Friday, January 19, 2007

Humble Heart

About this time three and a half years ago, I sat down at my computer to check my email. In just a few moments I was reading a long list of prayer requests that a former church member (she was a current church member at the time) had emailed. As I looked over this person's various prayer concerns, I came across my own name, and I read the following:

I would like to ask for prayer for our Associate Pastor, Travis Gilbert. Please pray for the Lord to continue to work in his life to make him a strong, confident leader of our church, but also to possess patience, understanding, and humility. (Emphasis added)

This was a bulk email, sent out to a large number of people. Many thoughts ran through my mind as I read, re-read, and read again that not so subtle accusation that I lacked patience, understanding, and humility. I remembered the confrontation this person and I had just days before. I clearly remembered being stern with this person, but I had still maintained a proper attitude. "Yes," I said to myself (When you're a pastor, you do a lot of talking to yourself!), "…yes, while there was an avoidable confrontation, it had not been a combative confrontation." Nonetheless, here I sat reading, along with who knows how many others, this indictment in prayer request's clothing: "Our Associate Pastor lacks humility."

My initial reaction ran a gamut of thoughts and emotions. I thought, "That's great, now you're tagged with the impatient and proud label." Reputations are funny things, if a person has a reputation of being an early riser, he can get away with sleeping all day. If person has a reputation of being impatient and proud, everything he says, does, or preaches, is colored by that preconceived notion.

So, yes, for a few moments I sat there staring at the computer screen, feeling sorry for poor old me. But then I had a second thought, and I said to myself, "You know, it is a good thing if people will pray for you to be patient, understanding, and humble!" Humility is one of the character qualifications listed in 1Timothy 3 as a requirement for a pastor; it is a necessary aspect of a pastor's life; humility is a necessary aspect of any Christian's life!

Apart from faith and obedience, there is probably no more important spiritual virtue or characteristic than humility. A humble heart is pleasing unto God. The Lord God said:
  • Isaiah 66:2b, "To this man will I look {this is the one I will esteem}…him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word."
  • Psalm 34:18, "The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit."
  • Psalm 51:17, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."
Christ began the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes, with the first four having to do with humility:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
If there was anything true about the Judaism of Jesus' time, it was that most of the religious folks were not really concerned with living righteously, but they sure did want others to think they were righteous. They paraded their external religion around and expected the accolades of the crowd. They always sought the chief seats and the high places. They blew a trumpet when they gave their alms, and when they did their fasting they made a big public show out of it. That's because legalism is always the companion of spiritual pride, and is the complete opposite of true spirituality which has the virtue of humility. Thus, when Jesus started the Sermon on the Mount, He attacked the religious of His day with a direct hit.

It is true that humility pleases God; our God has fellowship with the humble person, but humility is not vogue. It seems that our culture views humility as it does smoking, something that is hazardous to your health and should be restricted. We live in a world that is preoccupied with brains, bodies, and bucks, and the by-product of all that is a perpetual and persistent self-love fest.

The prophet Jeremiah, however, proclaimed in 9:23-24, "Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD."

But in our day, slick advertising campaigns encourages you to spend your extra money, or even money that you don't have, on yourself because, "You're worth it." We drive around with bumper sticks boasting, not in the Lord, but on our elementary student who's made the honor roll. It seems that most people have as their personal credo that famous slogan which says, "No, I am not conceited! Although I have every right to be."

I have grown up in a generation that has taken "Ole Blue Eyes" at his word, and everyone sings to himself, and to any who will listen, "I did it my way!" But in a list of seven things which Almighty God hates, pride is listed first, (Proverbs 6:16-17, "These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto Him: a proud look…" and Solomon also wrote, 16:5a, "Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord…" And just too completely drive home the point, 21:4, "A high look, and a proud heart…is sin."

If I were to instill in my own three sons the good characteristics of work, courage, and perseverance, but not instill in them the grace of humility, then I'll end up raising a pack of Pharisees; virtuous in many ways, but too proud to see their need for God. That is reminiscent of King Uzziah, who the Chronicler says was "marvelously helped, till he was strong. But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction," (2 Chronicles 26:16).

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