Humility in Submission

Lessons from James

This is the fourth of five talks given at Lee Abbey in the summer, do take a listen or download it below. The previous three in the series were:

  1. Persevering Through Trials
  2. Walking the Talk
  3. Taming the Tongue

Below are some funny/moving stories and anecdotes, and some juicy quotes to mull over:

On a flight from Johannesburg, a middle-aged, well-off white South African lady had found herself sitting next to an African man. She called the cabin crew attendant over to complain about her seating. “What seems to be the problem Madam?” asked the attendant. 

“Can’t you see?” she said. “You’ve sat me next to a kaffir. I can’t possibly sit next to this disgusting human. Find me another seat!” “Please calm down Madam.” the stewardess replied. “The flight is very full today, but I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll go and check to see if we have any seats available in club or first class.” The woman cocked a snooty look at the outraged black man beside her (not to mention at many of the surrounding passengers also). 

A few minutes later the stewardess returned with the good news, which she delivered to the lady, who could not help but look at the people around her with a smug and self-satisfied grin: “Madam, unfortunately, as I suspected, economy is full. I’ve spoken to the cabin services director, and club is also full. However, we do have one seat in first class”. 

Before the lady had a chance to answer, the stewardess continued, “It is most extraordinary to make this kind of upgrade, however, and I had to get special permission from the captain. But, given the circumstances, the captain felt that it was outrageous that someone be forced to sit next to such an obnoxious person as yourself.” With which, she turned to the African man sitting next to her, and said: “So if you’d like to get your things, Sir, I have your seat ready for you in first class up at the front…” At which point, apparently the surrounding passengers stood and gave a standing ovation while the African guy walked up to first class in the front of the plane. 

I love that story, because it’s someone else’s pride, not mine! 

The problem with pride is, as C.S. Lewis writes: “The more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike in in others. A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.” Someone has said, “The true way to be humble is not to stoop until you are smaller than yourself, but to stand at your full height before some higher nature that will show you how small your greatness is.” William Law (1686-1761) ‘Pride must die in us or Christ cannot live in us.’

George Muller of Bristol (the man who cared for so many orphans in the nineteenth century) one day was urged to share what he considered to be the power behind his ministry. He surprised his questioner by talking about his “secret death”. “There was a day,” he said, “when I died; utterly died.” As he spoke, he bent lower until he almost touched the floor. Then he continued, “I died to George Muller, his opinions, preferences, tastes and will; died to the world, its approval or censure; died to the approval or blame even of my brethren and friends; and since then I have studied only to show myself approved of God.

This man was born in a gypsy tent, of humble origins, and yet ended up being invited to the White House by two presidents. Rodney ‘Gypsy’ Smith came into the world in 1860 in Epping Forest, just outside London. Forty five times he crossed the Atlantic to preach the gospel to millions of people on both sides. His passion was almost unparalleled, and there was great fruit in what he did. What was his secret? Humble private prayer. His praying was even more powerful than his preaching. 

A delegation once came to him to enquire how they might experience personal and mass revival as he had. They wanted to be used the way Gypsy was. Without hesitating, he said: “Go home. Lock yourself in your room. Kneel down in the middle of the floor, and with a piece of chalk draw a circle round yourself. There, on your knees, pray fervently and brokenly that God would start a revival within that chalk circle.”

Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

James 4:8-10

Tim Keller wrote: “The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.”

“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.” Søren Kierkegaard

A water-bearer in India had two large pots, both hung on the ends of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. For a full two years, this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pot-fulls of water to his house.

Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water-bearer one day by the stream:

“I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologise to you. I have been able to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts”, the pot said.

The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you’ve watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.”

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