PRAYER KEYS - HUMILITY
One Christmas afternoon, a pastor's wife dropped into a chair and said, “Boy! Am I ever tired!”
Her husband looked over at her and said, “I’ve been on my feet for most of two days. I led two special services last night, three today. I’ve preached a total of five sermons. Why are you so tired?”
“Dearest,” she replied, “I had to listen to all of them.” [SermonCentral.com]
A young woman met with her pastor to ask his help with a besetting sin. “Pastor, I have become aware of a sin in my life which I cannot control. It’s pride. Every time I am at church I begin to look around at the other women, and I realize that I am the prettiest one in the whole congregation. None of the others can compare with my beauty. What can I do about this sin?”
The pastor replied, “Mary, that's not a sin, that's just a mistake!” [SermonCentral.com]
A pastor finally got an invitation to preach at the annual associational meeting. When the associational secretary brought his check, he looked at it, smiled, and handed it back. “No, no. The honor of preaching was payment enough. Surely there is a better cause this can be used for.”
The associational secretary said there was a special fund it could go to. The pastor had to pressure him a bit to find out it was a fund to invite a better speaker in the future. [SermonCentral.com]
Well, with the quarterly business meeting and Vacation Bible School, it has been three weeks since our last prayer meeting Bible study. Has anyone kept up with where we are on the list of prayer keys? If not, from the stories just told, can you guess?
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14
Tonight, we are looking at the “humble themselves” phrase, we are looking at humility as a key to prayer.
Humility is not highly regarded in American society. Schools may have programs for building self-esteem, but not humility. We are to take pride in our work. Americans are to be self-reliant. Humility is something to joke about, like the imaginary book, “Perfect Humility and How I Attained It.”
There is a great misunderstanding about what humility is. Some people assume humility means being a doormat, letting people walk all over you.
To please a politician, Abraham Lincoln ordered certain army regiments transferred. Back then the Department of Defense was the War Department and the Secretary of War was Edwin Stanton. He refused to obey the order, saying, “The President is a fool.”
Gossip traveled as fast back then as it does now. It was inevitable that the President would hear about it. Lincoln said, “If Mr. Stanton said I’m a fool, then I must be, for he is nearly always right. I’ll see for myself.” He talked with his secretary, realized the order was a mistake, and withdrew it. [SermonCentral.com] Do you think of Abraham Lincoln as a doormat?
Compare Abraham Lincoln to Fonzie. Do you remember Fonzie from “Happy Days?” In one episode, he tried to admit that he had made a mistake, but he could not say, “I was wrong.” He tried, but his ego would not let him. He said, “I was wrrrrrr... I was wrrrr... wrrrrr... wrrrr... I was not right.”
Humility admits mistakes and accepts correction without losing self-esteem, without becoming a doormat.
Some people seem to think humility means having no success, no accomplishment, nothing to brag about.
Mac Davis, a former country music entertainer of the year, had a top ten crossover song in 1980, for country and pop. It was all over the radio. Stations that didn’t normally play country music played this one. He had all the bookings he could handle. He was a star on variety shows. He even hosted “The Muppet Show” on TV. He was everywhere, and so was his song.
The next year, he hosted the country music awards show. He had no hits. He was nominated for nothing. On top of the world one year, nowhere the next.
Do you remember his 1980 hit? “O Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way. I can’t wait to look in the mirror. I get better looking each day. To know me is to love me. I must be... [some kind] of man. O Lord, it’s hard to be humble, but I’m doing the best that I can.”
The next year, he hosted the awards show. He had no hits. He was nominated for nothing. I didn’t watch it, but I read that his most memorable line of the evening was, “I guess it’s not so hard to be humble after all.”
He sang its hard to be humble one year while winning awards and praise, but when he had no hits and was nominated for nothing, he said it was not so hard to be humble. He seemed to think humility meant having no success, no accomplishment, nothing to brag about.
This is similar to another error, that humility means thinking your strengths are not as good as others or that your accomplishments are not as good as others or that your efforts are not as good as others.
C. S. Lewis had a very different view. One of his best known books is “The Screwtape Letters,” in which a senior demon writes letters to a junior demon-in-training about how to tempt people. “Fix in his mind the idea that humility consists in trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be…. By this method thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools. And since what they are trying to believe is, in some cases, manifest nonsense, they cannot succeed in believing it and we have the chance of keeping their minds endlessly revolving on themselves in an effort to achieve the impossible.”
Pretty women saying they are not pretty and clever men saying they are fools can be false humility. False humility pretends that one thinks his success is not very good or his strength is not very good or etc, while hoping others will disagree and praise him. Just to be clear, pleasure in being praised is not sinful pride. Seeking that praise is.
Charlene Ann Baumbich wrote a book about raising her sons. One chapter was about humbling experiences she had. She then felt the Holy Spirit nudging her to study humility. She thought she might write a book about what she would learn. After hours studying the scripture, she decided to broaden her study, to read what other people had learned about humility. She went to Christian bookstores and asked for books on humility. Time and again clerks said, “Gee, there don’t seem to be many specifically on that topic. After all, who would dare write on it?”
To be honest, I would not dare teach on humility if it was not part of this series on prayer keys. I am no authority on humility. I don’t know who is. For much of church history, it seems that writings on humility have emphasized recognizing that we are wretched sinners. Granted that is true. Any sin against an infinitely holy God is an infinitely wretched sin. Granted we need to recognize that before we are saved. Still, most of those writers weary me with all of their superlatives. I get tired of reading them before they ever get to the end.
Personally, I am more moved by the simple words of Bob Sorge. “Humility says, ‘Lord, I am empty without Your fulness; I am broken without Your wholeness; I am helpless without Your strength; I am clueless without Your wisdom. Apart from You I am nothing. I need you...” Secrets of the Secret Place: Keys to Igniting Your Personal Time with God, p. 46.
E. M. Bounds wrote, “Humility is just feeling little because we are little. Humility is realizing our unworthiness because we are unworthy, the feeling and declaring ourselves sinners because we are sinners.” E. M. Bounds on Prayer, p. 297.
The secret to humility is seeing as much of God as we can next to ourselves. We will find ourselves lost in the comparison.
Charlene Ann Baumbich talked about humility with friends, who either became uncomfortable or laughed at her. “Charlene, people can’t just become humble. The more they try, the worse it gets. When you finally get to the point that you can say, ‘I am humble,’ you can bet you’re not.”
But 1 Peter 5:6 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”
God commands us to humble ourselves, so it must be possible. He would not command us to do the impossible. Sometimes, it sounds like that because we don’t understand his command. So what does it mean to humble ourselves? What is humility?
Robert Leroe preached, “Humility is not inferiority or poor self-esteem; it is seeing our strengths and weaknesses honestly, and not letting either keep us from accomplishing what we need to do. Humility is recognizing that our strength comes from God. He doesn’t need us, but He wants to use us... Humility is not pretending we do not have gifts and abilities we know we have. Humility is simply making a truthful, modest estimate of ourselves.” [SermonCentral.com]
Mother Teresa said it simply. “I am just a pencil in the hand of God.”
I choose to define humility as being totally consumed with glorifying God and not at all concerned with glorifying self. I have not “arrived” by any stretch of the imagination. I still need to practice that secret to humility. I still need to see as much of God as I can next to me.
Leonard Bernstein, one of the first conductors born and educated in the United States to receive worldwide fame, died in 1990. He conducted concerts by some of the world’s leading orchestras, composed symphonies, and wrote music for Broadway hits. His obituary called him “one of the most… talented and successful musicians in American history.”
Someone asked Bernstein which instrument was the most difficult to play. He said, “The second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm - that’s a problem.”
First violinists are the stars. They have the melody line people notice. They have the “fun” part. Second violinists harmonize with the firsts. Their score, played by itself, may not make much sense. It is not as much fun to play as the melody line. Their job is to support the first violinists.
Second violinists are concerned with the success of the orchestra without calling attention to themselves. We are to be concerned with the glory of God without calling attention to ourselves. Humility is being totally consumed with the glory of God and not at all concerned with glorifying self.
C. S. Lewis, still in the persona of the senior demon training a younger demon, writes “The Enemy [the demons in his book refer to God as the enemy] wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another.”
What is he saying? He is saying I don’t sin just by recognizing I have the gift of teaching. I recognize it is a gift from God and it does not make me special. Denying the gift is denying what God is doing in my life. Denying the gift is not humility. Humility begins with recognizing the gift is from God. If I were truly humble, I could teach a life changing lesson and know that I had done so without being proud. I would be glad that God had been glorified. I would be glad that lives had been changed. I would be just as glad if lives had been changed and God had been glorified while someone else had taught that lesson.
This is a continuation of an earlier prayer key we studied, praying for the glory of God. When I am praying and I am totally consumed with glorifying God and not at all concerned with glorifying self, I will be praying as God wants me to pray.