward spiral for covetousness and defeatism.
I know I’m not alone in this. As humans, we naturally desire to be praised, honored, and preferred. And in our own “flesh” (aka our human nature), we can’t fight against those inclinations. Thankfully, we have a Helper who can.
The Process of Humility
My wise mother sent my sister and me this Litany of Humility a couple weeks ago, and it truly hit home. I’ve been meditating on this prayer even since, knowing that the process of being humbled isn’t an easy one. But, if my desire is to look more and more like Christ – and it is – then I want to go through it.
From the fear of being passed over, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being lonely, deliver me, Jesus.
That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like yours.
O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, strengthen me with your Spirit.
O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, teach me your ways.
This prayer is so beautiful to me, because it highlights the benefit of humility – deliverance and freedom from a life of self-preservation. A life of image management is an exhausting one. When we’re so busy ensuring we’re picked first and acknowledged for our accomplishments, we hardly have time to enjoy the good things we’ve done, the wonderful things that have happened to us, and certainly not the accomplishments of other. But when we’re delivered from the fear of being forgotten or passed over, we can walk confidently and humbly.
A Humble Confidence
This kind of humble confidence is only possible by God’s Spirit ministering to ours, and it’s achieved by having a “right estimation” of ourselves…by seeing ourselves through God’s eyes. That’s a phrase that can be easily tossed aside. But I want to rest there for a moment. What do you think you look like to God? How do you think He sees you? What kind of words does He speak over you? How does He refer to you? Here are just a few Scriptural truths that I hope help give us a “right estimation” of ourselves:
- You are gifted with power, love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).
- You are complete (Colossians 2:9-10).
- You are secure (Romans 8:31-39).
- You are capable (Philippians 4:13).
- You are God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10).
- You are valuable to God (1 Corinthians 6:20).
- You are dearly loved (Colossians 3:12).
- You are God’s delight, and he sings over you (Zephaniah 3:17).
What’s the conclusion from those truths? I’d say Hebrews 4:16 sums it up pretty well: “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
The Promise of Humility
Going back to 1 Peter, we can see that humility comes with a promise of praise. “Therefore humble yourselves [demote, lower yourselves in your own estimation] under the mighty hand of God, that in due time He may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:6, AMP). He’s not promising praise from our friends, peers, bosses, or families. But He is promising that we’ll be lifted up by Him. And while my human nature doesn’t always lean toward God’s praise first, I’m learning that His is the only kind that lasts.
If I bank my worth and self-esteem on worldly praise, I’m always going to feel unsteady. But if I recognize that God will lift me up to be with Him, even when I’m feeling low, then I don’t have to fear being passed over or forgotten.
And that’s my prayer for you, too. May we be lifted up when we let ourselves be humbled, and may we trust more of God’s good and perfect plans for our lives (Jeremiah 29:11). Because that’s how grace breaks in.
The Breaking in of Grace
When we recognize that God is in control, that it’s not up to us to strong-arm the results we want out of life, then we can rest. We can have grace for ourselves when we falter; we no longer have to beat ourselves into submission or better performance. And we can have grace for others when they fail us, because we’re no longer hinging our happiness on their behavior.
Thankfully, we have a perfect example of humility and grace in the personhood of Christ. He was brought low so that we could be lifted up. He didn’t grasp for the throne like people thought he would. Instead he wrongly suffered a criminal’s death so that we could be close to him again.
That’s also why God uses ordinary people for His extraordinary story. Because then the focus is on Him, not us. “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). God is the master Potter, shaping us into the perfectly imperfect containers to hold the treasure of His Spirit and point back to Him. And it’s not because He’s some egotistical higher power; it’s because He’s a loving Father. He has perfect plans for our lives, and He knows that the best way to care for our souls is to point us toward “the true end and scope of life, which is God” (Matthew 1:21, AMP). This humble focus is the antidote to our world-weary, self-absorbed souls.
He Gives More Grace
So, as 2014 comes to a close, may we take time to reflect on how God has been shaping our stories throughout this past year and ask Him how He wants to use us in the coming one. Through times of reflection, we can recognize God’s signature all over the portrait of our lives, and we can remember how much better it is when we yield to Him.
When we humble ourselves, He will be the lifter of our heads, the bearer of our burdens, the lover of our souls. He will “give us more grace” and “show favor to the humble” because it’s the humble ones who are pliable enough to be used by Him (James 4:6). Only then can we enjoy our God-given roles in the extraordinary story He’s writing and sit peacefully in the place where humility and grace meet.