Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:3-8
Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” – Jeremiah 9:23-24
I’m still making my way through a re-read of The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. Long over-due. Although the chapters are super short, each contains such a wealth of wisdom to think through and process.
In The Letters, a senior demon, Screwtape, is advising his nephew on how to draw away a young Englishman from his new-found faith in God, whom the demon calls The Enemy. The nephew is given strategies to muddle up “the patient’s” thinking on God and how one is to live, “loving our neighbors as ourselves”.
Chapter 14 (in just 3 pages) dissects the issues of humility, pride, and self-forgetfulness. We may think ourselves that humility is having and expressing a low regard of self, even self-deprecation. That is not humility. In the fullest sense, humility is a right understanding of God, other people and ourselves, in relation to all. God and others.
True humility is a growing awareness of how all things work together, including the hard things in life, and an appreciation of the good and glory in the world. Celebrating God, and His choosing to continue to display His goodness in all of life…in mine and yours, and throughout the natural world.
When we can pull our eyes off our own successes or, on the flip side, our challenges, perspective comes. Not puffing ourselves up or bringing yourselves down, but just seeing God everywhere. He purposefully and beautifully knit each of us together and His purposes are not thwarted.
Focused on God and others, we can live in a place of self-forgetfulness. Satan wants to destroy such peace by pressing us to ever compare, ever put ourselves down, or ever feel envy and longing regarding others’ good works. Or, if he can to even push us into pride, thinking more highly of ourselves, even though we operate out of the gifts and opportunities God gives us.
Here’s a bit of Screwtape’s instruction to Wormwood in the tempting of the young Christian:
“To anticipate the Enemy’s strategy, we must consider His aims. 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. The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbour’s talents – or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall.“ – C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Chapter 14
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Let’s worship the God who frees us from self as we turn our eyes each day, and through the day, onto Him. Why this old song? It speaks to troubled hearts. If humility is not where we live, our hearts become troubled – either in some embattled state of self-loathing or self-obsessing. We can live free of all that.
O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s a light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
Over us sin no more hath dominion—
For more than conquerors we are!
His Word shall not fail you—He promised;
Believe Him, and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!
Why did I call humility “a small virtue”? Because it doesn’t draw attention to itself. It points to God and to others. However, it doesn’t leave us out. We also get to be on this grand journey. We are flesh, so when God gives us the opportunity to do something amazing, we naively may say, “Wow, I did that!” Pride rears its head, even for a moment. We can then either beat ourselves for the pride and make ourselves small in some sort of false humility or…we regain perspective. “Wow, I got to do that! Thank You, God!” If it was someone else who “got to do that”, we rejoice the same. It is the beautiful sphere of self-forgetfulness.
Room for everyone on the podium in a very real way…because God is at the foundation of every podium we will ever encounter. Actually, forget the podium. The ground is level at the foot of the Cross. We’ve all heard this. Humility is where we live it.
“The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less. Gospel-humility is not needing to think about myself. Not needing to connect things with myself…True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.”– Tim Keller, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness
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