A young pastor was gloating with pride over the large crowd in the sanctuary. On this Sunday night the church was packed to see the Christmas play. While the pastor was savoring the moment, a young boy stepped up behind him. The youngster was amazed by the crowd as well. As the two stood by each other taking in the crowded view, the little guy revealed a very humbling truth. He said, “Preacher, have you ever noticed that we have our largest crowds when you’re not scheduled to preach?”
William Willimon directs the Duke Chapel at Duke University. Students aren’t required to attend the chapel services, so he received a humorous response from one attendee. Willimon approached a young man who had been ushering for several Sundays. He asked, “How do you like chapel?” The student politely said, “I like it.” The chaplain then daringly inquired, “What do you think about the preaching?” “Well, I like that too,” noted the collegiate. Willimon pressed on though, and asked, “What do you like about it?” The maturing young man stammered, “I just…I like it.” Willimon held his feet to the fire until he confessed, “Look, Dr. Willimon, I’ll be honest with you. I come to chapel to meet women.” The good-hearted Dr. appropriately responded, “Thank you. This has done me good. In case I should ever become presumptuous, I will remember this conversation.”
Humility is facing the truth. It is useful to remind myself that the word itself comes from humus, earth, and in the end simply means that I allow myself to be earthed in the truth that lets God be God, and myself his creature. If I hold on to this it helps prevent me from putting myself at the center, and instead allows me to put God and other people at the center. Humility is a very important factor in our relationship with God.
Satan was thrown from Heaven because there was no humility to be found in him. Pharaoh’s heart was hard because he was not a humble man. Scripture teaches that pride always goes before the fall.
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men-robbers, evildoers, adulterers-or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Humility has a direct value on how we approach God. There was a reason Jesus was born in poverty. When I was growing up, I learned that, as far as economics go, there are four kinds of people in the world. There are poor people. I had some relatives who were poor. Then there were people like me, people who managed to get by. The third kind of people were those who we called “well off.” I knew some of these people in our church. I even had a few well off relatives. The fourth kind of people were the “filthy rich.” These were the leaders of government and industry, the power brokers. I am sure that such people are just like the rest of us, but since I can’t ever move in their circles, I cannot possibly get to know them. If Jesus had been born into a ruling class family, no shepherds would have witnessed his birth. They never would have gotten through the gates that led to his mansion.
Several years ago, I got a bill from AT&T for a collect call from Florida. I knew the place and the time – it was Jonathan. But I had not accepted a collect call from Jonathan. I had given him a prepaid card and he had used it on this call. It was a billing mistake. After talking with three different people, I finally got the one person who could make the correction. They end the conversation with, “Mr. McConnell we will make the one time adjustment.” There is the aggressive side of me that wants to say, “No, you will make the adjustment anytime you make a mistake.” But there is the gentle side that understands that is what this employee is told to say. And you call the words of Christ, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28) Paul writes, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others whatever the cost, but the urge to serve others whatever the cost. There are two things everyone should learn: There is a God. And, you’re not Him. A horse becomes useful when it is broken and becomes willing to submit to the will of his master. The Christian is also only useful when willing to submit to the will of his or her master. Mistakes are the bridges between foolishness and wisdom when built by humility. Only God is in a position to look down on anyone.
Trouble, I’ve learned, can be a blessing. Trouble is the great equalizer, the common denominator of living. It helps us identify with other human beings, and it knocks us down to size.
Humility: It is always the secure who are most humble. Marilyn vos Savant is listed in the “Guiness Book of World Records Hall of Fame” for having the highest IQ. Her intelligence is kept in perspective by a little motto she uses: “Remember, we’re all biodegradable.” When you’re feeling irreplaceable, just think about the biodegradability factor.
We are learning a lot about ocean currents and the winds because of ducks — and they aren’t even real ducks. A cargo vessel in the Pacific Ocean lost some containers during a storm. One contained 29,000 plastic ducks for children’s bathtubs. The ducks stayed afloat. Three years later they are still turning up in strange places all around the globe. Scientists love it. They call it the “quack heard round the world.” It’s a humbling experience to discover how little we know when compared to how much there is to learn.
God may need to ask us, as He asked Job so long ago, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep?” If you are in the historic district of Charleston, South Carolina, a little after seven o’clock in the morning you will see a 75-year-old man with a plastic grocery bag. If you follow him for his two-mile walk you will see him picking up the trash other people littered the streets with the night before. You will find it hard to believe the volunteer litter gatherer is one of the most widely read columnists in America, James J. Kilpatrick. His column is in scores of newspapers. He is considered an authority on the English language. He is financially secure. But he does not think it beneath him to clean up the streets of his beloved city. How often people of lesser stature will not bend down to do the work that needs to be done.
May we never experience success without prayer.