61. Humility for all

Meditations in 1 Peter : 61: Humility for all

1 Pet 5:5,6 All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,   “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time

The world in which we live tells us to stand up and be ourselves. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do; be yourself! Stand up for yourself; make something of yourself. Don’t be a wimp, rise up above the rest. Be exalted in your greatness; make yourself even greater. These are the words of the twenty-first century. Rise up and go for it. They are, of course, words of deception. They are basically saying, pretend to be what you are not; make yourself something more than you are. Take one of the many ‘self-help’ courses that are available, change yourself.

Possibly an analogy that comes near the truth is of a cancer patient who is told, think positive thoughts. Positive thoughts can help – in a measure – but you still have cancer. Or to take an even more extreme idea – a man who is delusional and who genuinely believes he will never die. Yet in old age his body starts to decay and he keeps on telling himself, “I will never die.” Fear makes many of us deny the truth. You see it in a conversation between a Christian and a non-Christian. As the talk gets on to sin, the non-Christian starts getting edgy. “Don’t you tell me I am a sinner; I’m as good as the next man!” Deep down, that fear that the truth may be that “I am indeed a sinner” collides with the wrong thought that God is an angry, vicious, spiteful dictator who loves punishing people, and as the two ideas collide, fear acts in the only way it knows how and denies the truth – I am not a sinner!!!  But however much you say it, it doesn’t change the truth.

Now why, you may be thinking, am I rambling down this particular path? What is the connection with humility? Well, humility is simply an honest recognition of who we are. I am a sinner and without God I am utterly lost. I owe my entire life to the Lord. All that I have, which is good, has been a gift from Him. Left to myself, I am a mess. I am certainly no better than any other person. All I can do is say, thank you. Humility faces the truth about ourselves. Over the past few years I have become more and more aware of the incredible goodness of God that has blessed me over the forty years that I have known Him. I have grown incredibly thankful, mightily grateful for what He has done for me, in me and through me.

But there’s been something else growing in parallel with that sense of gratefulness; it is the awareness of who I am and, looking back down the years, a recognition of the weakness, failures, inadequacies and so on, of my life. That simply makes the good things that God has done, or made of me, even more wonderful. I can be blessed at who I have become, yet aware that I have nothing to be proud about because it has not been of my working. If anything, it has been despite me!  I have absolutely nothing to boast about. I have done some great things and blessed a good number of people, but I know the truth about that! It was Him! It was at His directions and it was with His enabling and still, today, I am incapable of any good thing without His guidance, direction, inspiration or power. I know who I am! Humility is not a “I’m a nobody,” but an accurate assessment of who you are.

Pride, by comparison, is having an inflated view of who you are or of your own importance. Now, says Peter, clothe yourself with humility – put it on like you would put on a coat. How do you do that? You do what I’ve just done; you state the truth about yourself, both the bad news and good news. The bad news is that left to myself, I am a wreck. The good news is that in Christ and with his direction and enabling I am a child of God who can prove to be a real blessing to people. ‘Putting on’ humility is declaring those truths.

Why does God oppose the proud but gives grace to the humble”? The answer is because He is always working for the truth or for reality. The proud are not being truthful about themselves and so He opposes their untruths, but the humble who are being utterly real and acknowledging their frailty, weakness, inadequacy etc. of themselves, these ones He is able to take and use and so blesses them with His grace, His enabling to cope, serve or triumph.

And so what about when he says, Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time? This means bring yourself into a right attitude or outlook in life where you realise your utter dependency on Him so that He may take you, pick you up, and exalt you as He uses you. Consider Elijah (1 Kings 18) who opposed the prophets of Baal. He was utterly dependent on God – and knew it – and he was exalted in people’s minds because of what God was able to do through him. Jesus, likewise spoke of the glory he had received which in fact belonged to his Father as he served him. We don’t seek it; in fact we seek nothing except to be obedient to the Lord, utterly reliant on Him, and when we do that we will be exalted – but we’ll still know the truth!

 

38. Reality

Meditations in Job : 38.  Working towards Reality

Job 14:19 as water wears away stones and torrents wash away the soil, so you destroy man’s hope.

Job, we saw in the previous meditation, has been pondering on the possible wonder of there being something more after death, of the possibility of  being reconciled to God through resurrection. But there is something in the back of his mind that is worrying away at him. It is like he had these thoughts of hope and yet they seem to contradict what he sees before him in this present world. It is rather like Gideon responding to the angel when the angel has said, The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” (Jud 6:12). Gideon has two problems with this. First he doesn’t feel like a ‘mighty warrior’ and second, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us?” (v.13). He heard the assertion but then looked at the present facts of their submission to an enemy and couldn’t see how the two go together. Thus, similarly, Job has these feelings about a future hope, but they don’t seem to correspond to present reality. Very often, for Christians. the big issue is about bringing understanding to receive the full picture so that we can see how apparent opposites harmonise.

So, let’s see how he expresses this. He uses examples of what he sees in nature to explain what he feels about man and his life. “But as a mountain erodes and crumbles and as a rock is moved from its place, as water wears away stones and torrents wash away the soil,” (v.18,19). He observes in nature a tendency for rocks and stones to be eroded and worn away. This, he says, is what he observes in the way God deals with mankind: “so you destroy man’s hope.” (v.19b). Look, he says, as I look around the world, all is see is that God seems to be working at bringing us down. I mean, look at what has been happening to me; all this has done is to bring me down. Then he looks forwards and contemplates the end of all this, as he sees it – death! “You overpower him once for all, and he is gone; you change his countenance and send him away.” (v.20) God has the power to bring death when He wants to – and He does exercise it! All God seems to do is ease us towards death – and that is a very negative thing: “If his sons are honored, he does not know it; if they are brought low, he does not see it. He feels but the pain of his own body and mourns only for himself.” (v.21,22). Whatever happens to those left behind, he doesn’t see it. He misses their success and (implied) cannot rejoice with them, or he misses their difficulties and (implied) cannot be there for them. In other words, death doesn’t seem to be a very helpful end! So if God works like this in life, why do I have a sense that it will be different after death?

This, of course, is another one of those occasions where only half the picture is being expressed. So what is the full picture? Why does it seem like this? Well the truth is that God does work to bring men to the end of themselves because only then will they turn to Him and receive His blessing. Our pride and self-centredness means that we struggle on in life without turning to the Lord and without receiving all of His resources to live out our lives in this fallen world. So, yes He does work to destroy man’s hope. The reason for this is that man ‘hopes’ in his own achievements. We each have hopes and dreams but so often they are self-centred and God knows they are not the best for us. He alone knows what is best for us, and so when He sees that we are aiming for something else, something less than the best that He knows we could be with His help, He works to undermine our false or inadequate ‘hopes’ so that we will come to our senses and realize our helplessness or our low self worth, and turn to Him for Him to remake us in the image of the one He knows we could be.

A second point to observe here is Job’s wrong assessment of death. Yes, death does mean that we are cut off from sharing in our children’s future, but the reality is that the next world will be so much more glorious than this one that we will not be concerned with hanging on to the things of this one; we will be content to allow the Lord to look after our children.  This perhaps brings us full circle to something we said right at the beginning of these meditations: we need to remember that God is love and therefore all of Scripture should be viewed with that in mind. Where we come across things in life, therefore, that seem to contradict that, we need to look afresh and ask the Lord to show us the full picture. To go back to the example of Gideon, the answer is twofold, when he says, how can God be with us when life is like this. The first answer, is that things are like they are because the Lord has made them like that as discipline for Israel to draw them back to Himself, so He IS with them – but to discipline them. Secondly, when He brings discipline, it is to bring change and bring us into a place of blessing and so He IS with Gideon to guide and equip him to become Israel’s latest savior.  So, yes, the Lord IS with you Gideon, but not in the way you expect.

Very often Christians want God to be with them to just bless them and make them comfortable, but He wants to work in their lives to mature them, and the move towards maturity may involve a number of things, some of which may not appear comfortable at the present: Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (Jas 1:2-4)  Peter also gives us a list of things to work through: “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.” (2 Pet 1:5-7) Remember, when ‘stuff’ is happening, the Lord is working to work these things out in us. Painful? Sometimes!  For our good? Always!

(We will be taking a break from Job for a couple of weeks but will return and continue with him later).