All posts tagged Humility

The Twin Obstacles to Generosity

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear—fear of insecurity. This must often be recognized as a temptation. Sometimes our pride also hinders our charity; we are tempted to spend more than we ought on the showy forms of generosity (tipping, hospitality) and less than we ought on those who really need our help (p. 86-7).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

It is easy to think of the obstacle to generosity as the absence of thinking of others. We like to think of it this way because it makes our lack of generosity seem more innocent. We become like the child who knew he was to clean his room or complete his homework and is called on it. We reply, “I forgot,” hoping this will somehow make our neglect seem more neutral.

But absence is a non-entity and, therefore, cannot be an obstacle. By definition an obstacle must be a thing; not a non-thing. Lewis points out that there are two “things” that impede our lack of generosity: fear (namely insecurity) or pride.

The first part of becoming generous is to have the courage (if we are fearful) or humility (if we are prideful) to ask the question, “Which am I?” The same character deficiency which impedes our generosity will also impede our willingness to acknowledge our lack of generosity. This is why honestly asking good questions is vital to the change process.

Usually the lack of generosity rooted in fear does see the needs of others and is concerned about those needs. However, shortly after feeling compelled to be generous, they begin to consider the cost. “If I give [blank] to them, then I would not be able to handle it if something happened to me.”

The insecure person lives in a world where it is assumed that everyone else shares the same insecurity. Generosity is not assumed (believed to be available for their time of need “if” it were to arise) because fear reigns.

The lack of generosity rooted in pride either does not see the need because of its self-centeredness or condemns the needy person for not having prepared like they did. Self-centered blindness obviously prevents generosity. Condemning makes generosity seem like a reward for laziness.

The prideful person lives in a world where it is assumed that everyone else should share the same approach to life they have. Generosity is not assumed (a natural response to the ability and opportunity to help) because they are the standard and they do not practice it.

We see in this reflection that generosity is about more than giving something away. Generosity transforms our experience of community. This is consistent with the book of Acts. The early Christians were generous so / because they were experiencing a new form of community.

Our goal in being generous is not to win more points with God, but to allow the Gospel to penetrate our assumptions about life in a new way. God is not punishing us or taxing us with his call to generosity. Rather, He is continuing the work He began when we first experienced the Gospel – freeing us from ourselves. The bars of that self-bondage may be fear or pride.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Finances” post which address other facets of this subject.

Made of Better Stuff?

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“Somebody once asked me: ‘Why did God make a creature of such rotten stuff that it went wrong?’ The better stuff a creature is made of – the cleverer and stronger and freer it is—then the better it will be if it goes right, but also the worse it will be it if goes wrong. A cow cannot be very good or very bad; a dog can be both better and worse; a child better or worse still; an ordinary man, still more so; a man of genius, still more so; a superhuman spirit best—or worst—of all (p. 49).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

What do we want for our children? What would be the best thing we could ask God to grant our children? If we are honest, I think most of us (myself included), would pray that our children would do great things. Personally, I look for special moments to whisper in the ears of my boys, “I believe and pray this world will be a better place because of the life you live on it.”

After reading Lewis’ quote, I am convicted to pray differently. Now my prayers would sound something like, “Lord, grant my boys the humility to contain whatever ‘good works’ You have ordained for them to accomplish.” I realize I was inadvertently praying for a temptation without praying for the accompanying protection.

That is not to say that I think God would curse my boys for my imbalanced prayers. But my prayers (even for others) change me. When I bring things before the Father as “worthy of His attention” I am shaped to treasure those things. When I prayed for my boys to change the world without spending equal time praying for their character, I was reinforcing the distortions of my own heart.

Lewis’ quote on “better stuff” makes more sense of Jesus’ teaching/warning:

“But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45)

Greatness must be protected from itself if it is to remain good. Power is ultimately remembered more for its impact than its magnitude. The most powerful figures in human history are rarely remembered fondly. Their character could not contain their influence.

Service (and its embedded virtue of humility) is the protection of greatness. It is one of the few cases where the wrapper should be valued more than the object. Greatness outside the wrapper of humility always mutates into evil.

May we pray regularly (for ourselves and our children), in light of the “better stuff” from which we are made, that God would grant us the humility to carry greatness (His image and the message of salvation) with integrity all of our days. Let us pray that we would pray for the wrapper with complete faith that when we have humility that God will grant all we need to accomplish all He intends (James 4:6).

Humilitarian: The New Moral Diet

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“Remember, this repentance, this willing submission to humiliation and a kind of death is not something God demands of you before He will take you back and which he could let you off if He chose: it is simply a description of what going back to Him is like. If you ask God to take you back without it, you are really asking Him to let you go back without going back. It cannot happen (p. 57).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

That last line, “asking Him to let you go back without going back,” sounds so much like us. How often do we try to apologize without acknowledging wrong or personal responsibility?

  • I’m sorry if your feelings were hurt.
  • I’m sorry if you took what I said in an offensive way.
  • I shouldn’t have acted that way, but you were being so unreasonable.
  • Maybe I over-reacted, but I’m only human.

We want conscience relief without moral responsibility. We want forgiveness without ever having to be guilty. We want heaven without really needing Jesus.

As C.S. Lewis concisely summarizes, “It cannot happen.”

All of this reminds us again that repentance is more than remorse. Repentance is the beginning of the end – the end of our pride, the end of justifying our sin, the end of self-reliance. At heart, we are all good addicts. We see this in the moment of conviction, but quickly convince ourselves it is not the case as soon as the crisis of our sin is over.

Lewis is staging an intervention. In a moment of non-crisis he is pointing out how wrong and self-contradictory our thinking really is. Only our fellow sin-addicted friends would even consider telling us we’re right.

The question of repentance becomes, “What do you want more: to return to God or to move forward in your sin?” There is no middle ground. We spend a lifetime trying to say this simple question is “really more complicated than that.”

But its not complicated; its just difficult. The choice is clear – die to self and live for God It’s the execution that is challenging, because repentance is a way of life not an event. This is not a one time slice of humble pie. It’s a lifestyle as a “humilitarian” (that’s a hybrid word from vegetarian and humility).

As Christians, we propose a life lived exclusively on a diet of humility. We say that it is the prescription for mental, relational, and spiritual health. We propose that diet with any amount of pride, defensiveness, or self-justification is toxic.

This is why we need Christ. We know what is healthy and can advocate it with passion for others. But we want to “go back without going back” until we are completely won over by the One who experienced the real death of which repentance only reminds us. That is what shakes us from our prideful stupor and makes it clear that what we saw as “going back” was really “going forward” all the time.

God Does Not Judge on Raw Material

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and a good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we regard as fiends. Can we be quite certain how we should have behaved if we had been saddled with the psychological outfit, and then with the bad upbringing, and then with the power, say, of Himmler? That is why Christians are told not to judge. We see only the results which a man’s choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it (p. 91).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

It would be easy to miss what Lewis is saying for fear of how people might apply his words. When we read a statement like this we (or at least I am) are quick to think, “People could easily use this kind of statement to absolve themselves of personal responsibility for their actions.” Or we might go in the other direction, “Does this mean that my faithfulness and hard work have contributed nothing to my life?”

Both statements would miss the point. God is fairer than we could ever be. We often try to measure God’s fairness on the basis of His equality. When we do this we often find God’s fairness lacking, because He has not gifted each person equally.

However, we resort to equality as our criteria of fairness because that is a limitation of finiteness. If we were able to be as fair as we believed fair, the result would be boring and unmotivating uniformity. God is able to be fair (“just” might a more complete word) in a world of variety. This is because God is not limited to the observation, measurement, and enjoyment of external variables.

We may be most like God in this way as parents of young children of various ages. We praise a crawler who takes his first step, but reprimand an adolescent who drags his feet while doing a job he does not enjoy. But even in this example we are able to suspend our judgment on the basis of the measurable external factors related to physical maturity and coordination development.

So what should we take away from this reflection? It would be easy to say humility (which could easily be thinly veiled shame) or a reprimand for being too judgmental (which could easily lead us to compromise truth).

I would say that we should take away a sense of peace in God’s justness that allowed us to stop competing with one another. If we stopped competing with one another to see who was better (based upon any given Christian virtue – Bible knowledge, patience, servanthood, etc…), then humility would arise without the danger of shame. If we were not competing, then we would not be judgmental but free to love one another with the truth.

I think the reason we (or at least I am) are quick to be defensive with this quote is because we are afraid that it will strip us of whatever “advantage” we have “earned” by our obedience. Thinking in terms of “advantage” or “status” reveals that we are competing with those we are called to serve. While thinking in terms of “earning” something through our obedience, reveals we have departed from the Gospel as the motivator for our service.

In the end, I think the way that we respond to this quote (at least if you’re anything like me) reveals how much we need to hear its message. It gives me freedom, but too often I still want to compete.

C.S. Lewis on the Gospel Paradox

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“There is a paradox. As long as Dick does not turn to God, he thinks his niceness is his own, and just as long as he thinks that, it is not his own. It is when Dick realizes that his niceness is not his own but a gift from God, and when he offers it back to God – it is just then that it begins to be really his own… The only things we can keep are the things we freely give to God. What we try to keep for ourselves is just what we are sure to lose (p. 213).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Pick your greatest strength or personal asset: being nice (as Lewis refers to), intelligence, work ethic, organization, charisma, music ability, athleticism, etc… Place that thing in Lewis’ quote above in order to feel the appropriate sense of discomfort.

Chances are your response is like mine – that is mine (possession) or that is who I am (identity). Lewis says as soon as I think that way I’m wrong – I’ve lost what was given to me by God. How does that work?

What it can’t mean is that the attribute evaporates as soon as I take credit for it. Hard working people don’t cease to be hard working people because they take pride in being better than people who don’t work as hard. If anything, their pride leads them to work harder to maintain their identity.

Two things happen which make their strength “less their own.”

First, they lose the “credit” for their strength before God. When a personal characteristic becomes corrupted by pride no longer does God look upon that “strength” with favor. God does not love us like an employer loves an employee, but like a father loves a son.

An employer looks at the productivity to determine his/her opinion of an employee. The more an employee advances that company or increases the profit margin the more pleased the employer is. It doesn’t matter to an employer if the employee is motivated by fear, pride, greed, or benevolence.

A good father looks at what is best for the son/daughter and determines whether something is good on the basis of their overall well-being. A child can be excelling in a way that is exhausting or compromising his/her character and “winning” will not be seen as good.

That is why when we fail to offer our strengths (and for that matter our weaknesses) to God, He does not count that strengths as “credits” to our account. God sees the pride or false identity in our life and is right to warn of impending danger. That leads to the second thing that happens.

Second, their strength mutates from a blessing to a master – they belong to their strength instead of their strength belonging to them. When we fail to recognize our strength as coming from God, we begin to rely upon our strength for more than it can give.

Either we pridefully believe our strength is what makes us “good” and we judge those who are not good (by the standard of our strength), or we fearfully live with thoughts that we will not be able to continually live up to previous levels of “good.” Either way, we begin to belong to our strength instead of our strength belonging to us.

What is the alternative? It is giving our strength to God in recognition that it came from Him and receiving Christ’s righteousness through the forgiveness of our sins as what makes us “good enough.” When this happens our natural strengths can be restored and used for the purpose God originally gave them to us. They are ours because we are His.

To see the first 100 posts in this series click here.

C.S. Lewis’ Portrait of Humility

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all (p. 128).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

This is my favorite description of humility, because it takes the focus off of humility; which is what I think humility would want if you asked it. When I finish reading the quote, humility feels like freedom more than a standard to achieve.

Yet there is great practicality in the description. A baseline question for determining humility is, “How well do I listen to others?” Listening is an action that bestows honor on others without sacrificing personal dignity or enjoyment.

I think most people get this instinctually. When we are around someone we highly esteem and they ask us a question, we feel honored. We think more fondly of them because they would be interested in our thoughts on the subject. We simultaneously admire their humility and awe at their strength.

Which is why I find it odd that I so naturally thought of humility in the ways in which Lewis caricaturized it. I thought of humility as weakly avoiding eye contact while deferring every compliment and downplaying every accomplishment. I would have never taught it that way but I did “see” it that way.

Part of that is undoubtedly the distortion of my sinful nature. The corruption of my heart would never define something as wholesome and life giving as humility in an appealing way. Culturally, I think this is why so many people who say they want a “high self-esteem” would rather have the “freedom of humility” if they tasted both.

The question becomes what frees me from listening with genuine interest in others (a mark of true humility) rather than listening through the lens of insecurity (pride in its fearful form)? The answer is simply when someone gracious, dependable, and with a heart for the world has become the most important person in my life—namely, God.

In order to be humble the most important person in my life must be gracious. I will fail many times. After all, “nobody’s perfect.” Unless the most important person in my world is gracious, my failures (shame, anger, or blame-shifting) will kill humility.

In order to be humble the most important person in my life must be dependable. Life changes. After all, “nothing stays the same.” Unless the most important person in my world is dependable, anticipating the future (fear or greed) will kill humility.

In order to be humble the most important person in my life must have a heart for the world. I will imitate the most important person in my life. Therefore, unless the most important person in my world cares deeply for people I won’t either. In the end, Jesus is the embodiment of humility (Philippians 2:1-11) and the key to my humility.

Why Humility is Doubly Important in Marriage

James 4:6
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Most people who are married have turned to their spouse and said, “You don’t act this way around anyone else” or “You don’t treat anyone else this way.”  Occasionally it is meant as a compliment, but more often than not these statements are meant to infer, “I am getting a raw deal.”  There are many explanations for this phenomenon, but in this post we will examine one explanation with two faces—the absence of humility.

Face One: Refusal to Live in My Weaknesses

Have you noticed that we spend the majority of our day operating in areas of specialized training, well-practiced skills, and personal interests?  Then we come home.  When we get home we are asked to do a wide variety of tasks, many of which we have no particular passion for or interest in.  It is these tasks that we do to love and serve those we know best, while those we are least committed to get our fine tuned excellence.

The response we too often give is to draw back from, neglect, or grumble about these tasks that are not our strength.  We may call it insecurity, but it is more often a form of pride.  “If I cannot do it with excellence and receive affirmation, then I will not do it at all or with much effort,” is our logic.  “I get to operate in my strength all day long and know how to succeed in that world.  If I am not sure that I will be a success, then I will not try.”

It takes great humility and the heart of a servant to live in the area of my weakness for the love and welfare of another.  When we are willing to live in our weakness for the benefit of others, God rewards this humility with more grace.  This grace is realized when we resist the pride (“I should be good at whatever I do”) and take joy in imperfect (yet growing) service.

Face Two: Refusal to Accept My Spouse’s Weaknesses

There is humility in action.  Then there is humility in expectation and evaluation.  We move from the paralysis of fear rooted in an expectation of personal excellence to the mantra, “Haven’t I already told you that” or “How many times have you done that and still not gotten it right?”

The pride has mutated.  The pride now says, “I would have been able to do that, so you should be able to do that.”  Whereas before pride was holding me up to a level of elevated expectation, now pride raises my ability or expectation as the standard for you to meet.  In both cases, the absent effort or harsh tone is rooted in “I should” or “I could” (pride).

Patience is rooted in humility.  Patience accepts that imperfection, error, inefficiency, and incompleteness are not beneath me.  That is humility.  When we extend this form of humility to our spouse (and children) we are incarnating the grace of God.  God rewards this dispositional obedience (yes, obedience to God can be as much attitude as activity) with more grace.

When we put these two faces of humility into practice we experience a home where the atmosphere is marked by the grace of God and we experience the redemptive joy God intended in a Christian marriage and family.

Who Would Like a Christian Society?

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“If there were such a [Christian] society in existence and you or I visited it, I think we should come away with a curious impression… Each of us would like some bits of it, but I am afraid very few of us would like the whole thing. That is just what one would expect if Christianity is the total plan for the human machine. We have all departed from the total plan in different ways, and each of us wants to make out that his own modification of the original plan is the plan itself (p. 84-5).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

I wonder what the “author’s original intent” was when Duct Tape was invented? How many ways did the nameless 1942 employee of Johnson and Johnson think his/her invention would be used? Was there any notion that this product was become synonymous with on-the-fly, amateur fixes?

Now countless people stand back from a household project completed with Duct Tape, beaming with pride, as if their “ingenuity” was the very purpose for which this versatile product was invented. There is a sense in which that is a good picture of what we do with God’s will. We creatively utilize part of God’s will according to our need and preference, then stand back as if that is what God had in mind before the foundations of the world.

Lewis tries to alert us to this tendency by raising the question if any of us would be comfortable in a completely Christian and genuine society. His answer is “No” because each Christian takes pieces of the kingdom and pretends they’re the whole thing.

It is like me when I finish building a piece of pre-fabricated furniture my wife brings home. I put it together paying attention to the directions (more or less). But at the end there are always pieces left over, which I try to quietly stash in the garage before I ask her to come brag on my craftsmanship.

Conservatives would think a Christian society was too liberal (and vice versa). Intellectuals would think it too expressive (and vice versa). Legalists would think it too gracious (and vice versa).

What is the take away? It is easy to reflect on something like this and cynically conclude that this void means the whole thing is hoax. But in the end cynics would think that a Christian society is too certain (and vice versa).

I would offer a different take away – let us talk more honestly and patiently with those with whom we disagree. If we recognize our tendency to call our castle the whole kingdom, then let us talk to those who live in other castles.

But the point of this conversation is not to concede that every castle is equally valid. The point is to gain an appreciation for the whole kingdom by talking with those who live in (specialize, treasure) other parts of it. We must be careful not to assume that the largest castle is the closest approximation of the whole kingdom. The earth is 2/3 water but we mostly track its history by what happens on the other 1/3.

Personally, this challenges me to a level of humility that makes me uncomfortable. When I engage in this kind of interaction I often wonder if I’m wasting my time or compromising my values. But when I have done so well, I usually come away with a renewed sense that I am merely a steward of one of the King’s castles in a vast kingdom and that I am not competing with any other castle steward in His kingdom, even when our perspectives are seemingly at odds.

Made of Better Stuff?

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“Somebody once asked me: ‘Why did God make a creature of such rotten stuff that it went wrong?’ The better stuff a creature is made of – the cleverer and stronger and freer it is—then the better it will be if it goes right, but also the worse it will be it if goes wrong. A cow cannot be very good or very bad; a dog can be both better and worse; a child better or worse still; an ordinary man, still more so; a man of genius, still more so; a superhuman spirit best—or worst—of all (p. 49).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

What do we want for our children? What would be the best thing we could ask God to grant our children? If we are honest, I think most of us (myself included), would pray that our children would do great things. Personally, I look for special moments to whisper in the ears of my boys, “I believe and pray this world will be a better place because of the life you live on it.”

After reading Lewis’ quote, I am convicted to pray differently. Now my prayers would sound something like, “Lord, grant my boys the humility to contain whatever ‘good works’ You have ordained for them to accomplish.” I realize I was inadvertently praying for a temptation without praying for the accompanying protection.

That is not to say that I think God would curse my boys for my imbalanced prayers. But my prayers (even for others) change me. When I bring things before the Father as “worthy of His attention” I am shaped to treasure those things. When I prayed for my boys to change the world without spending equal time praying for their character, I was reinforcing the distortions of my own heart.

Lewis’ quote on “better stuff” makes more sense of Jesus’ teaching/warning:

“But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45)

Greatness must be protected from itself if it is to remain good. Power is ultimately remembered more for its impact than its magnitude. The most powerful figures in human history are rarely remembered fondly. Their character could not contain their influence.

Service (and its embedded virtue of humility) is the protection of greatness. It is one of the few cases where the wrapper should be valued more than the object. Greatness outside the wrapper of humility always mutates into evil.

May we pray regularly (for ourselves and our children), in light of the “better stuff” from which we are made, that God would grant us the humility to carry greatness (His image and the message of salvation) with integrity all of our days. Let us pray that we would pray for the wrapper with complete faith that when we have humility that God will grant all we need to accomplish all He intends (James 4:6).

Good Things Wrong Methods

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“But pleasure, money, power and safety are all, as far as they go, good things. The badness consists in pursuing them by the wrong method, or in the wrong way, or too much. I do not mean, of course, that the people who do this are not desperately wicked. I do mean that wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way (p. 42).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

The phrase, “Is it so bad for me to want [blank]?” is a dangerous question. It is a chief culprit of many a discussion, turned argument, turned broken relationship. The speaker feels completely justified in his/her actions (notice the change from desire/want to behavior/attitude) because his/her motive was legitimate.

The conversation can go in dozens of satirical directions:

  • “I guess I don’t know anything if it is wrong to want that.”
  • “Well, tell me you wouldn’t be upset if you had to do without that.”
  • “I read a book and it said this was a ‘need’ of people.”
  • “If you don’t do/give what I want, then you’ll have to do without what you want.”

The problem is that the speaker does not hear what he/she is saying. The reason process goes like this:

  1. If I have a good desire
  2. Then my actions are righteous
  3. You are mean, crazy, insensitive, or stupid if you do not cooperate

The striking thing about what C.S. Lewis has to say is that “desperately wicked” people want good things. That should cause us to pause.

What does it mean to pursue a good thing in the wrong way?

  1. To love that thing in a way that results in replacing God as our source of joy, security, contentment, identity, hope, or peace. Notice how in the dialogue snippets above the absence of the “good desire” is perceived as a threat.
  2. To love that thing in a way that allows us to dishonor, ignore, cheat, violate, or abuse another person in the pursuit of what we want. Notice how in the dialogue snippets above the other person is demeaned and trivialized in the pursuit of the “good desire.”

As I consider this (again), I realize how much my greatest battle is within me. It is so easy to be blind to this. I can go through my day pursuing the things God wants me to have and quickly/quietly drift into idolizing those desires and demonizing my closest companions—the whole time providing proof texts and research to substantiate my blindness.

What is the answer to this dilemma? Humility expressed in community. Notice how little listening is going on in the conversation snippets above. Humility invites critique (both of desire and pursuit). However, unless we are regularly inviting people to speak into our lives this way we will not have the attitude or access to receive perspective in our moments of temptation.