I think I’m fairly humble. I’m not proud of this fact (because if I was, then it wouldn’t really be humility). It’s just that I have incredible confidence in what God can do through me. It’s not what I do, but “God who works in [me] to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). While I don’t do it perfectly, I try to focus my gifts, skills, and resources on His glory. That’s why I write and why I parent the way I do and…well, why I do just about everything I do. But sometimes, I sense that people find me overly confident, maybe even arrogant. I used to feel bad about this…until I took a closer look at John the Baptist.
Mark 1:1-8. Also Matthew 3:1-17 and Luke 3:1-20.
We know from the other gospels that John was Jesus’ relative and that he was set apart (a Nazarite) from before he was born. When he was roughly thirty or thirty-one years old, he appeared in the wilderness, preaching (1:4). Not in a synagogue, not credentialed through Bible college or seminary, not paying his dues as a youth minister and waiting for his chance to shine in a pulpit. He was out in the sticks. People had to come to him. And boy did they come! Sure, it’s hyperbole, but Mark says all the country folk and all the city people showed up. There was this…charisma about him that didn’t come from his family tree or education. He was a messenger, a herald (like one who goes before a king to announce his arrival), a preparer (Mark 1:2-3, based on Old Testament prophecies).
John the Baptist confidently “owned”
his calling as a prophet.
Despite his lack of education and experience (Had he been preaching before this? The way Mark says he appeared makes me think not.), John identified himself with the prophets of old. The camel’s hair clothes and leather belt were the uniform, so to speak, of the Old Testament prophets. (I learned that in my NIV notes.) He confidently “owned” his calling, even confronting the Pharisees and Sadducees. Remember what he called them? “You brood of vipers!” (Matthew 3:7). Ouch.
John unapologetically said what needed to be said—not just to the religious leaders but also to the common people. The gospel writers summarize his message, but it would go something like this: “You have sinned, and you need forgiveness. Make a public display (baptism) of the fact that you recognize your sins for what they are and you truly want to change.” No sacrifices, no giving of alms. Forgiveness was between the individual and God. John didn’t beat around the bush, try not to step on people’s toes, or start each sermon with a joke.
People wanted to make a bigger deal
out of John than he thought proper.
At the same time that he spoke so confidently, John insisted that he was not the focus, not the important one in his ministry. Always, always, always, he pointed to the Messiah—even before he knew that Jesus, his cousin, was the one to whom he was pointing. Remember that John was the first prophet in Israel for over 400 years. Camel’s hair coats with leather belts hadn’t been “in vogue” for a long time. You get the impression that people wanted to make a bigger deal out of John than he thought proper. His words in Mark 1:7 sound like a protest. In today’s language, he might say, “Stop it! There’s another guy coming who is way more important than me. In fact, I don’t even deserve the privilege of loosening the straps on his Chacos!” The Message puts it like this: “The real action comes next: The star in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will change your life.”
Just think for a minute about the vigorous confidence of John’s authentic humility. How does it compare to the world’s concept of humility?
After pondering this for quite a while (like, years!) and reading about faithful people in the Bible, I’ve come to this definition of humility: Humility is a constant awareness of my position in relation to God Most High.
Example #2: Jesus
The Pharisees actually asked Jesus straight-up, “Who do you think you are?” (John 8:53). Check out His answer. It’s spot-on for confident humility:
If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. (John 8:54)
Jesus was confident in His relationship to the Father. That’s why James’ admonition to humble yourself before the Lord, and he will lift you up (James 4:10) finds its best example in Philippians 2:6-11, where Jesus made himself nothing and yet God exalted him to the highest place. If God wants to raise me, He will raise me. If He wants to lower me, He will do it. As believers, we don’t need to “scratch and claw” to get ahead. We don’t follow the American ideal of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” (a notion which Malcolm Gladwell disproved anyway in Outliers). Oh, I could write a whole post on this!
It’s our job to reflect Him.
It’s His job to put us in the
place where He is best reflected.
Think of yourself like a mirror in the sunlight. The mirror doesn’t—can’t—produce light. It creates that blinding glare by focusing diffuse sunlight. As believers, we simply reflect the Light while He repositions the mirror (rotating it, lifting it, lowering it) for greatest effect. In other words, it’s our job to reflect Him. It’s His job to put us in the place where He is best reflected.
A mirror is only as beautiful as what it reflects. It would be ridiculous for a mirror to be vain, and it’s similarly ridiculous for us to be prideful.
For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. –Luke 14:11
Here’s my conclusion.
I don’t need people to tell me how great I am, and I don’t worry about how great I am. I know how great He is…and that’s enough.
Why am I sharing this now? Well, I read two separate articles on humility this week. Both of them say—more eloquently than I—much what I’ve stated here. Made you read mine first! I also included a couple of related links that I wrote.
- Jon Bloom wrote “Humility Is Not Always Nice” at Desiring God.
- Mary Felkins wrote “Neither too Lowly, Nor too Lofty” on her blog, Mary’s Musings.
- Last month, I wrote “A Writer’s Confession: Pride” on Me Too Moments For Moms. In that post, I touched on John the Baptist, but I also wrote a lot more about my own pride and how God has dealt with it over the last ten years.
- You might also like to check out The Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness, a poem that I wrote a long time ago about John the Baptist.
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