Sunday, October 21, 2012
COM Ch 17: . . . To Humbled.
Chapter 17 . . . To Humbled.
The first life-changing prayer in my room was when I began to really learn that complete honesty with Him is okay. Not just okay, but necessary. I was learning that nothing I say in honesty can separate me from His love and forgiveness. That transparency, especially about the painful things, brings me closer to His healing love. I didn’t have to bear the weight on my own, to keep a stiff upper-lip or be ashamed of the doubts and fears inside. I just had to admit them to Him and seek His comfort and truth.
And the second life-changing prayer showed me that I could fall on Him. When I had nowhere else to go and nothing else to rely on, He wanted to be the one I ran to! He wanted me to come to Him just as messy and broken as I was. And even if I was facing an extended time of His silence, He would still catch me if I fell into His embrace. He would hold me close when the world was throwing at me more than I could handle.
Psalm 34:17-18: “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
These were very big, very unnatural steps for me. But there was such relief and freedom and healing in them. He wouldn’t blast me with a lightning bolt when I admitted that I was afraid that He might blast me with a lightning bolt. He wouldn’t bail on me when I admitted that I was weak and couldn’t do it on my own anymore. He wouldn’t abandon me when I admitted that I was terrified of being abandoned or when I felt “not good enough.” He just wanted my honesty. He just wanted me! And as long as it was honest, it brought me closer to Him!
He can handle the honesty! What He can’t bear is the distance we create and maintain by our walls of fear, by our efforts to earn His favor, to earn His attention, and to “do it ourselves.” He wants closeness! He died for closeness! He wanted a close relationship with us so much that He died a death He didn’t deserve to bridge the gap between us and Him.
But it’s our choice to cross that bridge or not, to let Him near or hold Him back. And for years, I had repaid His sacrifice with inauthenticity and self-sufficiency because I was too afraid and hurt to be vulnerable. But I was learning. And as I was learning to stop living out of my fears, I was becoming free to live in His love. A mark of a true child!
But just as I was beginning to enjoy the kind of relationship with Him that a child should have, just as I was learning to rest in His arms, I learned that there was another level to it. He had challenged me to go from being a good, adult step-child to being His child. And now, quickly after that, He was challenging me to go to the next level . . . His humbled child.
“He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’“ (Matthew 18:2-4).
First thing I notice is that these verses show us that we are called to be like little children or we will never enter the kingdom of Heaven. As a little child has faith in his or her parents, we must have faith that God is and that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. This is what is required to get into the kingdom of Heaven.
“That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) It takes faith to believe in a God we can’t see - an accepting, childlike faith that says, “I can’t see it with my eyes, but I choose to believe in You.” (Although, I have to say that I think it takes a greater, irrational faith to believe in the sheer improbability of evolution or that all of this was just chance. That, to me, takes a much “greater” faith than believing in a Creator.)
. I think, though, that Matthew 18:4 has a deeper, secondary teaching as well. If you don’t want to just enter the kingdom of Heaven, but want to be great in the kingdom of Heaven, there is a second requirement. If you want to be great in the kingdom, you need to be humble like a child. You enter because of childlike faith, but you are great because of childlike humbleness.
This is not the kind of greatness that glorifies us or makes us look good, but the kind that shines brightest for Him and brings Him the most glory possible. I think that there are many ways that we try to be great so that we can get some of the glory. And I tried many of these ways: in PNG, as a leader in youth group and in school, and in all my efforts to succeed, to be self-sufficient, and to shine brighter than others.
But the only way to truly be great in God’s kingdom is to be humble like a child. Many may enter, but how many will be great because they seek to be humbled like a child? And it’s not something that happens to you as much as something you have to pursue. Read the verse again, “whoever humbles himself. . .”
Humble like a child! Humble like a child? Hmm? What does that mean? Of course, all believers are called His children. But I don’t think we can really enjoy the fullness of a relationship with Him, as He means it to be, until we humble ourselves like children. Over twenty years of being a Christian and I had no idea how to do this. I was just beginning to learn how to be a child because being “the adult” became too exhausting! And now I was supposed to figure out what being humble like a child meant?
Children are needy and helpless and dependent. I didn’t like being those things. For a first-born, prideful, overachiever like me, admitting that I wasn’t in control and that I didn’t have the answers was a really scary thing. Crying out to the Lord for His help because I couldn’t do it on my own would mean throwing myself at His grace and mercy. As I said, I didn’t like completely relying on anyone else. To need Him, to really need Him, meant that I had to risk getting hurt and being let down. (Not that He really would hurt me or let me down. But when you’re used to protecting yourself and relying on yourself, it feels like a risk.)
In our society, being needy is considered a bad thing. And I think that there are generally two responses we have to being in need. The first is denial. And there are two ways to be in denial. One is to ignore our neediness and to act like everything is okay, like we are making it on our own just fine. And the other way is to fight against our neediness by puffing up our chests and saying, “I won’t break under the pressure. I can do this myself one way or another. I’ll make it happen.” We do “more” and “better” to prove that we need nothing from nobody. That’s being self-sufficient and stubborn. That was me!
The second response to neediness is to admit the fact that we are needy. And there are two ways to do this. One way is to admit it with shame and to feel bad about ourselves, as though being in need means that we are “less-than, good-for-nothing burdens.” We handle this by trying even harder to polish ourselves up, to make ourselves look better in any and every area we can so that we can preserve some tiny bit of our dignity, of our independence. We try to show that we are as self-sufficient and adult-like as possible - that the temporary neediness was just an anomaly, a little unexpected hiccup. We try harder to impress and be good enough. That was me, too. (Or some just give up in despair and wallow in it, too shameful to try to present a different front.)
Yes, God does require us to be responsible and adult-like in many things: to work and provide for ourselves and our families, to live with integrity and “do the right thing” when everyone else is following their flesh, to exercise self-control and wisdom, and to grow up in our spiritual walk instead of remaining spiritually immature. It’s one thing to be adult-like in our responsibilities, but it’s another to be adult-like in our relationship with Him. It’s in our relationship with Him that we are supposed to be “humble like children” . . . if we want to live greatly for Him and experience the closest relationship possible.
So what does it really mean then? Being “humble like a child?” When I was younger, in some church lesson or other, I was taught that it meant that you had faith like a child; that you trusted God without question or doubt, no matter what comes up, just as children trust their parents whole-heartedly and without any doubt or fear.
Really? Have you ever stood in the water and asked your child to jump off the platform, assuring them that you’ll be there to catch them? Looks like doubt and fear to me. You’d think that I had asked them to jump into a vat of boiling oil. “Trust me, it’ll be okay. I’ll be here to catch you. I’m your mom, would I let you fall?” It took my kids a lot of psyching up just to get them to the point where they could run to the end of the platform, then sit down on it and slide into the water. We’re working on it.
Or how about all that healthy food that I serve to them because it’s good for them? In our house, a plate that contains green beans or peas is not met with thankfulness and willingness and “Gee, Mom. I know you’re doing this because you love me and because it’s best for me. You’re great. I love you and I’ll eat it with a smile because I trust your judgment.”
A plate with green beans usually gets, “Why are you doing this to me? You know that I hate long beans! I’ll take peas!” And a plate with peas gets, “Why are you doing this to me? You know I hate peas!” (This is usually Ryder. To whom I usually answer, in jest, “Because I’m trying to torture you. It’s a parent’s job and great delight to torture their children. It’s why we had you.” I also use this answer when they whine about why they have to go to the boring stores with us. It doesn’t help, but it makes it more fun for me!)
I don’t think being humble like a child means lack of doubt and fear. Like I said earlier, as God’s children, we are supposed to bring these doubts and fears to Him. Yes, ideally, it would be great if we could all just have faith in Him without any fear or doubt. But too many of us have been too hurt or let down by others to “just trust” anyone.
And consequently, we have too many questions, doubts, and fears about God to have this unconditional faith. Trust and faith don’t come easily for us. So how can we best understand and live that verse if it doesn’t mean “naive, unbridled faith and acceptance, never doubting, never questioning?” How can I be humble like a child when I’m a wounded, skeptical, self-sufficient adult?
I have four endearing, rascally boys now. And in being the parent and by prayer and reading the Word, I think I am finally beginning to understand what that verse means. And the conclusion that I’ve come to is that being “humble like a child” means . . . are you ready for this? . . . it means being (drum roll, please) . . . it means being needy, helpless, and dependent.
Needy, helpless, and dependent! Ugh! Didn’t I just say that I fought that for years and that those were negative things? Yes, I did. Which is probably why this journey took me so long. It’s probably why I spent all that time feeling like a failure and not knowing the comfort and joy of being His child; I was too ashamed and confused by my many fears, insecurities, doubts, and questions. Because of them, I didn’t think that I had the kind of faith that I thought His children were required to have.
And actually, I think part of the problem is that I believed that childlike humility and childlike faith were interchangeable, essentially the same things. But I don’t think that’s true; I think that they are two separate things. Childlike faith is our decision to believe what the Bible says without needing absolute proof. If we will only choose to believe when we have absolute proof then we will never be able to believe. But we can choose to take God at His Word, even in spite of doubts that we have, trusting that all things will be clear someday.
But childlike humility doesn’t have to do with our beliefs. It has to do with how we approach God. It is our decision to live out our faith in a certain way, to relate to Him out of a proper understanding of who He is and who we are in relation to Him. And it is possible to be humble and to still have doubts and fears. As long as we let them drive us to the Lord, and not away from Him.
Being humble isn’t really about having unquestioning faith, it’s about being needy, helpless, and dependent on God. And I’m learning that these are actually good things, necessary things, if I want a proper and fulfilling relationship with Him, if I want to be great in His kingdom, for His glory. Needy, helpless, and dependent!
And this is the other, more proper, way of admitting our neediness. (I bet you didn’t even realize that I didn’t yet get to the second way of admitting that we are needy). It’s knowing that we are supposed to be needy, helpless, and dependent; and being okay with that. It’s not denying it or fighting it or being ashamed of it. It’s knowing that our proper place as a child of God is to admit that we need Him desperately, that we’re helpless to do it on our own, and that we are wholly dependent on Him . . . daily. And this knowledge humbles us like children at His feet!
When the economy took a nosedive and Jason’s hours got cut back severely, we found ourselves in a financial crunch like we’ve never been in before. Because we were never big spenders and we always lived pretty tightly, we could still pay our bills (just not a lot on the credit cards). But groceries became luxury items. Suddenly, fresh fruit was out of our reach. And nothing looks more tempting than a big, juicy apple when it’s off limits. (Hmm? Sounds familiar?)
We were barely keeping afloat, and we had to skip weeks of grocery shopping just to keep from going under all the way. I, myself, passed up a few dinners just so we would have leftovers the next day. I remember being so grateful once when we were able to splurge and buy frozen pizza and lemonade. It had gotten that tight, and things that we had always taken for granted were now luxurious treats.
I was even tinkering with the idea of giving up sponsorship of the child that we had sponsored for years through Compassion International. But I couldn’t bring myself to do that. He had far less than we did, and I was determined that we would not stop support as long as we had more than his family had. One year, with the Christmas money that he received from us, he bought blankets for his family. And another year it was a basketball. And he was so thankful and thrilled with them. How could I take those things away when I could look around and see many blankets and balls of various kinds in my house? Of all the things to cut out, it wouldn’t be the little bit of money that went much farther for him and his family than it would for us. But I did decide that it was time to get Ryder potty-trained. Diapers were too costly. (Thankfully, Ryder complied. And I think he may have even done it before three years old.)
Although we still managed to hang in there, we were at a point where we weren’t sure what would be for dinner because we didn’t know if we’d be able to afford next week’s groceries. (And we wanted to buy a house? Ha!) But during this time, my mom began inviting us over for dinner on Sundays. And she would send home whatever leftovers there were or bags of fruit that she had bought. (I don’t think she knew how tight it was for us. She was just doing this out of love. She’s one of the most generous people I know.)
Now, it wouldn’t have fazed me to accept them if they were just “extras” to us, like, “Oh, sure! You can send them with us. That would be nice. If it would bless you to bless me, then okay!” But to have to accept them in humility because we needed them, because it meant that we would have a paid-for dinner the next day was . . . well . . . humiliating. Especially so when you’re the type that never asks and has to do everything on your own.
Being in need is humiliating to prideful, self-sufficient people. I was choking on my pride. Choking, and yet thankful in a way that I never had been before - humiliatingly thankful, humbly thankful. I never liked being in need or accepting help because I didn’t like feeling indebted to someone else, being a burden, or feeling like I failed.
But I realized, even as I stood there while she packed the food into bags and looked around for more to give us, that I needed to learn this lesson. I needed to learn how to accept the fact that I was in need, that I couldn’t do it on my own, and to gratefully accept the help that God offered through others. I needed to learn how to be genuinely thankful. It wasn’t really about my mom and the food; it was about God rooting out pride and self-sufficiency. He was teaching me how to be okay with being needy, helpless, and dependent on Him. He was teaching me how to be humble!
I think that being needy is hard for most people, at least it is for me. (Although there are some out there that don’t mind taking from others and living off of other people. There are some that actually prefer that because it means less effort on their parts. And for the record, that kind of take-take-take-I’ll-never-grow-up-and-be-responsible, childish neediness is not the same as grateful-thankful-humble-genuine, childlike neediness.)
Pride makes us feel humiliated and ashamed when we are in need. Pride makes us angry that we were ever in need. Pride makes us try even harder to do it on our own. But humility makes us bow down at the feet of the Lord and admit that we need Him. That we need Him desperately, that we are helpless to do life on our own, and that we are depending on Him completely. Daily! (I’m going to keep saying it until it sinks in!)
And let’s face it, we are all in need in one way or another. At the very least, we all needed a Savior to make a way for us to get to Heaven. You know what? I’ve known people who I believe may never accept Jesus as Savior for the very reasons of pride and self-sufficiency. They are self-made people, “complete” in themselves and through their own efforts. And they cannot believe or admit that anyone else has anything that they need, not even Jesus.
It makes me sad to think of all that they are missing out on in this life and the next, just because they can’t accept anything from anybody. It breaks my heart to imagine the eternal pain that they will face when they hear, “Away from me, I never knew you.” All because they never saw their need. Pride and self-sufficiency are very dangerous - even eternally fatal - attitudes when it comes to a relationship with God.
(And for those of you who don’t think you need a Savior because you “don’t believe in God.” Well, He believes in you. And your belief isn’t going to make Him any less real than He is. But you’ll never know how real He is unless you want to see it. He’ll let you choose to not see Him, at least while you’re on this earth.
But if you want to know the truth, admit to Him that you don’t think He’s real. And then tell Him that you want to know if He is. Ask Him to show you. But really mean it. And then watch. Wait and watch, and look for His answer to that prayer. He wants to answer prayers like that. He’s been waiting for it. Deuteronomy 4:29: “But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.”)
But even those of us that call Him “Savior” still have needs. We need Him in this life: to provide for us, to guide us, to heal us, to comfort us, to discipline us, to keep us, to hold the future for us, and to just hold us sometimes. Living with the awareness that we are needy, helpless, and dependent (and that it’s a good thing) leads to a closer, proper relationship with Him. It opens our hearts to Him in a way that being self-sufficient never could.
And we become useful to Him when we become humble. When we get our will and pride out of the way - when we see Him for who He really is and ourselves for who we really are - then we can’t help but be humbled. And our ultimate goal then becomes making sure that He gets the most glory possible. The motto of our lives becomes, “May my life bring Him as much glory as possible. May I never take any of His glory for myself, but all glory be to Him.”
This is when we become “great” for Him, because He can really work in us and through us then, by His power and strength and wisdom. If He can trust us to make sure He gets all the glory (because He deserves it and because it will draw others to Him), He can use us greatly in His kingdom. And when we are humbled before Him, seeing Him for who He really is and ourselves for who we really are (this is a crucial point, which is why I repeat it), we begin to deeply hunger and thirst for Him and for His way. Because it is so much more fulfilling than anything we did on our own and for ourselves.
(You’ll know if you’ve reached this point if prayer is your lifeline and if the Bible is alive for you, if you look forward to diving into it and immersing yourself in the words of life it brings. If it’s just “a good book” that you like to pick up now and then and if you try to remember to pray at mealtimes, you haven’t yet discovered this hunger and thirst for Him. And if you haven’t yet discovered this hunger and thirst, it’s probably because you don’t see Him for who He really is, according to the Bible, and who you really are, according to Him.)
When we have humbled ourselves before Him like children, living for ourselves and being self-sufficient suddenly look really lacking. And so we seek to draw ever closer to Him in a proper relationship. And, ultimately, He gets the most glory possible - because we know that we did nothing in our own power and wisdom. It was all by Him and it was all for Him. This is what being humbled is! Being needy, helpless, and dependent on our Father. And seeking to glorify Him alone because He deserves it. (It took me a long time to figure that out!)
I think that the different ways that we deal with neediness can actually be stages: denying it, fighting it, admitting it with shame, and then (if you let yourself get to this point, and not everyone does) admitting it with thankfulness and humility. Because you know that it is the only proper and fulfilling way to be His child!
I needed to need Him, just for Him. Not for what He could do for me, not being afraid of what He could do to me. But I needed to be close to Him, just for the sake of the relationship and His love. Because I am incomplete without it.
And I think that this, in our day and age of broken homes and hurting people, is the last wall in most people’s relationship with Him, the last broken piece of our hearts, the last great lie we believe. It’s fearing that He couldn’t really love us . . . just for us. And how could we risk being needy, helpless, and dependent if we don’t really believe in His unconditional love? (More on this later.)
It’s been a long journey (one that won’t be finished until eternity), but I am learning to be God’s child. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have doubts or fears or questions or shortcomings. Or that there’s something wrong with me if I do. It means that I am honest with myself and the Lord about my doubts, fears, questions, and shortcomings, and that I let them drive me closer to my Heavenly Father, into His arms.
It’s not about what I can get from Him, it’s just about getting Him. It’s praising Him in the good times and enjoying His gifts (and passing on the blessings to others). And it’s clinging to Him and crying on His shoulder in the hard times, believing His promise to work all things together for good. It’s choosing to believe that He’s still there and that He loves me immensely, even when life appears to be saying otherwise.
Childlike faith is not a simple, naive faith. It’s a hard-won, hard-working, humbling faith that says, “I don’t know what’s going on and I don’t like it, but I will believe and I will cling to You and I will praise You and I will obey You. No matter what!” Quite simply, it’s living as though He is God and I am not. Humility!
We were made to have a complete, whole, open, enjoyable relationship with Him. And we can’t have that if we won’t reach for it. If we run after others things. If we hide from the pain. If we give up too easily when He puts us in the refining fire. If we retreat in private to nurse our wounds, instead of running to Him and asking Him to hold us and to grow us in the hard times.
We need to put the effort and the work into it, into searching our hearts and minds to see where we are trying to “play God” in our lives, into rooting out paralyzing insecurities, fears, and sins. And we need to be willing to face the pain that comes up when God brings up sins or old wounds that He wants us to deal with. We need to cling to Him, refusing to let go when the furnace heats up.
He won’t settle for only part of our hearts and a piece of our lives. And so He pursues us. But He always leaves the last step up to us. It’s up to us to turn toward Him and let Him into our lives and our hearts. And oftentimes this means pain. But don’t be afraid of this kind of pain; let it drive you closer to the Lord. (Is there a painful issue that keeps coming up in your life? It may be God letting you know that you have unfinished business, a part of your life that you need to give over to Him and let Him heal.)
The joy and comfort that awaits you on the other side, in the security of His embrace, is incredible. While life is still hard, with trials and prunings and difficult circumstances, I no longer feel like I am facing life alone, on my own two feet. As His child, I have the incredible privilege of being able to fall on Him in exhaustion, seeking the comfort of His embrace, and just resting there until I have the strength to face life again. His arms are always open, no matter how much I feel like I “earned” it or not. And now I am living with more hope, more peace, and more joy because He is holding me up. He’s always holding me and loving me just because I am His.
I had been a Christian for over twenty years before I let Him hold me even once. That’s a long time to go without a Heavenly hug! With feeling like it was all up to me! With refusing the love and the care that He wanted to shower on me! I used to think that I needed a home to make me feel secure and whole. But I know I was wrong! And I thank God that He waited for me to figure that out!
You know the verse that says that He’ll bring you the desires of your heart. “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4) I used to think - hope - that it meant that He would bring me what my heart desired. If I desired stability, I would get stability. If I desired marriage, I would find a spouse.
But this is simply not the way it is. We don’t always get the desires of our heart. People don’t always get the much hoped-for child, the healing, the stable home-life, the job, the house. So how am I to understand that verse? I mean, if I didn’t get what I desired then I would have to wonder if there was something wrong with my faith or the way I asked or if I was displeasing to Him. So what was wrong with my faith that I didn’t get the house? Why wasn’t I getting what I desired? Was it Him or was it me?
The search for a house had become more than just a desire of mine . . . it had become an idol. It was something that consumed me, that I was focusing all of my energy on and that was negatively affecting my emotions. I was full of disappointment and envy and depression, and I was not much use to God in that state. Didn’t He say that I would get what I desired? What happened?
Throughout all these trials and the silence, God has been pruning me of my own agendas, my own plans, and my self-sufficiency. And as He did this, I began to see that verse in a new light. (I’m not sure how theologically accurate it is, but it makes sense to me.) I began to read it this way: It’s not that He would give us what our hearts desired, but that He would give our hearts the desires that they should have. He will purify our desires, so that we end up desiring the things that He wants us to have.
But if you look at the verse, you notice that this happens only when we learn to delight in Him. Oh, light bulb! I always missed that part of the verse. “Delight yourself in the Lord . . .” Delight yourself in Him first and then He will give you the desires of your heart. I always went right to the part that said I’ll get what I want. And I wanted my way so badly. I really did! I wanted a home and good teeth. I wanted a big garden. I wanted the answers and the assurances. I wanted to be out of these trials. I was looking for delight in all the wrong places.
And having any idols is an automatic wall between us and God. It will take our focus from Him and ruin our ability to hear Him, feel His presence, and see His blessings. And so it was necessary for God to reveal this to me before I could get into a proper relationship with Him. No wonder I wasn’t getting what my heart desired. It was desiring things that would not bring true joy and fulfillment. And my delight wasn’t in Him.
But the Lord knew something that I didn’t. That deep down, what I really desired was a closer relationship with Him. I wanted stability not in a home, but in Him. A deeper, more stable relationship with Him, a greater understanding of what “walking by faith” meant, contentment as I learned to trust Him, and a long-overdue embrace from my Father.
I didn’t even realize that these were the real desires of my heart until I let God prune away the false ones. If God had stepped in to grant my request when I got to the complaining stage or the depression stage, I would have missed out on the more important, fulfilling blessings. I may have gotten what I thought I wanted from Him, but I wouldn’t have gotten Him.
And so He waited long enough for my deeply entrenched fears to resurface. He waited until I was scared enough, tired enough, and broken enough to admit that I couldn’t do it on my own. He waited until I learned that I wanted to be totally dependent on Him and that I wanted to be His child. He waited until I learned to seek the comfort of His embrace, just for the sake of being close to Him and held by Him. He waited until I humbled myself. He was waiting all along for me to ask!
And while it felt like a risk to fall on Him in neediness, helplessness, and utter dependency, there was also a great sense of relief and peace to learn that He was there to catch me. How interesting to me that admitting our neediness, helplessness, and dependency actually leads to greater security and stability! After twenty-three years of being a Christian, I finally had a secure relationship with my Heavenly Daddy . . . my heart’s true desire!