The Tension of Humility

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Because Herod did not give the glory to God, an angel of the Lord immediately caused him to be sick, and he was eaten by worms and died.” Acts 12:23

That’s an awkward verse. Uncomfortable, and one you don’t often see replicated today. People complain about the lack of miracles, say we don’t see people risen from the dead like we used to. There don’t seem to be as many jailbreaks as in Peter’s time, but we also don’t see quite so much of the striking down.

I have never heard anyone tell a story like this one about Herod. I’ve not heard about people being eaten by maggots because they got arrogant and puffed up. And I’m quite sure it’s not because there aren’t arrogant and puffed up people in the church. I’ve not heard of God striking people dead because they kept their money from Him and lied about it, and again, I’m quite sure it goes on.

But there’s something about this story which grips me, challenges me. Something that makes me remember something I read just the other day, the words of a different King, one who was after God’s heart:

But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this?Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.” 1 Chronicles 29:14

Here’s a king who at the end of what could, without exaggeration, be described as a magnificent reign, knew where his magnificence came from. Here was a King who had slain giants, killed ten’s of thousands of men and brought Israel peace for the first time in years. Here was a man who was given glory by man long before he became king; who enjoyed the adulation of a modern day footballer. Here was a shepherd who had risen through the ranks with astonishing speed to become ruler of a nation. Yet here was a King who knew exactly who had enabled him to do that.

David knew that everything is a gift from God and walked in the humility of that. Not just finances, but health, success, talents, gifts, family, friends. He knew not to hold those things tightly. He knew he was a steward of them, not an owner.

There’s such a challenge there. We talk, sometimes, about how we hold our finances, about the importance of giving or tithing, but our family, friends, success? That’s hard. How do we feel about holding our health loosely, our talents loosely, even our gifts? How does that change how we feel about illness, failure and struggle?

And how do we find the balance when we do well? How do we celebrate success? Where is the line between pride and humility?

There are times when I know without a shadow of a doubt that the only reason I have succeeded is because God was with me, working in me and through me. Days when I felt I wasn’t well enough prepared and yet somehow gave a message that spoke to people’s hearts. I know that wasn’t me, I know I can’t do that, I know that somewhere God has taken what I have done as a sacrifice of some sort and turned it into something pleasing. I know it was Him.

But yet I am pleased. Pleased to be have been the bearer of the message, pleased that people liked it, liked me. Pleased that I’ll get asked again, encouraged that I can do it, that people believe in me.

I guess the line lies in knowing that it’s an honour. An honour to be in that position. An honour to have the words and the wisdom. It’s an honour to be asked and an honour to be used. A God-given privilege to be grateful for.

And I guess that goes for everything that we’re good at; cooking, parenting, hosting, organising, leading or serving. It’s wonderful to be appreciated, but let’s never forget who put us in that place in the first place. Let’s never forget who gave us the kitchen, the kids, the guests, the home or the talent.

God is so good to us. It says in the Bible that He will always give us what we ask for, but the truth is, He has given us so much already that we take for granted. Things we never even had to ask for, things we don’t even realise are gifts. It’s why our heart’s song needs to echo those words of King David and join with another great song writer, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”

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Confessions of a Fool

Confessions of a fool.

Foolish people are always fighting, but avoiding quarrels will bring you honour.”  Proverbs 20:3

I’m considering putting this verse on a plaque on the wall in my house. I have five teenage girls; quarrels seem inevitable whether they’re about who’s turn it is to empty the dishwasher, who has hidden the hair dryer or who wants to spend time with who.

Forget about honour, avoiding quarrels would bring me peace.

But this verse isn’t about me not having to put up with teenage spats and avoiding the headache of mediating between hormonal girls, this verse is about my quarrels, the fights I pick.

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I don’t like to think of myself as a fight picker. I have a whole different image in my head of who does that. In my head, my only issues are with people who pick fights with me, and leave me with no option but to deal with the situation they put me in.

But here’s the thing, and I can hear my mother’s voice ringing in my ears like an echo from the past, it takes two to quarrel.

The truth is, I’m not a fight picker, but I do choose to engage when someone brings the fight to me. I’m not and never will be a street brawler, but I can not stand injustice and when I perceive that someone is not being fair in a situation, I want to set them straight. Particularly if it’s about my children, my friends or me.

I want to rationalise with them, reason, make them see sense and even on the times when I realise that reasoning isn’t going to work, that this is a fight I can’t win, a person that doesn’t want to see the other side of the argument, I continue the thoughts in my head.

I think of all the things I want to say, I imagine how the conversation would go in my perfect world, construct brilliant arguments that no one could possibly fail to be won over by. If I’m not careful, I start obsessing about the things I think they might be saying to other people, the things they’re thinking about me, the things I do and the right I have to do them.

And as I allow these thoughts to ramble through my brain, they take over. They pop into my psyche with increasing frequency. I stop thinking about the things I should, I stop concentrating on what really matters. I become stalled in time and space quarrelling by myself with someone who doesn’t even know that I’m doing it.

I can’t imagine a better definition of foolishness.

When I think of it like this, it’s plain embarrassing. No matter how unfair the person is being, how unjust, I can’t control their thoughts. I think that is one of the things I find hardest in the world. I’m quite sure it qualifies me as a bona fide control freak, but it’s true. My inability to make other people see things the way I do, frustrates me more than almost anything else in the world, but here’s the thing I’m trying to learn:

I can only control me.

The only person I can change is me and my response to a situation. I may not pick fights but I do choose how to respond when someone brings them to me. I can choose to accept that someone doesn’t like me, I can even choose to accept that they are not being fair. I can choose to forgive them. I can choose to pray for them – not that God will appear in a cloud of glory and tell them I was right, but just pray for them, for their good, for their relationship with Him, for their peace, that I can love them better.

And I can leave the rest to God. I can choose not to rehearse the conversations that I would like to have. I can choose not to wonder what they are saying and thinking about me, I can choose not to fear how others are influenced by that.

I can choose to find my identity in who God says I am. Turn to Him for validation, read His Word to know what He says about me. As I choose to do that, I can grow in confidence and security to a place where it really doesn’t matter what someone else says, because I know who I am, because the bible tells me so.

I can choose, instead, to focus on the calling on my life, to grow in wisdom, to become more like the one I follow. I can concentrate on doing the things I should be doing – writing, talking, teaching people about Jesus, being a mum, a wife and a friend.

When I make those choices I don’t just find honour and peace, I find freedom.