Saturday, July 30, 2016

God Morphs Us From Pride to Humility

I have read 1500+ spiritual journals of pastors and Christian leaders over a period of thirty-five years. And, I have been keeping a spiritual journal for just as long. One of my discoveries has been polarities of the spiritual life that eventually get expressed in the heart of anyone who has a deep praying life. These polarities indicate areas where God desires deep change.

Some of them are:
1. From Pride/Shame to Humility
2. From Control to Trust
3. From Rejection to Affirmation
4. From Evil to Good
5. From Fear to Faith
6. From Materialism to Simplicity
7. From Death to Life

I call these “ontological polarities.” Henri Nouwen calls them "movements of the Spirit."  These things are "ontological"; that is, they are universal, cross-cultural, cross-temporal, cross personal-developmental, and cross-gender. They operate within everyone on this planet whether past, present, and future. 

Regarding spiritual formation, the left side of the polarity indicates the kind spiritual world-conformity Romans 12:1-2 talks about. When God gets his hands on a person's heart in regard to, for example, the pride/humility dichotomy, the hard heart is changed to a soft “heart of flesh.”

There is a directionality of renewal and transformation that involves a change from some kind of spiritual death to spiritual life. This is a "from-to" movement of God's Spirit, operating on our spirit. For example, the Spirit morphs us from Pride/Shame to Humility.

From Pride/Shame to Humility

Humility is the foundational attitude of spiritual transformation. Pride is the enemy of all change. James 4:6 states: "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Moses, the great leader, "was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth" (Numbers 12:3).

Our English word “humility” comes from the Latin humus, which means “earth” or “soil.” Our hearts must be like good soil to receive the things God wants to plant in us. Pride, on the other hand, is hardness. Hardness of the heart is the great barrier to spiritual change.

C.S. Lewis refers to pride as “the complete anti-god state of mind.” Francis Frangipane calls pride “the armor of darkness.”

Are you a humble person, or a proud person? One indicator is how you handle criticism. A humble person doesn’t mind being critiqued, even welcoming constructive criticism if it brings more truth. A proud person doesn’t need counsel. And pride’s evil twin, shame, fears criticism. (I view Pride and Shame as two sides of the same coin. Both are forms of self-obsession. The proud person thinks too much of their self; the shame-filled person thinks too little of themselves.)

Like the hidden pride of Isaiah, we need personal encounters with the Living God to see how undone and needy we are.

Thomas Kelly has written: "But what trinkets we have sought after in life, the pursuit of what petty trifles has wasted our years as we have ministered to the enhancement of our little selves. And what needless anguishes we have suffered because our little selves were defeated, were not flattered, were not cozened and petted.” (Kelly's A Testament of Devotion remains on my list of Top Ten Books Ever Read, in terms of influence.)

Humility, says Kelly, rests upon a holy blindedness, like the blindedness of him who looks steadily into the sun. “The God-blinded soul sees naught of self, naught of personal degradation or of personal eminence...”

Alan Nelson writes, “Growth in humility is a measure of our growth in the habit of the Godward-directed mind. And he only is near to God who is exceedingly humble." (Nelson's Broken In the Right Place is the best book on spiritual brokenness I've ever read.)

Thomas Merton writes:

"A humble man is not disturbed by praise since he is no longer concerned with himself. A man who is not humble cannot accept praise gracefully. One who has not yet learned humility becomes upset and disturbed by praise. He may even lose his patience when people praise him; he is irritated by the sense of his own unworthiness. And if he does not make a fuss about it, at least the things that have been said about him haunt him and obsess his mind. They torment him wherever he goes. At the other extreme is the man who has no humility at all and who devours praise, if he gets any, the way a dog gobbles a chunk of meat... The humble man receives praise the way a clean window takes the light of the sun. The truer and more intense the light is, the less you see of the glass. Humility is the surest sign of strength." (Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation is on my list of Top Ten Books Ever Written in terms of personal influence.)

James 4:6 states that God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble. This is one of those great biblical either-or ideas which states that it’s not simply a bad thing to have a proud heart, it is an anti-God thing. If you are proud God is against you. My understanding of this is, where there is some area of the heart that is hard towards God, God stands in opposition to that area. 

No one is totally free from pride. The human heart has areas that have been conquered by God and are humble, and has areas of hardness that are not open to God. I can’t imagine a follower of Jesus claiming to be wholly, perfectly humble.

A.W. Tozer's prayer expresses the appropriate attitude: "O Christ, make me strong to overcome the desire to be wise and to be reputed wise by others as ignorant as myself. I turn from my wisdom as well as from my folly and flee to You, the wisdom of God and the power of God. Amen."

Humility is the necessary precondition for spiritual transformation.

Pride dies.

The soft heart prevails, allowing God to shape our spirits into greater Christlikeness. (See Galatians 4:19)

My new book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.