“Confident Humility” is not an Oxymoron

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 Jesus, his cousin, was the one to whom he was pointing. Remember, 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!

Analogy: Mirror

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.

mirror glare
(c) Carole Sparks

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.

Want to share this post?

“Confident Humility” is Not an Oxymoron: How real humility boldly asserts God’s glory. (click to tweet)

If you’d like to respond, leave me a note in the comments. I always respond.

Advertisements

Help! I don’t even know how to pray.

We’ve all been there: the pain so fresh, the desperation so palpable, the weakness so overwhelming that we don’t even know how to pray. You stumble into His presence and heave that burden off your shoulders. As it thuds on the floor, the impact reverberates through your feet and ankles so that you lose your balance. Sprawling at His feet, you seem to have lost the ability to speak. What then?

Mark 14:34-36.

Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt scars.

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” –Mark 14:34

Jesus experienced the same kind of desperate moment. In Gethsemane the night before He died, His preparation for the biggest moment in history involved falling on the ground and begging God to change His mind (14:35)! It’s not Jesus’ finest moment. But it is, in fact, His most human moment.

If Jesus can ask for relief, for a different outcome…

If Jesus can be weak, desperate, maybe even afraid…

Then we can, too.

First of all, know this: There is no sin in pain, in desperation, in weakness…even in longing for a different outcome. Let me say it again: Desperation is not a sin. Jesus was desperate (see also John 12:27-28, Psalm 55:4-5). Satan will try to make you hide your desperation or tend your pain yourself, but God already knows about it and already plans to take care of it.

The words of this
prayer aren’t for Him;
they are for you.

Secondly, you’ve already done enough. The fact that you brought your burden to God is enough. He can take it and act even if you say nothing. He doesn’t need your explanation. It’s you who needs to speak. The words of a prayer like this aren’t for Him; they are for you. That’s often the case with prayer, wouldn’t you say?

Let’s look at how Jesus prayed there in Gethsemane. Here we find a simple formula for our most desperate moments—one that reorients our minds toward God Himself.

“Abba, Father,” he said, “Everything is possible for you. Take this cup from Me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” –Mark 14:36

Address Him: To whom are you speaking?

“Abba, Father.”

Just by saying the name of God, we begin to put Satan in his place and turn our eyes toward the One we serve. Use any of the names of God that He places in your mind. Ultimately, this situation is about Him, not about you (or me).

Acknowledge Him: What do you know about Him?

“Everything is possible for you.”

God is omniscient, omnipotent, Creator, loving Father, Healer, Sovereign Ruler… He is whatever you truly need in your moment of desperation. He may not supply what you want (in your selfishness), but He is what you need.

Ask Him: What do you want Him to do in light of Who He is?

“Take this cup from me.”

Having recognized who God is and what He can do, you then apply that knowledge to your current situation. Ask Him for what you know He can give. In Jesus’ case, He wanted to avoid the pain and separation of crucifixion, and justifiably so!

Accept His Will: Will you give your burden to Him to do with as He wishes?

“Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

God may grant your petition or He may have a greater plan. Either way, you release the burden to Him and follow His leading from here on out. God could have thwarted the crucifixion of Jesus, but His glory (and our good!) was better served by allowing Jesus to continue in the path laid before Him. You know (Don’t you, friend?) that His will is greater and higher than any solution you devise on your own (Isaiah 55:8, Romans 11:33, Proverbs 3:5-6, Job 38:2, Romans 8:28…need I go on?). I’ve written about this in other places, if you want more.

Prayer Ratio

I noticed something interesting as I first wrote this in my quiet time journal awhile back. (Yes, my journal is sometimes alliterative; I can’t help it.) Three-quarters of this three-sentence prayer focuses on who God is and what He does. Only one-quarter focuses on what I want. As I pray, whether I fall before Him in desperation or dance before Him in joy, I’m trying to keep that ratio: ¾ Him, ¼ me.

“Prayer is not simply getting things from God—that is only the most elementary kind of prayer. Prayer is coming into perfect fellowship and oneness with God.” –Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, 9/16.

Because, even in my desperation, my orientation must be Godward.

A 4-step method of prayer for our most desperate situations, based on Mark 14:36 from @Carole_Sparks…because my #prayerlife is #NotAboutMe. (click to tweet)

How do you pray when you are most desperate, when the words don’t flow because the pain is so palpable? What do you think of this simple example? I would LOVE to hear from you in the comments below!

By the way, in my Bible Study, Dwell: Mary, Martha & Lazarus, we examine another of Jesus’ prayers—when he prayed just before calling Lazarus out of the tomb.

Fight, Flight, or Follow

fight or flight

Psychologists say we’re born with this fight-or-flight instinct. They say, when faced with a crisis, our adrenaline starts flowing, and we either stand up to fight or seek a way to flee. They say it’s just human nature.

They say it’s just human nature,
but we have Jesus’ nature in us.

But we’re not just human. We are Christ-followers.

Mark 14. Continue reading

Muffled but Magnified

(c) Carole Sparks
(c) Carole Sparks

She took her place at the back of the line. An imposing gentleman—yes, he was certainly a gentleman; she could tell by the fine cut of his robe and the straightness of his shoulders—blocked her view up the line. She was careful not to shuffle too far when the line shifted. She might accidentally touch that fine fabric. He would feel the nudge and most certainly glare at her. He shook his coin pouch, again gauging its heft and contents. Scanning the crowd, he snatched a few coins from the pouch and stuffed them into his pocket. Still there was quite a jangle in that sturdy bag.

The sonorous clank of many coins colliding with the pile already inside the offering box cut short her observations. No matter that the gentleman in front blocked her view. She kept count of her place in line by the rattling of coins. Most wealthy people—she knew this from long years of observation—gave in one of two ways. Either they slowly dropped each coin into the box separately, making a show of the length of time it took to give, or they dropped their coins into the box all at once, for maximum sound effect. Those of the second type sometimes even bumped the box with their hip at the same time to create a bigger sound.

She pulled her thoughts back and resumed the mental conversation she had started before rising that morning. Most would call it prayer, but it didn’t have any of the formality that ornamented temple prayers. God was her ever-present companion, a best friend, a confidant since before her husband died all those years ago. She recalled His comfort in the difficult days of the funeral…

As she neared the box, she pulled two coins from inside her belt. No need for a money bag with only these two, worn bits of copper. “Oh Father,” her silent prayer continued, “I love you more than my own life.” The corners of her mouth curled up. “That soup being sold on the corner smelled really good. Fresh squash mixed with cinnamon, wasn’t it? I would rather praise you than fill my stomach.

“I didn’t sleep well last night; the bed bugs are getting worse. These two coins might buy enough soap to clean my bed and clothes, but I choose to honor You rather than to have a restful night or to give off a pleasant smell.

“Because I couldn’t sleep, I finished the last candle before sunrise this morning. You already know that, don’t you? Without another, I won’t be able to read Torah tonight, but that’s okay. I’ll just recite that one part in Deuteronomy:

‘See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. … Now choose life…’*

Oh, yes, that’s one of my favorites!

“Yes, my Lord, I know you care about me and your Law protects me as a widow. You would never demand this, but I give you these coins—everything I have—because I prefer your glory to my gain. You are my Jehovah-Jireh. You know what I truly need, and you will provide it. I don’t do it to see what You will provide or for any sort of blessing but simply to remind myself that nothing compares to Your glory. I want this, because more than anything else, I want You.”

The gentleman in front of her dropped his coins into the box all at once, just as she had anticipated. He hurried off, already focused on his next bit of business. She stepped in front of the box, conscious of the long line behind her. Her hand hesitated just for a moment, then the two small coins fell in among the rest. The thickness of the box muffled any sound they might have made.

As she turned to go, a man sitting across the hall caught her eye. A different sort of man.

And she knew her gift was magnified before the Father.

Mark 12:41-44.

*Deuteronomy 30:15-19

She dropped in her coins. As she turned to go, a man across the hall caught her eye, and she knew her gift was magnified before God. Even my last #twocents are #NotAboutMe via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Such as These

to such as theseFor a long time, I’ve been puzzled by this idea of us (adults) becoming like little children. Just look at these quotes from Jesus:

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”   –Matthew 11:25

“Let the little children come to me…for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”   –Mark 10:14

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”   –Matthew 18:3-4

When I think of little children, my first descriptive term is “innocent”—not a term that describes me well. My past has too many sins attached to it. Of course, I have been declared innocent in the judicial sense because Jesus took my guilt, and I live in that assurance every day, but experientially?  Well, too much has gone in through these eyes and ears; too many bad things have passed out through this mouth and these hands. In many ways, I don’t even want the return of that childlike naiveté because my experiences (the good, the bad, and the ugly) hammered me into the Christ-follower that I have become. So there must be more to this concept of “childlike” than innocence . . .

At least I’m in good company, puzzling over things Jesus said. Nicodemus asked Jesus, “How can someone be born when they are old?” (John 3:4). Like me, he had questions. So I do what Nicodemus did: I take my questions to Jesus. Here’s what I discovered in reading through the Gospels.

Children occupy a low position in society.

Perhaps more in Jesus’ day than in ours, children just weren’t that important. They didn’t sit at the heads of tables. They did the household jobs that adults didn’t want to do. They didn’t interrupt conversations. Remember that old saying, “Children should be seen and not heard”? Maybe it started there in Israel. This is why Jesus’ pointed to a child for a contrasting example when the disciples argued over who was more important (Mark 9:33-37; I just wrote about that from a parenting perspective *here*). This is why He praised those who would make the effort to give a child a cup of water rather than tell the child to get it himself (Matthew 10:42).

When we Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above [our]selves (Philippians 2:3), we position ourselves like children in society. Jesus modeled this attitude when He washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-16), and in Luke 22:26, He says, The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. Who are “the youngest” but the children?

Children are guileless.

Don’t ask a little kid what he thinks unless you really want to know. They haven’t learned to couch the truth in the “little white lies” that we call kindness. I think (just me here, I can’t confirm this with Scripture) this is one of the reasons Jesus liked children. They liked Him, too. As I was studying to write this post, I came upon this short conflict in the temple just before Jesus’ arrest. Look:

But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.

 “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.

“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?”  -Matthew 21:15-16

Those kids didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to say things like that in the temple, in front of the priests and teachers! They just spoke truth. (I bet their parents were mortified!)

Confession and repentance are necessary in initiating and maintaining a relationship with Jesus. As adults, we try to excuse, justify, de-emphasize, or just plain ignore our sin. But entering the Kingdom requires brutal honesty on our part: “Yep. I did it even though I knew better.” This one is a real challenge for me to just open my heart up to Jesus like a little kid who runs around naked, completely unaware of the impropriety.

Children act like those they admire.

They play house; they go to work; they sit with a book on their laps and look serious when they can’t actually read. Children pick up the habits and even the speech patterns of their parents.

Paul encouraged the Ephesians, Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love (Ephesians 5:1). As we emulate Jesus in our attitudes and actions, we become more like Him. What begins intentionally evolves into habit…even nature.

Children trust absolutely.

A Father says, “Come on Baby, jump! I’ll catch you.” and the little girl never doubts for a second that He will do it. That kind of confidence isn’t built on logic or experience. It’s built on love. The child who declares, “My dad can whup your dad!” hasn’t considered the size or fighting experience of either father. He just knows his dad is unstoppable. Oswald Chambers said, “The spiritual life is the life of a child. We are not uncertain of God, just uncertain of what He is going to do next” (MUHH 4/30).

And that’s what Jesus asks us to do. Come to Him. Jump—before you have all the answers, before you’ve considered every alternative and repercussion.  This kind of trust says, “I don’t see any possible way for this to work, but I know You, Jesus, are leading me to do it, so here goes!”

little children

To those who embrace humility,

to those who are unflinchingly honest,

to those who emulate Jesus,

to those who flagrantly and unreasonably trust Him…

the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. (click to tweet)

Our Mountain Guide

A couple of days ago, I sat down at the kitchen table early in the morning and lifted a hot cup of coffee to my lips.  As I waited for the steam to evaporate off my glasses (an almost daily occurrence), I prayed, “Lord, give me something fresh today . . . something from You, but new to me.”  We’ve been strolling through Mark, taking a few verses at a time (see *this post* for more on having a quiet time), so this particular morning, I picked up at Mark 8:34.

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

How many times have you read that verse?  How many times have you heard it preached?  How could I possibly see anything new here?

I could have kept going, but the Holy Spirit drew me toward the verbs. 

Becoming an authentic Christ-follower (a.k.a. disciple) means:

Deny – We refuse the right to act on our own opinions or seek our own comfort.  We do not pursue our own advancement.  We release all rights to His purpose and glory.

Pick up – We “own” the gifts and burdens that glorify Him.  This entails responsibilities as well as spiritual gifts, but it also relates to our identification with Him.  Yes, this is who I am: a Christ-follower.

Follow – We submit to His will and go where He goes, but this is also an active pursuit because we want to engage Him, enjoy Him, and learn to emulate Him.  (Ooohhh—that’ll preach!)

I thought on the images these verbs create, and He gave me an analogy.

The Christ-life is a treacherous mountain trail, but we have the perfect guide.  If you undertake a major, multi-day hike in unfamiliar terrain, you are wise to hire a guide.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  1. You don’t and can’t know the right path to take or how many miles you need to cover today before you make camp. You must trust your guide.  That means denying yourself—your opinions, your comfort, your rights.  You can’t trust yourself even when you think you know best because you have no real understanding of the situation.
  2. You need to bring/carry exactly what He tells you to. Nothing more; nothing less.  Obedience in this area will literally save your life.  He says you don’t need it?  Then you don’t pack it.  He says to wear two pairs of socks, you pull on more socks.  That’s taking up your cross.
  3. You must stay behind the guide. Go where He goes; step where He steps; eat what He eats.  When He speaks, you listen because He has the keys of the kingdom (Matthew 16:19).  The more you get to know Him, the more you will want to be like him.  You try to stay close to Him not just so you’ll be safe, but so you can hear his stories and learn from his experience.  That’s following Him.

So sorry, all you fans of Disney’s Cars

The closing song in that very-fun movie says, “Life is a highway,” but it’s not.  It’s a narrow, treacherous, sometimes indiscernible trail across a wide range of mountains.  There are peaks and valleys, rests beside streams of cool water and arduous treks across arid plateaus, gorgeous sunsets and torrential downpours, but in every environment and every weather condition, we have the perfect Guide.

Life is a narrow, treacherous, sometimes indiscernible trail across a wide range of mountains, but we have the perfect guide in Jesus. He said #FollowMe. Whether life is easy or hard, it’s #NotAboutMe via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Do you have a great analogy for the ChristLife? Does something in this post resonate with you today? Either way, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!