Moses: A Lesson in Humility

When I asked my daughter what “humility” meant to her, she said “It’s when you fart in class!”

via GIPHY

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.

 

Humility Brings Abundance

Abundant life comes, paradoxically, through humility, not through “to do” lists. Among other descriptions, humility is realizing and accepting you can’t do it all. It is simply recognizing that you are a created being under God, that God is great and giving. It is not putting yourself down, or being a doormat for others. Most picture humility as a person kneeling and bowing, which is something we do only to those in great authority. Thus, we are focusing on who, not what or how, when we practice humility. As we bow to God and not our accomplishments, He gives us life.

This morning I had the familiar feeling of indecision and forgetfulness that leads me to write down all I need to tackle today. The list, of course, is enough to fill three days minimum. With each scribble, my heart nestled more tightly into the cushions of denial, while my adrenalized mind spun into superwoman orbit tightly circling the tasks that peopled my day. But I have enough experience with my ways to know that this dichotomy would only split me into a frazzled, frustrated, commando by the end of the day, if not sooner!

Instead, I heeded the nudge in my spirit, the desire that drew me out into the sunshine away from the glaring white light of my “to do” list. In order to make enough space to experience God’s presence, I had to leave the couch, the house, the computer, and enter the world. As I did so, I simply enjoyed being outside. I enjoyed the chirping chickadee, my skittering, flamboyant dog, the brisk breeze frying my ears with freeze, the blue backdrop and the white steady sunshine. My heart came out to play then. And to play gladly with it, came the presence of God.

Soon creative ideas danced in my mind, the agenda left behind. A basketball hoop made by “Goaliath” connected me to the idea that David didn’t kill the mighty giant, Goliath, with a “to do” list. He didn’t map out: “I’m going to kill a giant someday, so I need to train myself how to shoot a slingshot perfectly accurately, accommodating for distance and wind speed and the height of the sun.” He didn’t set for himself a schedule of practice sets to accomplish each day, enter competitions, or master the calculations required for making such a hit. He didn’t focus on the accomplishment, which is what “to do” lists do. He focused on the “who”. And not the “who” that was humiliating the Israelites – Goliath, but the “who” that was filling David with courage. David knew that only God was worthy of kneeling down to, in humility. He knew Goliath was not worthy of that. And because David was in the habit of bowing to God, he could overcome the impossible.

So, without having mastered a program on how to take down giants, God inspired his willing, brave heart at just the right time (God calculated the wind speed, sun’s zenith, and distance) with just the right tool (God provided the right stone and used David’s familiarity with the slingshot) to accomplish the impossible. This is what happens when we humble ourselves before God.

I am entering a season in answer to the call of God that is bound to be impossible. I am not slaying giants, but if I were to write out a “to do” list for the next year, I would hibernate with my heart in a safe cocoon hoping the giants will pass without noticing me. He’s asked me to do big things. They require a great deal of faith. I cannot do these things by way of an agenda. The only way will be to continually humble myself, confessing my inability to do it all, pressing into His presence and not into my abilities. He gives us more than we can handle. He does this so that we will honor him and demonstrate his loving might.

How do we stand up courageously under the towering giant of “too much”? By bending down in humility, picking up a stone of remembrance, standing in the courage born of knowing that God is far stronger than the giant, stringing our slingshots with the tension of faith, and letting fly the weapon of the Word that admits I am not enough, but God is. This is the promise:

“God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” 2 Corinthians 9:8

I’ll take you back into the day I wrote this post because it illustrates in microcosm what God does on a macro level with our lives.

Instead of dragging myself from task to task, I found that I was filled with energy and joy. What had looked hard became easy. The indecision went away, I had space to be creative (something I thought would have to wait for another day), and I accomplished everything but one on my list that I had thought would take three days. In addition, I did a few extra things. The even more marvelous part was that I did it with a deep sense of God’s presence and accompaniment and strengthening.

I will be honest, this does not always happen, for there are days that do drag and are difficult, and I don’t have a sense of God’s presence, even after humbling myself and meeting with Him. My spirit feels lean and hungry then, so I (try to) lean into the promise that “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:3) The abundance promised here is not felt yet, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. The challenge here is not to try to fill my hungry spirit with accomplishments, but to carry on waiting in humility.

Then God shows up big, like he did the day I wrote this, and as I experience the fullness of his presence I am empowered in my tasks. I get a taste of heaven, and I am humbled all the more into joyful awe that today, in my life, his will was done on earth as it is in heaven.

He’s arranged it so that our small days are filled with promise, with provision, with Him. Whether it’s a day that you taste heaven or a day that you hunger for it, the more we recognize our inabilities and stand courageous in His abilities, the more we will be full of hope and peace and joy. Our interior worlds will not be constrained by worry, or “to do” lists, rather, they will be full and spacious. An abundant life is not something achieved; it is given.

 

 

Parenting is a Puzzle

I love being able to look ahead to a goal and work backward from that to establish the step before me today. It’s somewhat like making a puzzle, where you’ve got the top of the box to go by, and a zillion colorful cardboard bits jumbled before you. First step – flip them all right side up. Second step – find the edge pieces. Third step – study the picture and choose an obvious image to assemble first (don’t start with the sky!). Fourth step – keep doing this section by section, until – ta-da! – you have a completed picture!

I apply this in life. To my children. (Do you hear the threatening turn in the music?) As if they were a project, a simple flip of a puzzle piece to be maneuvered into place. The picture I’m trying to make with their lives is obvious – to me.

“You don’t want to do that? Why can’t you just calm down, can’t you see it’s for your best? If you do [insert homework, cleaning, saying sorry, etc.], then you will be prepared for tomorrow by having these skills, so why wouldn’t you do it now?” C’mon, just flip. But instead, the puzzle piece tumbles to the floor, face down, frustrated and unyielding.

If my kids could see and understand the trajectories in my head that thread through their lives today, they might be glad for the direction, but they’d more likely rebel. It’s not their picture. They have their own puzzle box lids to look at and only they can assemble it. God has given them their own puzzle box to follow, and I only see glimpses of it. God shows us parents enough to support them in seeing their pictures, to show them how to assemble a puzzle, but not enough that we can put them together piece-by-piece. What’s inside is between Him and them.

https://pixabay.com/en/child-puzzles-photo-montage-2970588/

Oh, that’s humbling. And it takes a huge amount of confidence in God to not put my hands in the puzzle box, trusting that He will assemble the picture.

When I want my child to behave a certain way, or cooperate with my plans, and I push into steel-edged word-weapons, impatiently enforcing immediate change I know that I am working on my own puzzle, not holding the box to theirs.

As a parent, I know better. I know raising my voice isn’t the right way. I know they have to make their own mistakes. I know that they should choose what I want them to choose because my experience informs that. But that’s my experience, not theirs.

But, dear parent, do you know that Jesus put up with your mistakes and misbehaviors, your past ones and your present ones, even the one you are committing now as your eyes set in hard flint, your voice rises in sharpness, and your blood boils?

“[Jesus] waits, with patience, the opportune moment…Why be more demanding and impatient than God?”

Jesus often waits for years for that opportune moment, for that puzzle piece to click into place. We, parents, need to humble ourselves to the master puzzle maker, for we do not see our kids’ pictures clearly. We, parents, need to have confidence in his ability to work out the trajectories in our kids’ lives. We, parents, need to provide the home for our children to develop their own relationships with God, and we need to show them how to be a puzzle piece in the hands of God, how saying sorry and asking forgiveness is part of our pictures, too.

My Humble Dad

As part of the 2018 series on cultivating a ‘Mary’ heart, I am focusing on humility for March. 

 

Twenty years ago today, my father was turning fifty-three. I don’t recall whether I was able to call him for his birthday or not. Most likely I couldn’t, for I lived in rural Ukraine at the time, and phone lines were unreliable, and the internet did not stretch to my area.

Today, I cannot call him either, for he died that year of 1998, and neither phone lines nor internet reach heaven.

As far as we’ve come technologically in twenty years, there is still only one access point for heaven and we can still only communicate through the age-old manner, prayer. We humans have tremendous abilities and inventions, yet they still are, and always will be, not as wondrous as God’s abilities and inventions.

My father loved science and technology. In his spare time, he tinkered with new computer coding languages, devising programs to better serve his patients and fellow doctors. It was so typical of him to be contributing significantly, but in the background, quietly. Yet, there was little science and technology could do, other than attempt to keep him comfortable, five months later against the cancer ravaging his body.

During the last week I shared with my son the story of how my dad quietly went to bat for me, and how that led to lasting change in our church. He was a boys’ club leader there, and I wanted to join in their cub car racing. I saw how much fun he and my brother had dreaming up a design for their cars, then shaping, painting, and weighting them, and I wanted in on it. The problem was that it was only for the boys. But he went to the other leaders and asked if I could make a car. They agreed. Then I pressed to join in the race – that was a little more contentious! However, he pressed on in his calm, logical, persistent way, and eventually I was permitted to race. I didn’t win, but it was a victory for the girls that would follow me. Now, the church opens the race to all boys and girls.

My dad never shamed those who thought I shouldn’t participate, he never bad-mouthed any of them, instead, he consistently served alongside them and demonstrated a different way. He didn’t advertise this victory as his accomplishment, because it wasn’t about him. He was humbly, faithfully living the truth of leaving one’s world a better place. He fought this battle with love and care for those on both sides of the issue. His example humbles me.

I also recall finding him sitting in the white wicker chair in the wasabi-green carpeted Florida room, light streaming in the many windows, leg crossed, as he slouched over his Bible or Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline most mornings before work. When I was in high school he discovered this treasure of a book, and it made a marked difference in his life. Dad was discovering that it is a humble thing to be in the presence of someone greater than you, but when that greater one is Jesus, you receive peace and joy. Because I witnessed this, I, too, now practice these disciplines. 

Once, I wandered in to the Florida room as he was finishing, and I asked what his favorite verse was. He told me it was Romans 8:38-39.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Yet, I have his old Bible with his barely legible notes scratched alongside the verses, and I know that he had questions and doubts. He hid them not from God, but presented them in prayer with thanksgiving. A highly intelligent man, he humbled his intelligence to the mysteries that God kept hidden in his wisdom, and he accepted in faith that God knew better than he.

Even as he was dying, he demonstrated the wrestle that it is to humble oneself to death — at moments seemingly at peace, while at others struggling to avoid it. But when we — his sister and brother-in-law, wife, son and I — sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, we could see him visibly humble himself to death, and receive the peace offered him as Jesus welcomed him into his full embrace.

I am so proud, in an awed, humble sort of way, to have had such a demonstrably humble dad. His legacy of humility has left its mark in his work, his church, and, most of all, his family. Typically, we think we must prove ourselves, achieve something, and create a legacy. But my dad proved that it is not in proving oneself that one receives peace and creates a legacy, it is in humbling oneself to the One who works through our legacies. 

Do you have someone who has demonstrated humility in your life? Or someone who has left a legacy of humility? Please share in the comments, we would love to hear about others who go before us in this way.