“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility…” (1 Peter 5:5, ESV).
There is liberty in forgetting oneself. This may seem like a contradiction to previous posts where I have talked about the vital importance of cherishing yourself. But it’s not. One of the mysteries in God teaches us that the more we gaze on Christ, the less focus we keep on the self. We become so consumed with Him that we grow past the stage of obsessive introspection.
At the same time, His love fills us in ever-increasing measure until it becomes uncontainable. As we overflow with the revelation of how deeply He cherishes us, our inner being responds in agreement. We cherish ourselves as He cherishes us. But all the while, He remains the center, the focus of our gaze.
I recently read a statement that resonated strongly with me. It simply expressed that one of the greatest marks of spiritual maturity is humility. Once we learn to wholly fixate on “those things which are above, where Christ is,”* then we gradually become what we are beholding. And He is “gentle and humble and heart.” So we become gentle and humble in heart. He becomes our magnificent obsession. Our own successes, failures, greatness, or baseness fade away as unimportant in the light of His stunning glory and grace. He becomes all, and in all.
Have you ever wondered why spiritual lows sometimes follow on the heels of spiritual highs? This truth about humility is the reason. Jesus wants to bring you and me into the full freedom of self-forgetfulness. This is what He was expressing to Paul in the following exchange He had with that great apostle:
“…even because of the extraordinary character of the revelations. Therefore, so that I would not become arrogant, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to trouble me—so that I would not become arrogant. I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me” (2 Cor. 12:7-9, NET).
When we go through extended times of spiritual affliction, we learn how helpless we really are. As painful as these times can be, they set us gloriously free. They empty us of ourselves, that we might be able to truly proclaim right along with Paul, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me!” We learn, down to the marrow of our bones, that we are as dependent as the beasts of the earth:
“You hide Your face, they are troubled; You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; and You renew the face of the earth” (Ps 104:29-30, NKJV).
When we absorb this knowledge into our very core – that we only live exuberantly as a gift from His loving hand – then we are truly free. Then, when He sends forth His Spirit to us and renews us, we understand in every fiber of our being that He is bestowing His goodness on us freely… not because we did a single tiny thing to earn it… but because He’s just that kind, just that munificent, just that extravagantly gracious.
At that point, we lose a false sense of awe at our own giftings and abilities. We come to recognize them as one more manifestation of His elaborate generosity. We become entirely unimpressed with ourselves and utterly overwhelmed by who He is.
The further and more closely we journey with Him, the deeper we will move into the revelation of His heart. As a result, we will assimilate His own humility more and more profoundly into the makeup of who we are becoming. With every step forward along this road, our spirit will be able to more personally, experientially, triumphantly proclaim, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom!”
What do you think? Is there a difference between self-deprecation and genuine humility?