I asked my good friend Dr. Lester Spencer, who serves as Senior Pastor at St. James United Methodist Church, to write this month for the Report. Lester gladly agreed to do so which I appreciate very much. As we all know, while pride can be a big time problem for most of us, humility is a virtue that oftentimes is way down our priority list in life. Lester did a very good job in teaching us how to have a humble heart.
PURSUING A HUMBLE HEART
We have all heard the joke about the “humble guy” who wrote the books, Humility and How I Attained It, and its sequel, Humble and Proud of It.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I feel like the least likely candidate to write an article on humility. Honestly, sometimes when I do make an attempt at being humble (which probably isn’t often enough), I am instantly quite proud of my attempt at humility. Thus, my humility immediately evaporates, and I am back to square one again in my quest to be humble. It is a never ending circle…and a constant challenge to humble myself before the Lord and with others. My pride raises its ugly head way too often and is my primary enemy in this pursuit of a humble heart.
Perhaps, I should attempt a definition of humility to make sure we are talking about the same thing. When we look at Jesus and his example we see a clear picture of humility: Humility is not weakness or a putting down of one’s self. It is rather the quiet strength that flows from a deep assurance that God is the only one ultimately in control. It is being courageous in the midst of difficulty, not because you are sure of yourself, but because you are sure of God’s faithfulness and His heart concerning you!
Deep down, I really want to be like Jesus! I want to be one of those he speaks about in Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the humble, for they shall inherit the earth.” But most of the time, my humility is not where or what it needs to be, and I think most of us would admit that the Holy Spirit is still working on us in regards to our humility. God’s “sanctifying grace” is still at work in us, moving us onward “toward perfection” (as John Wesley put it) in Christ.
Having now confessed, it is vital that we understand how seriously the Lord regards humble hearts and how His disapproval is stirred by our proud spirits. The Bible is quite clear from Genesis to Revelation, that God loves and favors the humble. And, on the flip side of that, the Word tells us that God opposes the proud and haughty.
“God opposes the proud but favors the humble.”
James 4:6 (Proverbs 3:34)
“The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken (humble) spirit and repentant heart, O God.” Psalm 51:17
We could list scripture after scripture on the subjects of humility and pride. I believe that most clear-thinking people, regardless of their beliefs or faith, would acknowledge that humility is a good and noble virtue that should be pursued. But – for those of us who call ourselves Christ-followers, not pursuing humility is really not an option – according to Christ and the scriptures.
So, how do we distinguish between Proud Spirits and Humble Hearts? Author Sylvia Gunter helps us with this in her book, Living In His Presence.
Characteristics of a Proud Spirit/Humble Heart:
PROUD SPIRIT HUMBLE HEART
Focus on the failure of others Overwhelmed with a sense of their own spiritual need
Self-righteous, critical, fault-finding spirit; look at their own life through a telescope but others through a microscope Compassionate, forgiving, look for the best in others
Look down on others Esteem all others better than self
Independent/self-sufficient spirit Dependent spirit, recognize their need for others
Maintain control, must have their own way Surrender control
Have to prove that they are right Willing to yield the right to be right!
Demanding spirit Giving spirit
Self-protective of time, rights, reputation Self-denying
Desire to be served Motivated to serve others
Desire to be a success Desire to be faithful to make others a success
Desire for self-advancement Desire to promote others
Wounded when others are promoted and they are overlooked Rejoice when others are lifted up
Feel confident in how much they know Humbled by how much they have to learn
Self-conscious Not concerned with self at all
Keep people at arm’s length Risk getting close to others, willing to take the risks of loving intimately
Quick to blame others Accept personal responsibility, can see where they are wrong
Defensive when criticized Receive criticism with a humble, open heart
Concerned about what others think All that matters is what God knows
Work to maintain image and protect reputation Die to own reputation
Find it difficult to share their spiritual needs with others Willing to be open and transparent with others
Have a hard time saying, “I was wrong; will you please forgive me?” Are quick to admit failure and seek forgiveness
Deal in generalities when confessing sins Deal in specifics
Concerned about the consequences of their sins Grieved over the cause/root of their sins
Wait for the other person to come and ask for forgiveness when there is misunderstanding or conflict Take the initiative to be reconciled, see if they can get to the cross first!
Compare themselves with others and feel deserving of honor Compare themselves to the holiness of God and feel desperate need for mercy
Blind to their true heart condition Walk in the light
Don’t think they have any need to repent Continual heart attitude of repentance
Don’t think they need revival (think everyone else does!) Continually sense their need for a fresh encounter with the filling of the Holy Spirit!
Wow! This list is very revealing, isn’t it?
Now that you have read these distinguishing characteristics, which one would you say best describes you?
We might ask the Lord to reveal which traits of a proud spirit He finds in our lives. Use the left side for confession and repentance. And use the right side for intercession, prayer and characteristics to pursue!
I want to pursue a humble heart so that I may be more like Christ, and so that I may enjoy the favor of the Lord in my relationship with Him, my marriage, my family, my job, and all other aspects of my life! I am also very much aware that if I do not pursue a humble heart, the scriptures and my personal experiences remind me that the Lord himself will “humble the proud.”
May the Lord transform us and bless us as we pursue being Christ-followers with humble hearts!
St. James UMC
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