Set the Right Goals
Dr. Jim Denison
President Eisenhower has been in the news recently as the one who added the phrase “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. He was a man who sought to live his life “under God,” trusting his Lord in humble faith. So did his mother.
One day during the Second World War, when her remarkable son was supreme commander of the Allied forces, the elder Mrs. Eisenhower was traveling by train. The woman next to her on the train had no idea of Mrs. Eisenhower’s identity, and spent the entire trip bragging about her son who had just been made a corporal. Finally she asked Mrs. Eisenhower, “Tell me about your son.” Her entire reply: “He’s in the army too.”
Today, let’s talk about humility and “I trouble.” Not “eye” trouble but “I” trouble. The middle letter of “sin” is “I.” The middle letter of “pride” is “I.” The root cause of all our trouble is “I trouble.” The third Beatitude is the cure. Here are steps to biblical humility.
Value humility as God does
First, value humility as God does. The Third Beatitude shows what God thinks of this characteristic: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
“Blessed”—happy beyond all circumstance, the kind of blessing only God can bestow.
“Are the meek”—the Greek word is “praus.” It has several hues within its spectrum of meaning, but it reduces to the idea of humility before God.
Such people will “inherit the earth,” being blessed by God in every way. Not just part of the earth, but all the blessing God might give. No conqueror has ever won what God promises here.
But we try. We try to inherit the earth through our performance, possessions, and perfectionism. By trying harder to do more, have more, be more. And so genuine humility is hard for many of us.
Like many of you, I am a performer by nature. It is my natural personality to want you to like me, to be impressed by me, to affirm me. Many of us are this way. We live in a performance-dominated culture, where we are rewarded for what we can produce. But it’s hard to want to impress people and be humble at the same time. Performing makes biblical humility hard.
On the other hand, many of us also struggle with self-esteem issues, making the wrong kind of humility easy.
I read recently this profound statement by psychologist Paul Tournier: “I believe there is a great illusion underlying both the despair of the weak and the unease of the strong—and the misfortune of both. This great illusion is the very notion that there are two kinds of human beings, the strong and the weak. The truth is that human beings are much more alike than they think … All … in fact, are weak. All are weak because we are afraid. They are afraid of being trampled underfoot. They are all afraid of the inner weakness being discovered. They all have secret faults; they all have a bad conscience on account of certain acts which they would like to keep covered up. They are all afraid of other men and of God, of themselves, of life, and of death” (quoted in Ten Habits for Effective Ministry, 21).
Many of us feel badly about ourselves, leading to a self-punishing, demeaning kind of humility. A performance-centered society and low self-image both make biblical humility hard for us.
But listen to what Jesus said about such humility. He described himself as “gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29); he promised us, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4); he warned us, “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). And he taught us, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:14-15).
The blunt fact is that we cannot be “blessed” by God unless we value humility as he does.
See yourself as God sees you
But valuing humility doesn’t mean that we know how to experience it. Here’s the second biblical step: see yourself as God sees you. Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones defines “praus” or “meek” as “a humble and gentle attitude to others which is determined by a true estimate of ourselves.” To be “meek” or “humble,” develop a “true estimate” of yourself. Learn to see yourself the way God does.
So, how does God see you? As a redeemed sinner. A person who sinned and fell short of his glory; a person whose sins cost his Son his life; a person worthy of eternity in hell. And also a person he loves so much he gave his Son to die in your place, to pay for your sins, to purchase your salvation. A sinner, redeemed by his love.
A rabbi once said, “A man should carry two stones in his pocket. On one should be inscribed, ‘I am but dust and ashes.’ On the other, ‘For my sake was the world created.'” Both inscriptions are true.
Imagine yourself a condemned criminal on death row, scheduled for execution.
All appeals are exhausted; the final hour has come. You are strapped to the gurney, and tubes are inserted in your arm. The doctor is about to administer the lethal injection when the phone rings. The governor of the state is coming over.
But when he arrives, something unprecedented occurs. He does not pardon you. He insists that your sentence be carried out. But he then orders the guards to remove you from the table. He takes off his coat, and lies on your gurney. He rolls up his sleeve, and orders the doctor to connect your tubes to his arm. He receives your injection; he takes your punishment; he dies for you.