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Humility is a strange thing

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“Humility is a strange thing. The minute you think you’ve got it, you’ve lost it.” This profound insight from Sir Edward Hulse is counterintuitive. 

Man by nature tends to be extremely proud of himself. It is natural for us to obsess over our achievements. Sadly, narcissism is man’s default position. Me, me, me. It is all about me and what I am doing. 

Christianity provides a way out of narcissism. Jesus offers man a new heart and a new mind. And once converted, man suddenly has a supernatural weapon with which to fight back against his narcissistic tendencies.

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There are few things more liberating than being set free from a fixation on yourself. C.S. Lewis put it this way: “As we get in touch with God, we become cheerfully humble, feeling relieved to be rid of the silly nonsense about our own dignity that previously made us restless and unhappy.”

In Mere Christianity, Lewis suggested that we consider the following question to check our heart for pride: “How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take notice of me ... or patronize me, or show off?” (p. 122)

Are you focused on what others think and say about you, or on how God feels about your attitudes and behavior? Genuine humility moves your attention away from others and places it on God. You begin living “for an audience of One."

Pride leads man to put on airs. You deceive yourself into thinking that you are the center of the Universe. And this places incredible pressure on your heart and mind as you continue trying to impress others with your performance.

In reality, God did not create you to become the center of attention. He created you to worship and serve the Lord. Sin removed this godly desire and noble pursuit from man’s heart. Jesus came to Earth because we needed to have our sins forgiven and our relationship with God restored. God chose to fix what man had broken. “Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8).

God chose a humble young woman to become the mother of the Messiah. Mary said, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant….He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” (Luke 1:46-48; 51-52).

Some people wrongly assume that imitating Jesus is the way to be accepted by God. While imitating Jesus is certainly a noble pursuit once you are converted, there is something far more transformational than imitation. It is called “impartation.” This occurs when the Holy Spirit is imparted to you through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Conversion happens through an impartation of the Holy Spirit, (John 3:5-8; 1 Cor. 12:3) and at the moment of conversion you are instantly saved, redeemed, justified, forgiven and born again.

Someone has said, “The key is not overwork, but overflow.” We need the Holy Spirit to overflow within us daily and replace our natural pride with God’s supernatural power. As the Holy Spirit floods our soul through persistent prayer, (1 These 5:17) our pride is pushed aside.

D.L. Moody said, “I firmly believe that the moment our hearts are emptied of selfishness and ambition and self-seeking and everything that is contrary to God’s Law, the Holy Spirit will come and fill every corner of our hearts; but if we are full of pride and conceit, ambition and self-seeking, pleasure and the world, there is no room for the Spirit of God. I also believe that many a man is praying to God to fill him, when he is full already with something else. Before we pray that God would fill us, I believe we ought to pray that He would empty us."

When Jesus sits on the throne of your heart, you experience a wonderful desire to worship God and keep the attention on the Lord. This inner working of God’s Spirit is what led John the Baptist to proclaim, “He (Jesus) must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30).

The power of the Holy Spirit led the Apostle Paul to say, “When I preach the Gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach” (1 Cor. 9:16). The power of God in the soul of man produces genuine humility, as well as the overwhelming desire to fulfill God’s calling on your life. You no longer seek to promote yourself. Instead, you begin to lift up Jesus Christ and God’s message of salvation.

We are tempted to take credit for the gifts and abilities our Creator has given us. This is utter foolishness. After all, “Who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Cor. 4:7).

Scripture reveals how much God detests the sin of pride. “To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech” (Proverbs 8:13). The Holy Spirit gives God’s children a hatred for sin and a love for righteousness. God’s Word instructs us, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

If you are easily bothered when people snub you, here is a prayer that can help: 

“Lord Jesus, deliver me from worrying about what others think of me or say about me. Instead, help me to concentrate on seeking to please you with my thoughts and attitudes. Deliver me from my pride. Thank you Jesus. Amen."

Humility is a strange thing. The minute you think you’ve got it, you’ve lost it.

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska. 

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