“By this method thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools.” -C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” -Philippians 2:3 (ESV)
“He must become greater, I must become less.” -John 3:30 (NIV)
Generation Y, “The Millennials.” Generation Z, “iGen.” These two generations are what the current young adult populous primarily consists of. For the sake of ease of understanding, and because I am a Millennial myself, this blog will be specifically meant for these two generations. As a disclaimer, I will say this as well: You may not initially find yourself fitting into the shoes of the person pictured in this blog, but don’t write it off as a “gross generalization” that is not applicable to you and then tell yourself that I’m about as far off the rails as one can get and still be considered a sane thinker. (As is what often happens whenever a younger person is confronted with any real prick of conviction..) This is meant to hopefully draw your attention to the part of the heart that hides within every human, but that has found it’s time in the spotlight by those who have not been taught what true humility really is. A second disclaimer for you is this: The type of true humility mentioned in this blog isn’t something that one can achieve by striving for it. It is something endowed in us by the Spirit of God upon the the rebirth of our soul through salvation. True salvation results in true humility, and true repentance when we find a lack thereof. In essence, a theme which you will find throughout most of my blogs: fake people cannot do real things.
There are, I think, two primary failures when it comes to being humble. First is arrogance and selfish thought. It’s easy to spot by most onlookers, and is usually the one that arouses the most frustration or anger. Also, ironically, it doesn’t seem to be really noticed by the one doing it. There was a young man that I met at Teen Camp this past week who was passionate and enthralled… with himself. No testimony of salvation, just a testimony of life in church (no, not the Church, just church service), yet he was convinced that God had called him into the ministry because of “an awesome message” he had preached one time. He was also convinced that he was called to the Marine Corps because he “really felt like he needed to help save people” and that God also had called him to go to college to study architecture because he “really liked the beauty in it,” and certainly none of that had to do with the beautiful young lady sitting next to him who wanted to study architecture and had an affinity for military men.. I spoke to him one on one after that for a while digging through his responses to find a shred of authenticity, and finding what I perceived to be none, I spoke to him about Christ, and His humility shown on the cross. (Don’t be angry with me. I’m not judging the kid’s soul, but it would be foolish of me not to pry, and even more so if I didn’t try to share the Gospel and Christ’s humility with him!) The second failure when it comes to being truly humble is what our teacher and friend, C.S. Lewis illustrated for us in the Screwtape Letters, letter 14, which I referenced at the very beginning of this blog: Faux humility. This strikes me as the most prevalent form of pride within the Christian community, and it stems quite often from an effort to look more “Christian.” We know the bible teaches humility, but due to our lack of true submission to discipleship and church discipline, we don’t know what this “humility” really is. Mentioning discipleship and church discipline motivates me to follow a rabbit, and so I think I will for a short while…
If it pleases the audience, I will recount a personal story now… If it doesn’t, skip on down to the next paragraph. I won’t know either way. It won’t hurt my feelings.
Surprise, this is the next paragraph. In 2014 I took a trip with the church I’m currently a member and leader of, Grace Missionary Baptist Church, but at the time I was but a lowly intern. We were going to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where nearly all of the American Baptist Association church pastors were meeting to do their yearly business dealings. Amongst sharing the gospel with a homeless man who was in the middle of defecating (long story), and jumping into a very frigid Lake Michigan, I spent a considerable amount of time with an older pastor whose name I won’t mention, but whose demeanor was gruff and due to a stint in the Navy in his younger years liked to call things how they were and take no BS. Just the type of guy to make myself look like a fool in front of, and so I did. I can’t remember what we were talking about at the time, but there were a group of us chatting, young and old alike (but certainly I was the youngest amongst the group, being only 20 at the time) when, as one might when they think they’ve got a little bit more figured out than they actually do, I said one too many sentences. “Garrett, you should learn when to shut up,” said the gruff old veteran pastor. As you can imagine, hot needles pressed against my face. Anger seethed beneath the surface. I shut up alright. I didn’t speak again for the rest of the night. It took a while, but eventually, the anger wore off, and the truth of his harsh words set in. Perhaps he didn’t say it the way we would like to imagine a Christian should, but he said exactly what God wanted me to hear in that moment. Now, almost 5 years later those words still buzz around in the back of my head during every conversation... “Garrett, you should learn when to shut up.”
Why do I tell that story? Because it was a game-changer for me. He was 100% correct in saying that. I was a young man who thought that because I lived on my own, had two years of college, some military experience, and was a semi-free thinker, I was entitled to speak with the “big boys.” But, I wasn’t entitled. I was 20 years old, but I was a 2-year-old Christian. I was a baby. Discipleship, accountability, and discipline hadn’t really been a thing for me yet. But after that rude awakening, they became a reality for me. I wholeheartedly believe that every single Millennial and iGen Christian needs to hear their version of “Garrett, you need to learn when to shut up.” It’s that explosion that yanks us out of faux humility and arrogant thought and teaches us what was going on in the heart of John the Baptist when he spoke the words, “Christ must increase, and I must decrease,” and when Paul penned the words to the church in Phillipi, “Do nothing of selfish ambition or conceit but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” It awakens us to the difference between “Better than I deserve,” and “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
So what’s the solution? That prick of conviction that sits so uncomfortably on your heart and spurs you to repentance. You will find that where your boundaries fall, and where accountability begins. If you seek out an elder (in the faith) and submit yourselves to their wisdom, you will find yourself learning true humility and wisdom. As Proverbs 12:15 says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” (ESV)
Final Exhortation: James 1:19. Not all of you should speak. The world needs less “talkers” and more “prayers.” Statistically speaking, most of you will probably not be remembered for a 21st century Church reformation, nor will you likely be remembered as the next Billy Graham, Paul Washer, or John Piper. Live your life to magnify His name. Your knowledge of Bonhoeffer, Spurgeon, theology, and philosophy doesn’t entitle you to bat in the big leagues. Live your life to further His kingdom. Yes, you can say “thank you” when someone compliments your ministry. Yes, you can sing well, play that instrument well, paint well, debate well, write well. All glory to God. The point is: When your eyes come off of you and stick to Christ, humility becomes natural, and your relationship with Him becomes all the more beautiful and centric.
Blessings and peace to my brothers and sisters in the faith.