The Power of Humility

We are instructed over and over again in scripture to practice humility, to humble ourselves before our Lord and before each other so that we can grow to be the people God has designed us to be.  Many will fight this instruction because they see humility as an exhibition of weakness or lack of confidence.  However, if we study the scriptures and read the promises which accompany the act of humbling ourselves, we learn that there actually is power in occupying the lowly place.  It may not appear as if the humble servant is in a place of strength, but God’s word tells us more than once that strength and power will follow the one who submits in humility.  Let us discover how we can expect that to play out in our lives as we bow in submission ourselves.

Pro. 22:4

By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches and honor and life.

One common reason people resist giving in and recognizing the truth of the existence of God is that they first must recognize who they are in relationship to him.  It reminds me of my younger years when I used to drive like a complete maniac.  I had no respect for speed limits.  I simply wanted to get where I was going as quickly as I could.  For me, something as simple as abiding by the numbers on those white signs meant that I was recognizing the authority that law enforcement had over me.  The problem was that I did not necessarily want to submit to that authority or recognize that I was under it.  I got plenty of speeding tickets, and I paid them because I had to, but I refused to submit voluntarily.  Obeying the simple rules of the road would have meant that I was acknowledging who had power over me, and I did not want to be under that power.  That is exactly how I used to view God before salvation.  I had no interest in being under his authority or living according to his standards.

Humbling ourselves and having a genuine fear of the Lord means admitting who we are in relationship to him, which is humbling in itself. The person who sees this as a bad thing does not recognize what this simple verse tells us.  God does not require humility and respect just to lord it over us, although He would have every right to do so because of his unchallenged holiness.  When we submit to him in humility and respect, He rewards us.  We do not take this posture for the reward, but we trust that He will fulfill this promise.  Riches, honor and life will accompany us when we recognize our position in relationship to the Father and give him what He is due.  Speaking factually, this really is a truly unmerited reward.  When we humble ourselves in respect to God we are simply recognizing the truth, which is that we are only the creation, and He is the Creator.  If we can begin to live honestly, if we can admit the truth of God’s sovereignty and position over us, then we can begin to live the full life that He promises to those who rightfully submit to him.

Pro. 11:2

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

I was watching a game of celebrity poker and studying the stars as they played.  One musician in particular caught my attention by his unique behavior during the game.  After the end of a certain hand, it was determined that another player had won the pot.  This musician stopped the dealer and insisted that it could not be so.  I could see the looks on the faces of the other players, aghast that he would question a professional dealer or the outcome of the hand.  He tried his hardest to argue his case, but he had lost.  The interesting thing was that this was not the last time he would exhibit this behavior during the game.  As the events unfolded, it became clear to me that he was not used to losing and could not believe his eyes whenever it happened.  It was pride which clouded his vision and judgement and made him question his loss even when it was clear to everyone else.  Perhaps a little humility would have given him objective eyes to see what was actually happening.

This proverb gives us another promise we can tie to the humble person. Those who practice humility will grow in wisdom.  There is a simple logical connection between humility and wisdom because, as we discussed above, humility requires an understanding of our position and our lack.  One cannot grow in wisdom without first recognizing that one is not yet wise.  We cannot teach those who think they have nothing left to learn.  Humility is rooted in reality, and the reality is that we have so much to gain from God’s wisdom because ours is immeasurably incomplete.  When we think we know it all, that is when we face the disgrace of having to be shown that we do not.  The know-it-all hates to be proven wrong, especially before others.  The humble one can admit his or her shortcomings in wisdom and will seek to become wiser.  That person is the one who loves and fears the Lord and will have a desire to grow in godly wisdom instead of worldly wisdom. If we fool ourselves into thinking that we are wiser than we are, someone eventually will help us down from that pedestal, and that will be even more humbling than admitting our foolishness to begin with.

Psa. 147:2-6

The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit. The Lord sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground.

I have always been quite an independent person, and my childhood is indicative of that.  Sometimes I would ask for help if I truly needed it, but I often wanted to do things for myself.  It is a great lesson to teach a young one to think “I can” instead of thinking “I cannot.”  Empowerment and encouragement are necessary for maturity to spring up in a child, but there are limits to this.  There were many things I could not do for myself in those early years.  If I ever insisted on having my own way and declining the help which was offered, my parents would leave me to figure it out for myself.  Those lessons were necessary to show me that sometimes there are things I simply cannot do on my own.  Without having the experience of recognizing that I needed help, I was not prepared to accept or seek it.  It did not take many of those instances for me to recognize that I was not the master of my provision.  I had to depend on them for many things I needed, and that was okay.

Even as an adult, or I should say especially as an adult, I have uttered many times the words “I’ll do it myself.”  However, God has shown me time and again that I am not the one who sustains me.  Even if I were able to amass great wealth and a good reputation independent of the Lord, that would not sustain me.  One day, all of that would come to an end, and I would be left on my own without God.  For a time, it would appear as if I were taking care of my every need myself.  Then, the end of this order of things would come, and it would be clear that the life I had built was not worth the foundation on which it stood.  When God sustains the humble, it is more than just food, water and shelter.  We are talking about eternal sustenance. Sustaining the humble means that He allows those who view themselves in the proper light in relationship to him and others to enter his kingdom and bask in his provision forever. This is a sustenance which truly has no end, but it is available only to those who recognize that they can provide nothing for themselves independent of him.

Isa. 57:15

For thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”

Here is the eternal promise of God for those who humble themselves before him.  I can recall a time during my childhood and even through early adulthood when I could not imagine spending eternity anywhere. I remember wrestling with the idea of God’s existence and my service to him, and I convinced myself that I did not want to spend forever even in a heavenly place if it were available.  I figured that I eventually would lose interest, and having no end seemed too unreal.  I had read scriptures describing what eternity with God would be like, and I had heard teachings on the subject.  Clearly, my understanding of the Lord was incorrect if I thought that spending any amount of time with him would be dull or boring.  When I formed this opinion I was equating God to any other person I have met.  I was not thinking about what it would be like to be in the presence of the Holy One forever.  That is a big difference.  I had placed God on my own level, and perhaps what I really dreaded was spending an eternity with myself.

The irony is that, while I believed I had no desire to spend an eternity with my Creator, He had every desire that I would be humbled so that He could spend an eternity with me.  He is not a lofty one but the lofty One, and it is incredible and unbelievable that He would desire to spend forever with those of us who humble ourselves before him.  If we read this passage carefully, we see the reason why He wants us with him.  This is part of our process of restoration.  God takes those who are humble and contrite, those who are poor in spirit as they should be, and He renews and revives those very spirits.  He desires to spend eternity with those who carry a contrite heart because He wants to restore those hearts.  We will lack nothing in that place.  That is where we experience the fullness of God, the fullness of our spiritual beings as we live among his Spirit.  There is a wholeness we can experience here on Earth in these Earthly bodies when we humble ourselves before God, but there is a greater wholeness we will experience once we enter heavenly eternity with him.

1 Pet. 5:5-7

Likewise, you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.

We serve a God of extremes.  He is a God who does nothing half-heartedly but executes everything with complete perfection.  Is it not enough that He would allow us to dwell in his presence for eternity?  In my mind, that is surely enough.  In exchange for my recognizing the simple truth that I am lowly and He is exalted, that seems like enough. However, the God who only operates in excellence, the One who brings every plan to completion, goes one step further.  Not only does He invite us into his presence, but He elevates us in that place.  Yes, God will exalt those who humble themselves in the here and now.  He will raise those who refuse to raise themselves before their time.  Many think too much of the stations they occupy today, and that is why they try to place themselves higher than they belong.  They feel the need to be above others in this world because they think that it matters.  They fail to realize that the positions we establish in this place one day will pass away.

If man is to be exalted, it is not for him to do this himself.  There is a process by which we can be lifted up to a higher place, and that process is directed and carried out by God.  We have no authority to elevate ourselves beyond where we naturally stand, but God has all authority to pour grace on us and lifts us above that place.  This is something He has reserved for those who recognize and submit to the process.  In due time, God will place us in the position He desires out of his grace.  It is a promise which should encourage us but by no means should be our focus.  The important thing in this moment is living as God desires, which is humbly and with a right understanding of who we are and what our position is among God and among men.  We do not obey for the reward, but we know it will be waiting for us.  We do not humble ourselves because it means we will be exalted, but we know that will come.  Our focus must be on why it is important for us to be humble in the here and now.

Jesus Christ is our perfect picture of humility. If any person who ever walked the Earth had the right to elevate himself above others and even to the level of God, it was him.  However, He humbled himself to the position of a servant and did nothing outside the will of his Father.  He did not provide for himself but trusted in the Father to do so.  He did not exhibit spiritual power on his own but only through the authority of the Father.  He did not direct the course of his own life but submitted to the Father’s direction in all things.  He obeyed even unto death, according to the Father’s will.  This was all done for the purposes of God, for the completion of his will, and now the Son sits at his right hand.  Jesus has been exalted as a result of his humility.  He took nothing for himself but waited for the Father to give him his reward. That is how we should live these lives, humble and focused on fulfilling God’s will here, knowing that our reward awaits us as ordained by God by his grace and in his timing.