I know that you will be so blessed reading all of the reflections and stories in this issue of The Cry.
As one of our WMF Lifestyle Celebrations, WMF notes that we “celebrate humility before God and humanity?”
What does this mean?
Are we somehow equating experiencing difficulty with goodness of character?
Though the experience of difficulty does indeed sometimes serve as an aid in the refinement of character, we are not simply celebrating experiencing difficulty.
Rather, we are celebrating goodness that transpires when a characteristic like humility is interwoven into our being.
Humility, through promoting right relation and right understanding to all that surrounds, seeks to undergird and uplift. (Js. 4:10; Mat. 23:12; Lk. 14:11; Pr. 11:2, 3:34; 1 Pt. 5:5; Phil. 2:14-15)
Humiliation, through promoting a false sense of self in relation to all that surrounds, seeks to depress and destroy.
Pride, in its unhealthy sense [e.g., arrogance, conceit, superiority], resides at the opposite end of the spectrum from humiliation, but is also likewise a manifestation of a false sense of self in relation to all that surrounds.
Though accomplished by different means, both humiliation and pride debase the human heart. They sever instead of promote healthy relationality. (Pr. 11:2, 18:12, 21:4, 21:24; Lk. 14:11, Mt. 23:12; 1 Pt. 5:5; Rev. 12:10; Zech. 3:1-2; 2 Cor. 2:5-11)
Considering humiliation and pride can help us better recognize God’s ways for us, but here we focus on the healthy middle way of humility.
Humility is a way to freedom; it is a way of right relations; it is a way of healthy understanding and wholistic peace (shalom); it is a way of affirmation of the dignity of each and every human, including you and me.
All humans are bearers of the image of God (imago Dei; tzelem Elohim). There is inherent dignity in this, but it is a derived dignity gained via a gift. Our goodness ultimately does not inhere within us because of our own doing; instead, goodness resides within us due to a gift. Humility simultaneously recognizes capacity and limitation and respects it all.
Humility is often connected with temperance. Humility allows for contentedness. Humility allows us to do something great for God without thinking that we somehow therefore are great.
As C.S. Lewis offered in Mere Christianity,
“Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all…
If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”1
Because humility healthily recognizes limitation, humility also fosters a sense of participation with community. Humility emphasizes “we” over “I.” Philippians 2:3-5 is a great reminder of this Biblical emphasis: “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for [their] own interests, but also the interests of others. Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus.” We are reminded here that, as Christians, we follow the example of Christ in seeking to practice humility, in seeking to be humble.
Humility is a healthy and appropriate recognition of being created as part of a greater interconnected whole. John Donne’s insight continues to echo down to us through the ages – we each play a part; none of us are an island unto ourselves.2 One body, many parts; the Lord is the Vine while we are the branches. (1 Cor. 12:12-27; Jn. 15:1-17)
Considering 17th century literature like Donne’s in relation to humility, our family recently watched an updated animated 2019 film of Pilgrim’s Progress that we found both enjoyable and meaningful.
I am thinking here of Christian’s experience in the Valley of Humiliation as he encounters and battles Apollyon, from the City of Destruction, on his way to the Celestial City. Christian has just rested and fellowshipped with friends Discretion, Piety, Charity, and Prudence. He has been provided sustenance for the journey and fully outfitted with armor (Eph. 6:10-18). Now, he must navigate the Valley of Humiliation on his own and seek God’s help while in the midst of trial. The battle is fierce. Apollyon accuses him of all kinds of artifice, lack, and that he is not worthy of God. Christian must remember that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Rom 8), but that he cannot overcome Apollyon on his own. God does not condemn nor accuse him. Instead God is our “very present help in time of trouble.” (Ps. 46) When we call on God, God turns what the devil means for humiliation and debasement into humility and uplift! (Gen. 50:19-21; Jas. 4:7; Rom. 8:28) Though he suffers grievously and is almost killed, Christian perseveres by the blood of the Lamb, the Word of God, and his testimony of acceptance by God! As soon as the battle is over he receives healing. I encourage you to read the whole passage; it is very sobering and encouraging.3
One of Bunyan’s key messages with the Valley of Humiliation is that everyone slips and encounters difficulty going into it, but it is the prideful that encounter the worst trials as they make their way through. The already humble navigate the valley with comparatively little turmoil as the hardships in this valley are something that they have already given over to God. One way or another, as we continue on the path of our Lord, we learn the ways of our Lord. May the Lord grace us with learning the ways of humility sooner than later so that we can better gift others with His grace and love.
Friends, hear the Good News, the Lord turns what is meant for humiliation into dignifying humility!
Christ is the great equalizer. Not an equality of the lowest common denominator, but rather, an equality of the highest possible capacity.
Christ takes degrading humiliation and degrading pride and transforms them both into dignifying humility. Humility trades bondage for freedom.
None are above and none are below God’s law of Love. All stand equally freed before it.
Recognition of limitation coupled with an understanding of the inherent worth of all that is created promotes healthy engagement of interconnected community.
As the “Prophets of a Future Not Our Own” prayer offers, “We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”
Word Made Flesh, in the humility of understanding that we are ministers and not messiahs, is everyday doing the work of loving people well in the name of Jesus all around the world. Join us! Support the ministry in prayer and financial partnership. We need your partnership to continue faithfully walking with and caring for “the least of these,” our brethren.
The Lord bless and keep you.
Executive Director of Word Made Flesh
1Lewis, C.S.. Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 1952).
2 Donne, John. Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII (Originally published in 1624). Find the whole meditation here: luminarium.org/sevenlit/donne/meditation17.php
3 Bunyan, John. The Pilgrim’s Progress. (Originally published 1678) Part I, Stage 4.