One of the writers I like to read is an old Scottish preacher by the name of Thomas Boston. He had a vivid imagination, and in one of his sermons, he pictured the soul and the body of a believer engaging in conversation after they are reunited in the resurrection....
This year I’ve spent several Wednesdays dreading the evening’s small group. We have a group of amazing prayer partners—and that’s just the problem. Our group has come to expect the real, troubling prayer requests, not the easy ones about grandmothers’ colds and work travel. I get prayer request paralysis. It’s because some weeks giving the real prayer request has meant dipping way down in humility to divulge a shameful sin or fear.
This humility has been embarrassingly foreign to me for most of my life, even though the concept runs straight through the whole of Scripture. It has been a fight to accept God’s humbling. But he has also shown me, in his Word and in relationships, that with humility comes great blessing.
In humility, we find freedom that leads to closeness with God and with others.
Humility Leads to Closeness with God
God’s humbling does not feel good at first. He might humble you through the loss of a job, consequences of sin which are visible to others, a relationship crisis or health setback that forces you to depend on others, loss of security, anything that knocks you out of trust in your own goodness or self-sufficiency. None of these feels good, and we resist his discipline because we think it will mean losing a valuable piece of ourselves.
But what God’s humbling really does is bring us closer to a true knowledge of ourselves: we are weak, powerless, sinful, defiled creatures, dependent on God, only able to do anything good by his power. Humility is based in the truth that God is perfect, self-sustaining, and worthy of praise—but we are not.
Conversely, avoiding humility involves a lot of lying about who we are. A person who is resisting humility will hide the truth about his or her weakness. Jesus points this out to Nicodemus, who came to him secretly under the cover of night. Jesus said, “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (see John 3:1-21). Resisting humility means lying and hiding from the truth.
Jesus taught us that truth sets us free, and this certainly applies to the truth of our weakness. When our weakness is exposed, we are free to come to God empty and ask him to work in us. The Pharisees never admitted their need for Jesus to correct their understanding of the law. The rich young ruler walked away from Jesus when presented with a challenge, rather than asking Jesus to help him follow the command. These people refused humility. Instead they stayed trapped in their own pride and refusal to seek Jesus’ grace. When God works humility in us, he is setting us free!
This freedom to come to God, with sin and need exposed, leads to the even greater blessing of closeness with him. Scripture gives us the amazing truth that when we come to God in humility, his favor is on us. Though we are not worthy of praise, God gives honor and gives himself to the humble.
- “For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar” (Psalm 138:6).
- “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way” (Psalm 25:9).
- “Blessed are the poor in spirit [those who know their spiritual poverty before God], for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
- Peter and James both reference Proverbs in their epistles, when they write, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (I Peter 5:5; James 4:6).
If we know that God is near to the humble, what joy there is in accepting his humbling! We have no need to fear, because God has promised to draw close to us. When God brings us low, he is bringing us closer to himself.
Humility Leads to Closeness with Others
This freedom from pride can also flow into our human relationships. It’s impossible for someone to bear a burden with you if you are too prideful to admit you need help with it. But the more truth we know about our weak state, the more we are set free from the bondage of competitiveness, perfectionism, self-dependence, self-righteousness, and isolation. Then we can get to the business of really knowing and being known, and of bearing each other’s burdens.
For example, when we aren’t worried about maintaining a flawless appearance before others, we are free to confess honestly, bringing our sin into the light, because we know we need God’s help and the encouragement of other believers to get rid of it. We are free to admit weakness and ask for help without shame, free to share the real prayer request that involves a despicable sin or shocking doubt.
When you demonstrate humility by your own admissions of sin and weakness, you will also bless others by paving the way for them to embrace humility. Others are free to bring their burdens to you, because you sit as an equal beggar for grace and not as a holier-than-thou overseer. In my small group, I found great courage because of the example set by other women who had shared the raw truth of their weaknesses.
Not that any of this is easy. Scripture speaks of God afflicting and chastising his children, that they will learn righteousness. It feels terrible, as well it should, because God is destroying a piece of you—albeit a prideful, enslaving piece. But, in his abundance, God has provided us with promise after promise to cling to.
If you are in a season of painful humbling, ask God for the strength to continue praising him and calling on his promises. Read Psalm 34 to see the testimony of God’s salvation for those who take refuge in him. Ask him for mercy to see the ways he may be drawing you closer to him, through fellowship with his Son and his Spirit. Take the opportunity to develop more honest friendships in the body of Christ by sharing your weakness with other believers. In times of greatest desperation, simply ask him to guard your trust in his Word.
He can certainly do it.