The importance of humility
Sometimes the Holy Spirit speaks so clearly and directly that it is shocking. I’m not referring to an audible voice, but a word to the soul that is precise and irrefutable. Such was the case on day two of my time in San Francisco.
Our group and a couple of leaders from Church Intensive met in the living room. We had finished an extended prayer session and had returned from a break. I settled in with a fresh cup of coffee as we continued our discussion on the importance of humility. I listened as individuals shared, but something was bothering me. I felt frustrated. I wanted to share my experiences over the past thirty years of ministry, but the conversation was dominated by others in the group. I was slowly growing annoyed. This was the moment when the Holy Spirit spoke to me.
“Tim,” he said, “You know why you are frustrated? It’s because anytime someone else is speaking, no one is paying attention to you.”
Ouch. The irony was rich. I was in a discussion on humility, and I was frustrated because no one was paying attention to me. That’s pretty rough.
As God would have it, we took a break for 20 minutes to spend time in personal prayer. No one else was aware of what the Holy Spirit had just spoken to me. I retreated to the back bedroom, closed the door, and got down on my knees beside the bed. I was appalled. Shocked. Silenced. Stunned. I hardly spoke to God, but when I did it was in profound recognition of my sin. I repented. Most of the time I just knelt there in silence. I saw my sin as sin – horrible, terrible sin.
After a time, we returned to the group meeting. We continued our discussion. I sat there silently, still groping with the reality of my sin. Finally, there was a pause, and I shared with the group how dismayed I was by what the Holy Spirit had just revealed to me. As I shared, the Holy Spirit completely broke me. I covered my face with my hands and wept.
An awkward silence settled on the group. I didn’t care. I saw my sin as God sees it. I repented. I was broken. I couldn’t look up. I was ashamed, but it was a deeply cleansing moment for me. At that moment, the Holy Spirit showed me what humility looks like: deep, profound, repentant humility.
Strangely, it was a highlight of the trip for me. It was a revival in my heart. Afterward, I felt renewed and refreshed. My heart was aligned with God’s heart. In the sessions that followed, God deeply ministered to me.
I share this story as a reminder of the importance of humility. Humility and godliness are essential attributes of a follower of Jesus. They are essential for a leader in the Church. They are also essential within the congregation. When humility and godliness are present, we can work through any differences in theology or preference in application. When these attributes are present, there is unity. When these attributes are missing, we have chaos, strife, and division.
I share my story with you because I suspect this is a larger issue within our churches than just myself. It affects leadership. It affects those who are not in leadership but wish they were. It affects us all. Think about some of the conflicts we’ve witnessed in our churches. How were they resolved? Did we witness lives characterized by humility and godliness? Sadly, this is the exception rather than the rule. Usually, we try to fix the problem by debating theology or our preferences. Instead, we need to address the heart problem of a lack of humility and godliness.
Humility is a key component of following Jesus. Consider these passages:
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3, ESV).
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3, ESV).
“Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5, ESV).
It saddens me when I see individuals in an online debate over non-essential theological positions. Most are deeply knowledgeable but evidently lacking in humility. It fosters division. It cannot be of God.
Paul addressed this in his letter to the Corinthians. This is what he wrote:
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. 1 Corinthians 3:1-9, ESV
Sometimes we forget the body of Christ in North America is made up of millions of people. People like you and me who read the word of God and sometimes draw different conclusions. Good men believe differently. When there are differences, humility saves the day. When there are differences without humility, there is strife and division. The problem is not our differences in theology or application. The problem is a lack of humility.
In thirty years of ministry, I’ve made many friends across denominational lines. The one thing we have in common is a deep love for God and gratefulness for the forgiveness for sins we receive through his son Jesus’ death on the cross. Beyond that, differences abound. When we live together in humility and godliness, there is unity in the body of Christ. It is beautiful to witness. But when humility is lacking, there is strife.
Looking back, I see times when I was not humble in my relationship with others in the body. I’ve sought forgiveness when possible. I also imagine I will address this issue in my life in the future. I continue to grow in my relationship with God, and I have many lessons to learn. But I experience the refreshing work of the Holy Spirit when I acknowledge my sin and repent, and that has made all the difference.
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