Thursday, February 11, 2010

Humility: True Greatness by C.J. Mahaney

  Awhile back I gave some thought to writing a book on humility.  Now that puts me at something of a disadvantage because aspiring writers are often encouraged to "write what you know."  On this topic I'd have to take a different approach, the one an investigative reporter takes: write what you don't yet know but want to know.

  I've found Humility: True Greatness to be a good primer, a good first step, in thinking more deliberately about humility--and in the more difficult work of actually pursuing humility of heart & life.

  Mahaney opens his book with an observation that Jim Collins' made in his leadership & business book Good to Great.  Collins realized in his research of companies that went from being good companies to being truly great that one of the ingredients was a leader who was, of all things, humble.  Someone who was a strong and decisive leader but at the same time self-effacing, who realized his or her need for other opinions and insight.  Someone who was quick to give credit and praise to others where credit was due.  Someone who was committed to the greater good of the company's greatness, not his or her own achieving glory.

  Yet, in business and in every other aspect of life, we don't usually prize humility. Mahaney defines humility this way: "honestly assessing ourselves in light of God's holiness and our sinfulness."  Instead, though, we scramble for recognition, affirmation, and sometimes power and control rather than prizing an awareness of ourselves as we stand before God--not only as sinners or sinners saved by grace, but as finite, dependent men and women who were created to live for God's glory and not our own. And so, chapter 2 of the book takes us right to the core of what bends us from the narrow and simple road of humility--the pride that has wrapped itself around every human heart. And here he puts his finger on something that both James and Peter tell us in the New Testament (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5):
"God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble"
God doesn't simply make note of the proud--he opposes them.  That can sound a little extreme, can't it?  As if God is insecure and petty in his overseeing of us, his creatures.  But our pride isn't just a minor character flaw in us, it is the heart of rebellion against God in all his goodness, wisdom, and sovereignty over our lives.  Our pride is the bent of our heart that says "not thy will, but my will be done."  Mahaney quotes Calvin helpfully here: "God cannot bear with seeing his glory appropriated by the creature in even the smallest degree, so intolerable to him is the sacrilegious arrogance of those who, by praising themselves, obscure his glory as far as they can."  God opposes the proud because our pride obscures God's glory, turns our eyes away from him, and welds armor around our hearts so that we can neither love God nor follow him.  Our pride needs to be opposed by God.

  But there's the other side of the equation: God gives grace to the humble.  God's eyes are drawn to the humble heart.  The humble know God's grace, know God, walk with him.  In humility we get a right understanding of ourselves, and we get God.  And that grace of God comes to us in the person of Jesus, the Son of God in the flesh.  The humble Son of God in the flesh.  The one who deserved all glory, but laid it aside.  The one who did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but who made himself nothing.  Who took on the form of a servant.  Who became human.  Who was obedient to the point of death.

  So how do we become humble ourselves?  The last third of the book takes up practical disciplines in pursuing humility.  Acknowledging our need for God as the day begins.  Ending the day in thankfulness.  Meditating on the attributes of God, the one who actually deserves praise and glory.  Thoughtfully encouraging others around us.  Inviting and pursing correction from others.  Responding humbly to trials.  These chapters are good a good place to start in cultivating humility in our lives.  And it's all worth it--because in humility we get God.

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