Tag Archives: humility

Blessed to Receive

A few weeks ago I posted about Michael Johnson’s experience at the Boston Marathon.   As he approached the finish line he encountered two runners helping a distress runner.  He and another runner decided to help as well and the four of them carried the distress runner for several hundred meters towards the finish.

Near the finish the four set him down so that he could finish the marathon on his own.

This encounter was captured on a Twitter account and it became national news.  Michael was interviewed by local media as were the other three assistants.    Their actions were hailed as a model of Boston Strong, people helping others in a time of need.   Michael’s story was worthy of attention.

Upon further reflection, I noticed that the distress runner chose to remain anonymous.  He did not want any media attention.  He preferred not to be remembered as a “runner who needed help.”  Such a choice makes sense, since runners are an independent breed that train and race on their own.  I am guessing he would have preferred completing the marathon on his own, without any assistance.

I thought of him when I ran a recent race.   I ran in the Cemstone Run For Others 10K about a month ago.    I started strong, but at the top of the first hill, I noticed that my heart rate had jumped 40 beats according to my heart rate monitor.  (I have a condition called tachycardia in which my heart rate will suddenly jump 30-50 beats during exercise.  I have consulted with my physician regarding this and continue to run under his supervision).

The start of the Run For Others 10K.

The start of the Run For Others 10K.

My normal practice in this situation is to stop, lie down on the side of the road and within 30 seconds my heart rate drops back to its normal running rhythm.

However this day it did not.  My heart rate refused to drop.   I tried to relax and will my heart to slow but it refused.   1 minute passed; 2 minutes passed. All the 10K runners had passed me and soon the 5K runners/walkers would be coming.  My frustration was all over my face.  I decided to push on and see if it would right itself.  I made it to a water stop, but my heart rate continued at an accelerated pace.   I again stopped and laid down on a green lawn.

As I laid there, one of the volunteers came over to see if I needed help (others had asked before, but I waved them off.)  She  told me was nurse and she listened to my hurried explanation.  She reminded me to take some deep breaths, to calm my mind and to be at rest.  Her calm voice settled me down and soon my heart rate dropped back to normal parameters and I finished the race.

That volunteer reminded me that I need to open to receiving care just as much as being open to giving care.  The story of the Good Samaritan is told to a Jewish questioner of Jesus.  In Jesus’ parable it is the Jewish traveler who is beaten and robbed and so must receive assistance from the “hated” Samaritan.   As a Christian I know that I need the mercy and grace of God.   I forget that God’s mercy and grace often comes through someone else.   Even a race volunteer.

When was a time you received grace and mercy through someone else?

Lord Jesus, give me the humility to receive from others when offered.


“No Win in Comparison”

Yesterday I preached on the spiritual emotion/virtue of humility. I borrowed a phrase from Andy Stanley, senior pastor of North Point Community Church, who preached “There is no win in comparison.” The real enemy of humility is not just pride, but envy; we have a constant need to compare ourselves to others to see if we measure up. If our self-worth is based on a comparison model, we never win.  There is always someone who is richer, smarter, faster, fitter, holier than we are.

Then yesterday, Seth Godin wrote in his blog about the danger of comparison in one’s business model.

Compared to magical

The easiest way to sell yourself short is to compare your work to the competition. To say that you are 5% cheaper or have one or two features that stand out–this is a formula for slightly better mediocrity.

The goal ought to be to compare yourself not to the best your peers or the competition has managed to get through a committee or down on paper, but to an unattainable, magical unicorn.

Compared to that, how are you doing?

I don’t know much about magical unicorns (I will need to check with my daughter Suzanne regarding that), but the one place I go for comparison is Jesus Christ. Not that I live a “What-Would-Jesus-Do” life, but rather a life based solely on “What-has-Jesus-created-and-called-me-to-be-and-do?” As a child of God, my value and worth rests totally in God’s Son. When my heart, mind, and soul focus on Jesus, then the comparison model does not have a chance.

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me (Galatians 2:20)

Lord Jesus, keep my focus on you and your call in my life.

What is Humility?

In the winter of 1863 General Ulysses S. Grant was promoted to lieutenant-general, a permanent promotion that had previously been given only to George Washington. Grant’s military success in the Mississippi River valley during the Civil War had earned him this distinct promotion. Through the early years of the war he had never been to Washington D.C. nor met President Lincoln, but in December he was called to Washington to receive his promotion and to command the entire Union Army. Grant had reached the top of the military ladder and a splendid reception was planned.

When Grant arrived in Washington that morning, no one was there to greet him at the train station. He and his son walked to a nearby hotel to book a room. The hotel clerk looked at the dusty, unkempt military officer before him and said he might have small upstairs room in the back of the hotel. Grant said this would be acceptable and signed the guest register. When the hotel clerk saw the signature, “Ulysses S. Grant,” he was aghast and tried to change the hotel arrangements. Grant didn’t care.

I offer this story because it demonstrates that humility is not so much an emotion as the absence of an emotion. Grant did not feel slighted or peeved that he did not receive instant recognition and respect from the hotel clerk. He did not see himself superior to the hotel clerk or look down on him with contempt. Grant was obviously a “superior” general to the hotel clerk (to be fair, the clerk probably never competed to be a “superior” general), but that “superiority” did not dictate how he treated the clerk in their daily affairs.

As Robert C. Roberts writes in Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues,

Humility is not itself an emotion, like joy or gratitude or contrition. A person could be a wonderful exemplar of humility without ever feeling humble; in fact, one who frequently feels humble is probably not very humble. But humility is an emotion-disposition – primarily a negative one, a disposition not to feel the emotions associated with caring a lot about one’s status. As an inclination to construe as my equal every person who is presented to me, humility is a disposition not to be downcast by the fact that someone is clearly ahead of me in the games of the world nor to find any satisfaction in noting that I am ahead of someone in those games.

It is the ability to have my self-comfort quite apart from any question about my place in the social pecking order (whether the criterion is accomplishments, education, beauty, money, power, fame, or position). . . . It is thus a self-confidence, one that runs far deeper than the tenuous self-confidence of the person who believes in himself because others look up to him. (Kindle Locations 1186-1196)

The best example of humility is Jesus Christ. As Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians

Jesus had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death – and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion (The Message: Phil 2:6-8)

Just prior to this humble description of Christ, Paul encourages us to “think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.” Our thinking and our judgments effects how we respond to others and their comments. Even when one is the Commanding General of the Army.

Lord Jesus, thank you for your humble service. May I reflect you in my life today.

What is NOT Humility

Mac Davis had a country western hit called “Lord, its hard to be humble when you are perfect in every way.” The song was Davis’ tongue-in-cheek reflection on reaching the top of the ladder in the music business and being all alone. Humility is not a virtue embraced by most people who are climbing their social ladder, whether in school, sports, business or society. Yet humility is something the Christian faith advocates, “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord” (James 4:10).

Robert C. Roberts in his book, Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtue, writes that in our culture we often confuse humility with humiliation. We think that a humble person must lack confidence in his abilities and judgments.

He does not initiate projects and human relationships. He would rather follow orders than give them, would rather have others make the decisions in his life. His failures (or his genes) have rendered him a psychologically passive personality, a Mr. Milquetoast who does not object to being told where to sit and wait, or even to being utilized as a convenient wiping-place for muddy feet. Anyone who undertook to cultivate this disposition in his children would be doing them a momentous disservice. This is not humility, but rather a deeply engrained and ramified humiliation. (Kindle Locations 1092-1094).

Roberts goes on to demonstrate that the opposite of humility is not self-confidence, initiative, or assertiveness, but rather always comparing one’s self to the people around you, to make sure you are further up the social ladder or pecking order than someone else. Attitudes such as:

pushiness, scorn of “inferiors,” rejoicing in the downfall of others, envy, resentment and grudge-bearing, ruthless ambition, haughtiness, shame at failure or disadvantageous comparison, and the need to excel others so as to think well of oneself.

We are taught by our culture to rank how well we are doing by the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the schools our children attend or the jobs we do. To be top-ranked means I must be “better” than those who are lower in rank. Or I “scorn”  or “envy” those of higher rank because I am “beneath” them.

Roberts goes to describe what humility is and its significance for true spiritual fellowship.

Humility is the ability, without prejudice to one’s self-comfort, to admit one’s inferiority, in this or that respect, to another. And it is the ability, without increment to one’s self-comfort or prejudice to the quality of one’s relationship with another, to remark one’s superiority, in this or that respect, to another. As such, humility is a psychological principle of independence from others and a necessary ground of genuine fellowship with them, an emotional independence of one’s judgments concerning how one ranks vis-a-vis other human beings. (Kindle Locations 1118-1122).

Humility is the ability to see all people as equal in some fundamental way.

Next, I will post on the Christian source of humility.

What are some other ways that you believe humility has been misunderstood?

Lord Jesus, thank you for your humility that saves me.

Would I Kneel?

Young Man Kneeling by Sam Loggie

Posture can be used to emphasize power and importance. Kings had high, imposing thrones to signify their power over their subjects. Visitors to ancient and medieval courts had to kneel and kiss the ring of their Lord. Even in our democratic society, leaders can be distinguished by their corner office or imposing title. Power demands attention.

In the gospel of Mark, the reader sees people posturing. In chapter five the Gerasene demon-possessed man, the leader of the synagogue (named Jairus), and a woman who suffered from chronic bleeding each knelt before Jesus and begged for his help. They all acknowledged with their kneeling posture that Jesus was Lord, a person with authority and status. They recognized the power of Jesus.

I am not one who kneels easily. I’ve come to realize that I prefer to see Jesus as my friend and guide, who accompanies me, rather than as Lord and Master who commands me. I acknowledge his Lordship verbally, but I wonder if that is more ritual than deep conviction. Am I willing to “beg” Jesus for his assistance, like Jairus (Mark 5:23)?

The question of posture comes into sharper contrast at the end of the chapter. When Jairus heard the news, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher (Jesus) any further?” Jesus intervened. He told Jairus not to fear, but to trust in him. Jesus is Lord and has power. When they entered the room of the girl, the scripture says, “He took her by the hand.” I must assume that Jesus knelt down, since all beds were floor level. What an incredible act of tender love!

With love, Jesus knelt to meet the girl’s need. The whole incarnation is a form of God’s kneeling to meet the needs of humanity. Jesus’ birth, ministry, and death was God’s way of kneeling down before us, not to acknowledge our rebellious “power,” but as a way to enter our pain and suffering and lift us up.

As the Philippians hymn states

Jesus who emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Therefore God highly exalted him and gave him the name above that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth (Phil 2:7-10)

Lord Jesus, as you knelt to save me, now teach my knees and my heart to bend towards you.

Joseph and the Dreamcoat

Joseph and his brothers by French artist Leslie Xuereb

As Resurrection Lutheran strides through God’s Great Story in Sunday worship, this week we stop to observe Joseph the dreamer. Joseph’s story covers the final third of Genesis, chapters 37 to 50. A character study, we watch Joseph mature and embrace his unique calling from God.  Like many, his story will be a bumpy one.

At first Joseph strikes the reader as an arrogant, self-absorbed, spoiled teenager of 17. He brags to them of his special dreams in which his brothers and even his father bow down to him (Genesis 37:6). Joseph has not learned to acknowledge God as the source of his gift. He has not learned to be humble in his use of it.  His dream will come true when he rises up to become second-in-command in Egypt. However, before Joseph can rise up, he will be beaten down several times.

His jealous brothers will attack him and sell him into slavery in Egypt. He will rise up as a favored administrator in a local household, only to be tossed in jail when he is unjustly accused of adultery. He will languish in prison because others have forgotten his talent with dreams. Joseph is on an emotional rollercoaster. Through all the dips and turns one refrain remains constant: “The Lord was with Joseph.” (Genesis 39:2, 23) God did not prevent Joseph from suffering unfairly, but gave him the strength and courage to walk through it.

When Joseph finally has his chance to help the Pharaoh with his dreams, Joseph gives God full credit.

And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not I; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” Genesis 41:15-16

Humility can be a difficult lesson to learn. For years, Joseph sat in jail due to a false accusation.  Early in my ministry I faced an unfair accusation from a visitor to my church.  I wanted to yell and shout, but all I could do was keep silent and let the accusation fade away with time and the help of others.  Until it did I was constantly praying, “why Lord, why?”  No direct answer came, only the promise of God’s presence.  Like Joseph, I had to learn the valuable lesson that God was in charge.

When have you learned a difficult lesson through a humbling experience?

Lord Jesus, humble me that I might trust you completely.