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So, what is your definition of humility?

A good friend asked me for a definition of humility the other day. I answered without thinking, "Humility is not something you can have or obtain, it is when you realise you are nothing".

That put the cat amongst the pigeons for when you approach that kind of definition without further explanation, it seems that humility means that you think very little of yourself and that you see yourself as a door mat. We all know people like that and that is not the metaphor that I would use when speaking of humility.

I love myself, my body, my life, even my mistakes, faults, weaknesses, struggles, tendency to take control, to change things and people. I have learnt to accept my seasons of doubt, the times when I can't feel the Presence, when I slide into a faraway land. I have learnt how to pitch my tent in the current, in who I am today, in what I am experiencing this moment, so there is no possibility that I am anybody's door mat.

I am more of a door man; a son of the Owner of the House, who opens the front door for visitors and helps them to find the person they are looking for. The emphasis is on being a child in the house. When we are in the house, when we are secure in our identity as children of the Owner, we can never be a door mat.

My friend came up with a brilliant metaphor: "A war horse at rest". I love that. War horses are magnificent creatures that are broken in to be absolutely obedient and only react to the hand and voice of the one on its back. And it is trained to stay steady and wait for instructions, even while bombs are exploding around them. Even to overcome the basic instinct to flee when their very life is threatened.

If I have to summarise what my definition of humility within the war horse metaphor is, I think I may come up with this:

Humility is not an entity that we can have or even develop. It is not something we can define. It is actually more the absence of something. Maybe a prideful trust in my own ability. It is not something I can reach, never the prize at the top of any ladder, it is actually our journey downwards until we realise that we don't have anything in ourself, in the persona we have invented to negotiate the pain of this life.

Humility is part of our identity - it is Christ in us who is the core of our real identity. That means that we just need to discover a Person behind the facades that we have built while we were living in prideful independence.

The question is, how do we discover who we really are?

My definition was formed through the last decade while pondering and re-reading a book by Andrew Murray titled "Humility" many times. I was convinced of one thing - pride is the enemy and humility is the friend of the Christian journey. But how to "get it" was the question. It soon became clear that this was the one thing I could not work for, nor claim or attain. If that was possible, any attainment would actually feed my pride and would be totally counter-productive.

The closest I could get to a path, was when the Holy Spirit led me to start praying for regular humbling and that was all I virtually did daily for about four years. My Father responded faithfully and answered my prayers. Regular humiliations parted the veil of pride on occasion and because I was asking for it, humiliations became an answer to prayer and not punishment or disaster. If pride is the veil that obscures God from my vision and experience as Andrew Murray concludes, then I cannot imagine a more effective tool to open the veil than humiliation.

As in the case of the war horse, this training is actually lifesaving. I just have to learn how not to react or run away or act out, especially when the explosions life throws at me become overwhelming. And for that I need to learn how to trust the one who is steering me safely through the threats.

The training through humiliations has been formational and I soon learnt that when the humiliation explosions are tools in my Father's hand, I am safe, for they never cause hurt but just bring encouragement.

And slowly I am learning to stay steady, to stand when I used to run, to wait until I know what to do before acting.

In my experience, every instance of humiliation - when God is involved, led to a small victory and never to condemnation. I learnt the difference early. In spite of that, it was a difficult experience, until I had had enough faith to recognise the hand of my Father. From then most humiliations became an answer to prayer and not a source of self-condemnation.

This scripture is probably one of the central themes of my own journey and it says it all: "Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus: who emptied Himself; taking the form of a servant; and humbled Himself; becoming obedient even unto death. Wherefore God also highly exalted Him." Phil. 2:5-9

I added some extracts from Andrew Murray's little book "Humility" that is widely touted as one of the best treatises on the subject ever written.[1]

"Humility is the only soil in which the graces root; the lack of humility is the sufficient explanation of every defect and failure. Humility is not so much a grace or virtue along with others; it is the root of all, because it alone takes the right attitude before God, and allows Him as God to do all."

"If you ask the question, “what really constitutes Him (the Christ), and specially of what may be counted His chief characteristic, the root and essence of all His character as our Redeemer?” There can be but one answer: it is His humility.

Christ is the humility of God embodied in human nature; the Eternal Love humbling itself, clothing itself in the garb of meekness and gentleness, to win and serve and save us."

"Jesus speaks frequently of His relation to the Father, of the motives by which He is guided, of His consciousness of the power and spirit in which He acts. Though the word humble does not occur, we shall nowhere in Scripture see so clearly wherein His humility consisted. We have already said that this grace is in truth nothing but that simple consent of the creature to let God be all, in virtue of which it surrenders itself to His working alone.

(John 5: 19) "I can of My own self do nothing; My judgment is just, because I seek not Mine own will" (John 5: 30) "I receive not glory from men" (John 5: 41) "I am come not to do Mine own will" (John 6:38) "My teaching is not Mine" (John 7:16) "I am not come of Myself" (John 7:28) "I do nothing of Myself" (John 8:28) "I have not come of Myself, but He sent Me" (John 8: 42). "I seek not Mine own glory" (John 8:50) "The words that I say, I speak not from Myself" (John 14: 10). "The word which ye hear is not Mine" (John 14: 24)."

"It was because this humility was not only a temporary sentiment, wakened up and brought into exercise when He thought of God, but the very spirit of His whole life, that Jesus was just as humble in His intercourse with men as with God.

He felt Himself the Servant of God for the men whom God made and loved; as a natural consequence, He counted Himself the Servant of men, that through Him God might do His work of love. He never for a moment thought of seeking His honour, or asserting His power to vindicate Himself. His whole spirit was that of a life yielded to God to work in."

"It is not a something which we bring to God, or He bestows; it is simply the sense of entire nothingness, which comes when we see how truly God is all, and in which we make way for God to be all. When the creature realizes that this is the true nobility, and consents to be with his will, his mind, and his affections, the form, the vessel in which the life and glory of God are to work and manifest themselves, he sees that humility is simply acknowledging the truth of his position as creature, and yielding to God His place."

"I am sure there are many Christians who will confess that their experience has been very much like my own in this, that we had long known the Lord without realizing that meekness and lowliness of heart are to be the distinguishing feature."

[1] Andrew Murray – Humility – The Fig Classic Series - September 2012

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Joe de Swardt
Joe de Swardt
Jan 20, 2022

Stephan, I love this. The humility bearing is without doubt the core posture. You rightly identify this as the critical soul place. The prayer that you prayed is probably the most, most scary prayer that can pass the lips of a human creature. I've prayed that in the past and now I've think that I'm simply too scared to pray this. Not a good thing. Your blog relighted some courage to reconsider this prayer.

The antithesis is the self-deception or pride-blindness. So, I have this blindness. And it is like a comfort blanket. Somehow self-delusion is very attractive. It is the fig-leaf that covers the last and most vulnerable nakedness. It has to go, but even a mere shrivelled stick…

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