The Path of Humility
What a Lowly Pirate Has in Common With Isaiah and Paul
by Nick Fox
Toward the end of the apostle Paul’s life, he wrote two letters to Timothy, a young convert and leader in the church. In these letters Paul takes his wisdom from decades of speaking, planting churches, and following Christ, and communicates things he thinks are centrally important to pass on to the next generation of Christian leadership. In 1 Timothy 1:15 Paul says, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst.”
Paul’s statement about being the worst sinner — and that we should view ourselves as the worst sinners — is crazy, if you think about it. Imagine if we lived that way. If I was humble enough to recognize the fullness of my brokenness — that I set new records for profound forms of messing things up — would it change the way I talk to my wife when she does something wrong? Would it change the thoughts I think about the guy who cut me off in traffic? Would it change my attitude as I stand in line at the DMV pondering what I might be missing in the world as I wait in a slow-moving line to interact with rude employees?
I think it would. We are all good at noticing our own victories. We are also remarkably gifted at seeing the faults and mistakes of others. We may even occasionally celebrate when a friend gets a win. But awareness of our own faults and brokenness is where we need help. This is why Paul encourages us to live in such a way that we realize our own faults. Even as you read this article, you can probably think of people who need to read this article more than you. They need work on their pride. “I’m not perfect,” we say, “but at least I’m not like them.” When I start thinking like this, it is a sign that I still do not get it. I am broken. I have been deceived. I mess up. These are the truths I need to see so humility might sink into my bones. And yet God has not given up on me. He believes in me. He has called me to do things that will change the world, just like He has you.
If we take the humility thing too far, it can lead to self-loathing. I heard a rabbi say that every person should carry around two thoughts in his or her pocket: “I am nothing but dust and earth,” and “I am God’s most glorious creation.” When I am down and I doubt my worth, I need to remind myself of the second thought. But honestly, like Paul, a lot of the time I need to remind myself that I am merely the dust of the earth. I do not know about you, but in my life l lean toward pride quite often. I forget I am nothing without God.
Isaiah in the Throne Room
In Isaiah 6, the prophet Isaiah encounters God in all of His glory. He describes the scene he saw — angels, the temple, smoke, shaking doorframes — and his first response has always been interesting to me. I would expect Isaiah to join the angels in praising God in this moment. But he doesn’t. His first words are, “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5). His first instinct in that extraordinary moment is to confess his uncleanliness. Perhaps no individual has been as humble as Isaiah was in that moment.
I need an experience like Isaiah. There are many days I need to be reminded how big God is and how truly small I am because pride gets in the way and messes things up. C.S. Lewis called pride “spiritual cancer.” He called it the complete anti-God state of mind. Pride will act as a limiter in your life if you do not deal with it. It just will. Andrew Murray says, “We can never have more faith than we have humility.” Pride puts that cap on our ability to move forward.
Pride also ruins relationships. It is difficult to have a healthy marriage if one or both members let their pride get out of control. Pride also ruins friendships. Have you ever stayed close friends with a person who had a serious pride issue? Pride makes it nearly impossible for us to have a good attitude. Erwin McManus says, “When a person has an attitude problem, what he or she really has is an arrogance problem. A bad attitude is evidence of lack of humility. Attitude is an accurate monitor of where we fall on the spectrum of pride and humility.”1 Pride ruins everything. We think it will solve our problems, but in the end it leaves us void and wanting, empty and craving the authenticity that comes from humility.
And, as with everything, God’s way is best. When we view ourselves accurately — as frail, human creatures who are often led away by our own lusts, but at the same time, as God’s children who He will not abandon or give up on — so many things fall into place. We stop having to live up to all of the superficial demands that the world places on us. We can stop the rat race that goes with trying to outdo everyone else. Our relationships become healthier because they are authentic. We no longer have to put on a front or continually try to convince the other person that we are better, smarter, richer, or more spiritual. We can be honest about who we are. Honesty is the honey of existence. Knowing who you really are is a beautiful thing.
I Am Your Man
When you think about it, we all start our journey with God a lot like the day we were born: humble and frail, trusting those around us to guide us. If anybody comes to God claiming to have figured it out, that seems to me to be evidence that he or she has missed it. Following Jesus is a death. It is a dying to self. In one of my favorite movies, The Count of Monte Cristo, Edmond Dantes washes up on shore a free man after many years in prison. But he has to fight for his life against a pirate named Jacopo. After Edmond wins the fight, Jacopo expects death, but Edmond spares his life. At this moment, Jacopo grabs Edmond by the shirt and tells him to his face, “I swear on all of my dead relatives, even those who are not feeling too good, I am your man.” For the rest of the movie Jacopo is a loyal friend, willing to do anything for the one who saved his life.
What a beautiful picture of salvation. I still remember the day I said in my own way, “Jesus, I am Your man. Whatever You have for me from here on out is cool with me.” Humility shows up in these moments in a powerful way. I would even suggest that these moments are the definition of humility: giving up our right to be in charge. Erwin McManus says, “If you are still relating to God through negotiations, you have not yet found the path of humility. If your question is still, ‘How much can I keep?’ you’re still at the [place of pride].”2
So, have you laid it down? Have you given up your right to rule your own life and taken on the humility of your Lord? Can you say, as the apostle Paul did, that Jesus came to save sinners, “of whom I am the worst”? When you do, it opens the doors to a new way of Kingdom living and allows you to be authentic. It empowers you to be the person God made you to be and draws you closer to your Savior. I do not know about you, but that’s what I am shooting for.
Nick Fox is a teacher and counselor, Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Used by permission. All rights reserved. 2011
1. Erwin Raphael McManus, Uprising: A Revolution of the Soul (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2003), 62.
2. Ibid., 56.