The first two years of life are all about the struggle of learning to walk and talk. These are the basics at this age. Learning to talk is rather cute and harmless. Learning to walk, on the other hand, can be a bit treacherous. My oldest son cut his eye open doing so. My other son kept a knot in the middle of his head for six weeks during this process.
Despite the danger, we as parents make them do it because we know we have to teach certain things first. There are basic prerequisites to functioning in life and some things come before others. We walk, then we run; we learn the alphabet, then we read; etc.
In the spiritual life, there exists a fundamental prerequisite for relating to God, and if there is any single key condition for authentic holy living it would be the virtue of humility. It is, in fact, a quality from which all other dimensions of life in Christ flow.
Saint Augustine said, “Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist, there cannot be any other virtue.”
Can one receive salvation without humility? No. Can one develop in character, love, be reconciled to others, or worship without humility? No. This is why humility is such a high value in God’s economy.
In 2 Chronicles 7, the Bible describes prayers and worship offered to God at the dedication of the temple upon its completion. In response, God gives commands for relating to Him and provides promises of blessings when those commands are heeded.
Contained in this passage is likely the premiere verse for spiritual revival in all of Scripture.
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14
The very first phrase—that is, the very first condition for God’s response, forgiveness, and healing of His people, is humility. God says that we are to humble ourselves before Him.
As a prerequisite for relating to God, humility is like one of those required classes in college. You know, the ones you don’t choose because they’re not as fun, as easy, or as relevant as the others. If you flunk this kind of class, you have to take it again. We who have lived long enough in Christ know that we don’t really have a choice when it comes to humility. It is required by God. So, we can humble ourselves: we willingly posture ourselves before God without pretention or pride. Or, we can do it the hard way—experience pain in our lives as a result of pride that eventually leads to humiliation. In other words, we can be humble, or be humbled. In fact, it may be true that one cannot be humble before God until one has been humbled by God. After some of my own experiences of pain resulting from arrogance and independence, I’d like to choose the former.
But what is contained in humility before God? I believe there are three dynamics at work that leads a person to humble themselves.
The first is PERSPECTIVE. Humility flows from a perspective that I have about God, and then about myself in relationship to Him.
Let’s look at Isaiah’s experience:
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.” – Isaiah 6:1-4
Wow! Isaiah had a vision of God where He clearly came to grips with the majesty, holiness, righteousness, and purity of His character. What was Isaiah’s immediate response?
“Then I said, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” – Isaiah 6:5
Do you get a picture of what the Bible is describing? It is a vision of God’s holiness. Holiness includes God’s complete moral purity and perfection, i.e., His righteousness in character. More than that, God’s holiness primarily points to what some theologians have called His infinite “otherness”. To say that God is holy means that He is transcendentally separate and distinct in His purity and goodness from us.
As a result of this vision, Isaiah was “undone” before God. Have you ever been completely undone before God? This word could be translated as “ruined”, or “utterly lost.” His perspective was, “I don’t measure up. I don’t deserve to be in God’s presence, let alone to be a recipient of His grace and mercy. I am unworthy.”
You see, when we have an accurate understanding of who God is, we will then have an accurate understanding of who we are. The result is humility. The perspective is that there is no way we could stand in God’s presence with any sense of right to do so or pride in what we bring. It is a deep understanding that He is God and I am not.
Therefore, when we are allowed to be in His presence (as we are) and be loved by this holy God, this fact produces the second component of humility: gratitude. Because of who He is, in light of who we are, and because we are received by Him, we worship this infinitely other God with hearts full of gratitude and praise!
The Book of Revelation paints the greatest picture of humble gratitude in eternal worship.
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” – Revelation 7:9-12
See the angels around the throne? The multitudes falling on their faces before the God? They are beings who are overwhelmed with the reality: “We are not worthy, yet we are chosen.”
Here’s our human problem. Familiarity breeds ingratitude. What we are used to, we take for granted. Therefore, ongoing spiritual vitality requires constant awakening to what we have in Christ. It means remembering the preciousness of the gift of salvation, the unending presence of the Holy Spirit within, and that fact of our destiny in eternity.
But humility doesn’t end with perspective and gratitude. Most might think it would. If it did, humility might only be a profound thought (perspective) or a fleeting feeling (gratitude). True humility is manifested in one’s life. Upon recognizing God’s holiness, and being grateful for His love and acceptance, the results are an innate desire to do what He wants, to seek His ways, to trust His commands, and to believe that His way is truly best. So thirdly, true humility requires obedience.
In this sense, disobedience to God is not so much rebellion, as much as it is a lack of perspective and gratitude.
As parents, we want our children to obey us, not out of legalistic allegiance, but out of perspective of who we are to them, and out of gratitude for all we have done for them. The same is true for the Father in Heaven.
Perspective, gratitude, and obedience. These are the marks of humility before God.
Billy Graham’s death recently occurred. The week of his death, I read many articles about him and his ministry. Time and again, there was one trait that was expressed about him by countless people who knew Reverend Graham and had worked with him. It was humility.
Come to think of it. Every godly person I have ever known in my life, regardless of their respected positions, great achievements or considerable power they held, were humble people.