Disciplines of the spirit, pt. 2: Self-humbling

Oct 7, 2018 5:59 PM

Old Man at Prayer
Rembrandt van Rijn

By the phrase disciplines of the spirit I am referring to a response to a given situation in life in which the believer must call upon the inner resources of his* faith in order to be obedient to God as a follower of Jesus Christ.

Being empowered by the Holy Spirit, the believer engages his mind, exercises his will, and check his emotions in order to see the will of God fulfilled in his life—both in the immediate situation and in the larger purpose of God in the advancement of his kingdom.

The word discipline by itself seems to connote some measure of unpleasantness, of having to make ourselves do something that we otherwise would not want to do. If we are going to be honest we must admit that this is not wrong. We do not have to exert our will to indulge in something pleasurable. But it is not the whole truth of the matter, or even the main thing. The primary purpose of a discipline is to learn, to acquire a knowledge or skill that we desire to master even if the process is difficult, tedious, even painful. So it is with disciplines of the spirit.

In yesterday’s post I identified four things that I regard as being disciplines of the spirit, disciplines that are exercised from the inside out. Today I will briefly define the first of them.

The first is the discipline of self-humbling. It is first in priority, and fundamental to all other disciplines. It is the essence of the first beatitude, to be poor in spirit, which is when we come to grips with our lowly status and acknowledge it to God, to others, and to ourselves. To such persons the kingdom of heaven belongs.

Many pious people pray for humility. If you do that, I recommend that you stop. It is an unscriptural prayer. There is neither command nor example in scripture of praying for humility. There are, however, numerous occasions in which God commands us to humble ourselves, describes the grace he shows to the humble, and warns of the judgment that comes to those who exalt themselves.  Here is one of them.

“‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” 1 Peter 5:5-6 (ESV) 

Self-humbling is when we respond to the command of God to humble ourselves so that he does not have to humble us. It is to set aside our pride when we think we ought to be exalted; to stand aside when others are lifted up who may not be as estimable as we are; to contribute to the success of others when others are not returning the favor. It is counter to what we naturally think and feel, but when we lower ourselves we are putting ourselves in a position where we can do service to others that honors God, and in turn be honored by God. It is God’s will and desire to honor us, to lift us up, to fill our lives with true significance, but he can only do that for the humble.

It is also, as we shall see, a prerequisite to all of the other disciplines of the spirit. Before we can forgive, before we can give thanks, before we can truly wait upon the Lord, we must humble ourselves. 

Our chief example is Jesus Christ, who not only modeled the behavior of humility (John 13:1-20), but whose very life and presence among us demonstrates the self-humbling attitude God requires of us all (Philippians 2:5-11)

Tomorrow: The Discipline of Forgiving

*The reader of course should understand that I am using the generic masculine pronoun because it is still incorrect to use the plural “their,”  tiresome to keep repeating he/she, and confusing to switch genders every other usage.