Spiritual Formation in Ministry Part 3
Shifting from the horizontal to the vertical, the third aspect of spiritual formation for ministry focuses on walking humbly with God. Humility is one of the required qualities Micah outlined for spiritual formation: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8*).
Warnings Against Pride
The Scriptures are replete with warnings against pride. “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2). “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). “The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like all other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector’ ” (Luke 18:11). “For everything in the world — the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does — comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:16). “But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’ ” (James 4:6).
Pitfalls To Avoid
More subtle than overt pride is the trap of mistaken humility.
Most of us have struggled with the awkward moment after a Sunday morning sermon when a parishioner offers a glowing compliment. We fumble for words and say something like, “Don’t mention it,” or “I don’t know what to say.”
Saying the wrong thing or not knowing what to say can be mistaken humility. A response like, “Thanks for your encouragement,” is always appropriate. Our attitude should never disparage our abilities or deny the compliment of a fellow believer.
Another pitfall is false humility pretending to be something we are not. Acting humbly outwardly when one is inwardly proud is rooted in manipulation rather than conviction. An opportune time for exposing false humility is when the opposition wins the vote and after one has said, “It doesn’t matter how this vote turns out.”
Acting justly focuses on the will. Loving mercy touches the emotions. Walking humbly emanates from the mind — it is an attitude. Paul’s appeal to the Philippians is the best model in Scripture to identify the steps for walking humbly.
1. We must see humility as a requirement. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Humility is the root of unity. When we walk in humility, we destroy competitiveness. Philippians 2:4 declares, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Our advancement in the Kingdom is directly linked to the way we view others’ ministries.
Jesus said, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?” (Luke 16:10–12).
It is time for us to lay aside the competitive edge that somehow motivates us in ministry and be comfortable in applauding others’ ministries. We may be fastened to a certain level of ministry or lose ground because we do not have the right attitude toward other ministries.
2. We must reflect the attitude of Christ. In the kenosis passage (Philippians 2), Paul outlined Jesus’ attitude as an example of humility. Verse 7 identifies three steps of Jesus humbling himself. First, He made himself nothing, The Greek word is the verb knoun, which means literally “to empty.” We must make an altar and empty our lives of anything that stands in the way of God’s accomplishing His will in our lives.
Second, He took the very nature of a servant.
I had a good friend in Richmond, Virginia, Dr. John Allen McClean, a retired Presbyterian minister, whom I visited periodically. He loved the outdoors, so I took him for a ride to see the beautiful azaleas and dogwoods in the spring. When he became ill and was hospitalized I asked him one day if there was anything I could do for him. “Yes,” he said, “you can trim my toenails. They are hard and crusty, and I don’t have anybody else to do that for me right now.” I filled a basin with warm water to soak my friend’s feet. Then I knelt beside his bed and clipped his toenails. I will never forget that experience. I have not always been a good servant, but that day I felt I was being the servant God had asked me to be.
We must be willing to identify with the people to whom we are called to minister. Jesus had a passion for others’ interests. If we are to be like Him, we must cultivate that same passion.
Third, Jesus was made in human likeness. His humanity was not artificial but unique in incarnation. Yet if we are expected to be like Him, we must be real in all our relationships even if it does not fit our comfort zones — and willing for God to be in control of the transitions in our lives.
3. We must trust God’s reward system. “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9–11).
There is a direct connection between one’s level of obedience and God’s opening doors of ministry. Jesus was given the highest place because He chose the lowest place.
Perhaps this whole matter of walking humbly with our God can be fleshed out as we define success in the ministry. In the world success is determined by how many people we control and how much money we make; in the Kingdom success is measured by how many people we serve and how much we give away.
Ask yourself, Do I have a Kingdom attitude?
H. Robert Rhoden, D.Min., is superintendent of the Potomac District of the Assemblies of God.
*Scripture quotations are NIV.