Seven years ago I sat in Maroochydore, Australia with my YWAM staff mentor. Once a week we trekked to the Starbucks near the beach, sat on the patio, and watched the waves and people roll by. Isaac taught me a lot, and one thing I specifically remember him saying was about humility.
“You want to know a scary prayer to pray?” he asked one day while we sipped our matcha lattes.
“Ask the Lord to humble you,” he continued. “That’s a scary prayer because God will answer it and you will be humbled.”
To be honest, I don’t think I ever got around to praying that prayer. If you think about it, it’s a pretty scary thing to pray. An invitation to God to reach down and put you in your place is downright terrifying. I think we have several misconceptions about humility and what exactly it is, but that’s for another blog.
Humility is the opposite of pride. Pride also is an oft-misunderstood concept, as people think they are being humble whenever they speak ill of themselves or how much they hate themselves, when in reality, they are just taking on another form of pride.
C.S. Lewis defines pride as “ruthless, sleepless, unsmiling concentration on the self.” If we can define pride this way, then both the cocky male model and the self-depricating high schooler are equally guilty of being prideful.
There is no humility in constantly bringing up how terrible you are.
Tim Keller talks about pride as a calculation. When we calculate ourselves against others, sometimes we come out on top, and sometimes we come out below them, but either way, we are being prideful. No matter who you compare yourself to, you’re participating in pride. The devil doesn’t care how you place as long as you keep up the comparison.
So, I never really got around to praying the prayer for humility. I was too chicken. In many ways, I didn’t have to ask for it, because God will always send us opportunities to humble ourselves. We will always have the option to choose humility or arrogance in those situations.
For instance, take a look at my first year at Moody Bible Institute. I showed up thinking I was hot baloney. I thought I knew more about the Bible than all of my peers (and professors), and that I knew all about city life, despite never having set foot in Chicago before.
I had the opportunity to humble myself, learn from my classes and classmates, and create lasting friendships. Instead, no one wanted to be around me because I reeked so strongly of arrogance and I didn’t learn as much as I could have because I went in thinking I knew everything.
Over my three years at the school, I learned something: God is not about humility as much as He is about humiliation.
They stem from the same word, but we don’t often think of ourselves desiring humiliation. In fact, I think it’s intrinsic to humanity to flee humiliation at all costs. We buy fancy cars, gym memberships and fancy clothes to mask our humiliation.
When I think of humiliation, I think of total exposure. I think of total public shame. I think of the end of Braveheart when Wallace is publicly gutted and torn apart. And I think of Jesus.
I think of the mutilated body of the God-man dangling from a tree, utterly ashamed and utterly humiliated.
Christianity is an open invitation to come and be humiliated.
To come and be exposed before our Creator. Like ripping the scab from the surface of the wound, so must we be rent open in order to be healed.
Many of us claim that we want to be like Christ, but we don’t want to be humiliated. Yet, I think that if we are to truly embrace Christ-likeness, we should be open to humiliation. This is why a prayer for humility is so terrifying, not because we are afraid of being humble, but because we are afraid of being humiliated—as He was.
I think this is why the stories of Christian martyrs hit me so hard: These people were (are) willing to be humiliated to the point of death, all for Christ! Had they been too prideful or had they thought too highly of themselves, they would not have gone through with suffering for being Christians. But because they were humble, they allowed themselves to be tortured, killed…and humiliated.
Is Christ someone you are willing to be humiliated for? Or is He simply a coupon to give you a better/longer life? We may think of ourselves as humble people, but to what lengths would you sink because of your faith?
Over the course of my time at Moody, I would not say I was humiliated, but I think I came close. I had many beautiful and wise people speak into my life. And as they did so, they began to peel back this flimsy exterior skin I had built to protect the soft, authentic person underneath. There was an exposure of sorts as people began to see the “real” Ethan more than the cooler, stronger, mysterious version of myself I had spent so many years constructing.
By no means would I consider myself a humble person. But I am more humble than the day I first set foot in MBI’s courtyard, so focused on showing off that no one could get near me.
And as we seek to grow in humility, may we not flee humiliation for the sake of Christ. May we be people who are open to humiliation for the purpose of “knowing Christ in His sufferings, so that we may know Him in His resurrection.”
There is no resurrection unless there is death.
And there is no glory until there is humiliation.
May we be people bold enough to ask God to humiliate us that we may know Him better. That we may be healed.