A lesson in humility
Jeremiah 49: I, God, say so, and it will be so.
Chapters 46 through 51 of Jeremiah are a compilation of prophecies Jeremiah gives about the nations of the region. Clearly, the Almighty is interested in more people than just those of Israel. He’s been paying close attention to the downward spiral of the region and is about to shake everything up. Clearly, this isn’t as drastic as the Flood was in Noah’s day, but it is a remaking of this entire region. Jeremiah writes it all out as poetry: awful, frightening words put to verse. It’s in the message to the Ammonites that I find the phrase, “I, God, say so, and it will be so.” To me, that pretty much sums up these painful-to-read chapters. This is an aspect of the Lord that makes me uncomfortable. Frankly, I don’t like these chapters. Then again, I don’t have to. Sovereign God, the Giver of Life, surely has the authority to be the Taker of Life. What he does along these lines is on his side of the equation, not mine. He doesn’t have to explain himself to me and I don’t have to like how it all works out. I find some consolation in the fact that the very words I read today are warnings to these nations, given before the fact. In theory, at least, their turning to God might have resulted in a display of his mercy. Instead, these people live evil lives and are addicted to cruelty. In bringing Judgment on this region the Almighty is acting unilaterally and he doesn’t need my approval and support. Today as I remember who God is and who I am I find myself learning a lesson in humility.
Take Away: When the Lord acts according to his own Sovereignty we can simply accept it – after all he doesn’t need our understanding, permission, or approval.
Speaking the truth in humility
Isaiah 65: There are still plenty of good apples left.
Even as Isaiah reports that the Lord’s running out of patience with the stubborn resistance of many, he reminds us that God’s very aware of those who live obedient, faithful lives. The nation of Israel is about to go through a culling. Many will face the wrath of God but others will be preserved by his grace. Frankly, from the devotional side of things I’m not sure what to do with passages like this. Am I to be somewhat frightened and spend a few moments doing a personal spiritual inventory? Am I to take on Isaiah’s role and start warning those “sinners” that the clock on God’s mercy is running out? I guess the answer is somewhere in the middle. I never arrive at the place where I’m above consideration of my own spiritual condition. Just a quick of reading the gospels reminds me that it’s spiritual pride that’s the downfall of the religious people of Jesus’ day. On the other hand, if I’m going to be effective in both warning and inviting the “outsiders” to come to the Lord I must do so in a sense of humility. Otherwise, I’ll drive them away from both myself and their Savior.
Take Away: Always deal with lost people with a strong sense of personal humility.
Listening in prayer
Ecclesiastes 5: Don’t be too quick to tell God what you think he wants to hear.
Some folks think God wants to hear us pray in the language of the King James Bible: “Almighty God, Thou Who art from everlasting to everlasting….” To them, prayer is a rather formal event that ought to be filled with plenty of pomp and circumstance. Sometimes, as I’m reminded here, I’m better off to pray without words at all and let God be in charge of what happens next. It does make sense. God is always the “first mover.” After all, the Bible doesn’t start off with “In the beginning man…”! So, rather than coming to prayer in what might be called “automatic mode,” in which every prayer is pretty much a copy of the one before, or with a sense of formality, I want to come to him humbly and honestly; not saying what I think he wants to hear, but in a genuine desire to hear from him. If I let him lead the way my prayer time will be more satisfying to both the Lord and to me. Prayer is just as much a matter of listening as it is a matter of talking.
Take Away: Being still before the Lord is a legitimate approach to prayer.
Proverbs 15: First you learn humility, then you experience glory.
Humility has to be learned because we’re all born thinking the world revolves around us. Unless I learn humility I spend my life, not necessarily thinking I’m better than others, but thinking that everything that happens should happen the way I want it to. For me to be humble is for me to realize that I’m not the center of the universe and that the world has no obligation to please me. Beyond that, to be humble is for me to come to the realization the most satisfying life is not all about my getting my own way about things, but is, instead, found as I live with others in mind. Jesus said that I’m to “love my neighbor as myself.” The result of such a life, according to the wise man of the Proverbs, is “glory.” That is, others will be irresistibly drawn to me and my life will influence them in positive ways. Not only that, but God will be pleased with me for patterning my life after that of his own Son who humbly lived and died for others. This proverb reminds me that the route to glory isn’t by my taking power and trying to shape the world to suit me. Instead, it’s achieved by loving others and placing their needs at a level equal to my own.
Take Away: Contrary to what we may think, humble people are some of the most influential people there are.
Psalm 8: Why do you bother with us?
In all of life there’s a need for balance and in Psalm 8 we’re given a nice example of this. On one hand, I’m a mere speck in the Universe, practically invisible in comparison to God’s wondrous Creation. Honestly, sometimes I get this and sometimes I don’t. Rick Warren starts his famous Purpose Driven Life book with the words, “It’s not about you” and I can read that and respond, “Yes, I know!” Other times I get caught seeing things only from my tiny perspective: “Why are they singing that song again? I don’t like it nearly as much as I like the others. Let’s sing some southern gospel, that’s my kind of music!” At times like that it doesn’t hurt for me to remember that the worship service isn’t really designed for me in the first place. Still, I know I can go too far with this humility stuff. Back in the Stone Age of my childhood church kids were taught to say, “God didn’t make any junk.” I’m valued by the Lord. Still, once in a while it’s a good idea for me to look around and realize that everything isn’t in orbit around me after all and to join David in humbly asking the Almighty, “Why do you bother with ” me at all?
Take Away: It really isn’t all about me – or you!
God is God
Job 42: I babbled on about things far beyond me.
Job responds to the Almighty’s questions as a humbled man. Here he is, still sitting in the ashes. His children are still dead. His wealth is still gone. He’s still in the agony of his affliction. Job isn’t now humbly spiritual because God has fixed everything or even explained everything to him. So far as I know, Job never learns what this is all about; that it’s all a test designed to answer the question, “Does he serve God for nothing?” Job has proved the Lord’s point though. Through it all, even when he’s struggling with the issues at hand, Job maintains his righteousness and trust in God. Now, God has spoken, revealing himself to Job, challenging him to respond to his own questions. Job responds, “I babbled on about things far beyond me.” This meeting with God makes all of Job’s questions moot. God is God and, even when life is unfair and perplexing, well, God is still God. In his trial, Job tries to state his case; to explain himself to his friends. More, he tries to explain God. This suffering man now realizes that he’s been trying to deal with the details of life but has lost sight of this huge, overpowering truth: God is God. In my life, even as I struggle with circumstances that don’t fit my theology, I must, after all my babbling on about how I think things are, remember this: God is God.
Take Away: Even when I don’t understand…even when I don’t like how things are going…even then, God is God.