Tripping over ourselves
The sparks that ignite personal influence aren't the product of quantum physics. It's not rocket surgery either. In the same way, that humility is the catalyst of our influence isn't the product of a recent archaeological find or theological proposition. Jesus provided some perspective when he told his followers, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). You see, self-denial is the first step of Christian discipleship. Humility isn't an add-on that eventually shapes the people he has chosen to influence the world. It is step one.
In reflecting on thirty-five years of pastoral leadership the rear-view mirror exposes with clarity many ups and down. The most severe valleys were the result of two specifics--- one, when I was getting a little two big for my own britches (as my grandmother often said), and two, those occasions when gifted, talented, and passionate spiritual leaders either squandered their opportunities to influence or missed them because of prideful arrogance or lack of a humble spirit. Observing the low profile of the church and evangelicals in culture today is at once an immediate flash back to people with all of the necessary equipment to alter things but without the gravitas to influence them. It is a sad commentary on the state of reality in the spiritual landscape of our nation.
The place of self in the greater scheme of things was a significant theme in the ministry and teaching of Jesus. When he wanted to graphically illustrate greatness in the kingdom he stood a child in front of the disciples and said, "Whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:4). In many references he held up servanthood as the ultimate model for spiritual leadership (see Matthew 23:11). Over and over he referenced his own servant spirit as their spiritual goal, God the Son portrayed in such humble and low ways. Two things are obvious in summarizing this affinity for and immovable teaching about personal humility. One, he knew his followers would always struggle with their natural bent for self-absorption. And, two, only with a humble, servant's heart could they ever change or influence their world. He wanted to teach them the way of humility. He said, "Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart" (Matthew 11:29).
That, of course, is the gateway to personal influence, the humble heart. This is true for several important reasons---
1. Humble people are the best representation of the mind of Christ.
The Apostle Paul wrote "But we have the mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16).
He further expressed this mind with precision in his letter to the Philippians.
He wrote, "Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with
God something to cling to, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant,
being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He
humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross.…"
(Philippians 2:6-8). The mind of Christ is one of humility.
2. Humble people are teachable.
As previously mentioned, Jesus said, "Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of
heart" (Matthew 11:29). He expected his followers to be life-long learners.
Humility reminds us constantly that we don't know everything, thus opening
our hearts to learning.
3. Humble people are motivated beyond personal reward.
The Apostle Paul often wrote of his lowly approach to influencing the people of
the New Testament era---"For I decided to know nothing among you except
Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). To the Philippians he added,
"That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his
sufferings, becoming like him in his death" (Philippians 3:10). He was no doubt
a spiritual giant in the New Testament landscape. But, he described himself as
"the least of these".
4. Humble people reflect the importance of others.
Again, from the writing of the Apostle Paul, "Do nothing from selfish ambition
or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves"
(Philippians 2:3). Humble people know they're not the entire package and that
they need others.
5. Humble people function best in community.
In his profound dissertation on spiritual gifts, Paul wrote about the mutuality
expected in kingdom service through the church, "Now you are the body of
Christ and individually members of it" (1 Corinthians 12:27). He prefaced that
word with, "so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members
may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the
members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice
with it" (1 Corinthians 12:25-26). Humble servants understand collaboration
and consensus and group process.
But, here we are, in 2016, and the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I seems to divide us into personally established factions that weaken our influence and distract from the centrality of Christ in our mission and message. Where is our humility? No, where is my humility? That may be the question of the hour.
There was a conference many of us attended years ago. The speaker boldly declared that to effectively influence the world around us we would have to eliminate any opposition that stood in the way of our mission. He then added, very profoundly, "Your prime opposition will be your own big head blocking your vision and your way forward."
Ouch. He was talking to me.
Influence is leveraged by personal humility. Without it, we'll just keep tripping over ourselves, hinder our impact on a world that needs him so desperately, and lower the beam of our shining influence in our little piece of his world.