When I asked my daughter what “humility” meant to her, she said “It’s when you fart in class!”
Like her, I think many people confuse humility with humiliation. But humility is something you practice voluntarily. Humiliation is often something done to you, a deeply embarrassing event, not an attitude. Humility is a result of grace, whereas humiliation is a result of shaming.
Take a look at the Old Testament with me. It is peppered with exhortations like these:
“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 I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV
“He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.” Psalm 25:9 (NIV)
Humility, in the Old Testament, was always in reference to people’s attitude toward God. It was always voluntary. And it was always the path to true confidence. In Numbers 12:3-8 we get a description of Moses that demonstrates this truth.
Now the man Moses was a quietly humble man, more so than anyone living on Earth. God broke in suddenly on Moses and Aaron and Miriam saying, “Come out, you three, to the Tent of Meeting.” The three went out. God descended in a Pillar of Cloud and stood at the entrance to the Tent. He called Aaron and Miriam to him. When they stepped out, he said,
Listen carefully to what I’m telling you.
If there is a prophet of God among you,
I make myself known to him in visions,
I speak to him in dreams.
But I don’t do it that way with my servant Moses;
he has the run of my entire house;
I speak to him intimately, in person,
in plain talk without riddles:
He ponders the very form of God. (MSG)
Is that not the very picture of confidence? He has the run of God’s house and speaks intimately with God, all because he was a quietly humble man!
Was he always humble? He certainly hated injustice like God, and killed a man in his zeal! Was that humility in action? No. Rather, it was pride in his rightness and authority to make someone pay. But he realized it, and humbled himself as he ran far out into the desert. I wonder how much of that run was fueled by self-condemnation. Was every day of those forty years in the hot, sunny desert clouded by shame and self-condemnation? Possibly. For when God met him in the burning bush, we find a man so low in his own esteem that He doubts the power of God.
When God calls Moses, he answered, “But why me? What makes you think that I could ever go to Pharaoh and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11 MSG), and “Moses objected, “They won’t trust me. They won’t listen to a word I say. They’re going to say, ‘God? Appear to him? Hardly!’” (Exodus 4:1 MSG)
This is the hidden danger in humility. We slide out the other side into humiliating ourselves with our self-condemnation. We sink into doubt – since I see myself so poorly, surely God must hate me, distrust me, not love me. We humiliate our Father with our mock humility, making him out to be a silly old fool for doting on us.
But God fixed the hole in Moses’s soul by not letting him out of his call and by focusing Moses’s attention on who He was. He repeatedly called Moses to enlarge His view and understanding of who He, the great “I AM”, was. God didn’t answer Moses’s self-doubt with “this is who you are,” but with “I AM”.
The more Moses focused his attention on God and held him in awe, and the more Moses walked out God’s call, the more truly humble he became. He walked confidently into potentially enormously humiliating situations. Surprisingly, humility led to courageous action.
Humility is a stance of worshipping stillness before God, realizing our small creature-liness before His infinite divinity. It is the guide into both intimate sanctuary and courageous kingdom action.
Do you need courage to do something God’s called you to? Do you need courage to ask forgiveness or reconcile with someone? Do you need courage to face an enemy? You will find it in humility. Worship God and He will give you courage.
May you enter the gate of humility and discover the wonderful significance He gives you. May the fence be mended in your life to keep you settled in humility and not fall into self-condemnation. May you leave through the gate of humility, confident in what He’s called you to do.