Wilderness Meditations: 13. The Place of Humility
Deut 8:2 God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart.”
Refocusing: Remember, we have been considering how we think, how we need to realise that we have to come to the end of ourselves before we can truly be open to God. We have reminded ourselves that we need people in our lives but, even more, we need to remember that God is to be the centre of our lives. When it comes to being Christian servants of God, Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5b) I suspect that this is a verse to which we pay lip service but most of the time live our lives as if he isn’t there. Yes, I believe he has given us autonomy and wants us, as mature believers, to make wise decisions, speak graciously and act righteously and yet unless our hearts are inclined in his direction (Deut 5:29 NIV) we end up in godless attitudes, ways of thinking, and then godless speaking and behaving.
Right Heart: Humility, a dictionary suggest is, ‘the quality of having a modest or low view of one’s importance,’ but for a believer it is more than that for it involves God. The apostle Paul wrote, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” (Rom 12:3b) The Living Bible expresses that as, “Be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value by how much faith God has given you.” Humility, for the Christian involves acknowledging that, yes, without God we are nothing but a mess, BUT in Christ we can do all things – and do them well with his directing and enabling.
Working in Humility: Bringing humility into our lives is, I believe, a process that takes place in the ‘wilderness’. It comes about when most life supports have been removed, as in the arid wastes of the desert or in lock-down in pandemic circumstances. In those times all our self-sufficiency, and the pride and arrogance that goes with it, are removed from us, eradicated by the tough times like bleach eradicates stains on clothing. In good times we relish our self-sufficiency and in so doing we find our vision distorted, pushed out of true and we are left believing wrong things about ourselves – I can do this thing – on my own! I am up to this, I am bright enough, clever enough, smart enough to achieve great things; success is just round the corner, and I can handle it. And then disaster strikes. The warm, cosy environment we had be exulting in for so long, thinking we were doing so well, is subjected to a gale of circumstances that knock down all such pretensions. Our hopes and dreams and aspirations and ambitions suddenly come to a grinding halt.
The 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic did just that. Without warning suddenly this virus was spreading across the world and the news was filled with numbers of infections and then, even worse, numbers of deaths. The wilderness arrived. Governments, panicking and seeking the help of their top scientists and medical experts, found there were no smart answers only more and more uncertainties. Depending where they were, governments acted at different speeds, some quickly, some not so. Instructions on how to avoid catching it were issued, then demands for lock-downs and suddenly the world and all its pretensions came to a halt. Plans of every shape and form were put on hold. We had never known anything like it in our lifetimes. The reality of it all was uncertain, some warning it could be very bad indeed, others proposing it was a government conspiracy. Responses to government instructions varied from meek obedience to (and this sadly seen in some Christians) hostile rebellion against all authority. In America it was so often based on ‘our rights’, elsewhere it was just hostility against authority. Posturing, bravado, blustering, all signs of the absence of humility, often abounded. While death stayed away from your door, it was easy to do that but when a loved one died a horrible death on a ventilator in a hospital, more sober and temperate words follow.
Death Sharpens Focus: Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 7 speaks words that modern man finds uncomfortable: “the day of death (is)better than the day of birth. It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting….The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.” (7:1,2,4) How could he say such a thing? Because facing death focuses reality, brings humility in the awareness of our frailty. And death has been there, lurking in the midst of uncertainties. Has the Lord been working humility into your life and mine? Humility, we said, gains a right perspective.
The Work of the Lock-down Wilderness: This period that we all went through with greater or lesser difficulties in the early part of 2020 on has, I suggest, created two things: a doorway and a path to walk. It is a doorway in that it took us from one world – the world of pre-pandemic that we all tended to take for granted, into a new world of greater clarity and hopefully greater humility, but now there is a path to walk out, a new way of viewing the world and our lives, lives that will be better for having lived through the Pandemic lock-down period and the ongoing outworkings of it. Rather than me spell out that pathway for you, you might like to ponder on the nature of this new path. Some will yearn to get back to the ‘good old days’ of pre-2020 but it likely that that world will never return, or if it does, it will come with many new features. That leaves us asking, what have we learned, has humility made better people of us?