"Be humble." Go ahead: On your mark, get set, go be humble. What? You're not concentrating; try harder! Make like a Stanislovsky actor and dredge up feelings of self-deprecation. Shoot for that low opinion of your talents that you're sure is the essence of humility. You may not get there, but the devil will be pleased enough by all the time you've spent thinking of yourself. Or you may indeed arrive at humility, and notice it-which saddles you with another problem: pride in your humility.
I recall only one moment of true humility in my life. A friend had come to see my newborn daughter 26 years ago, and I exclaimed, uncharacteristically, "Isn't she beautiful!" My friend replied with a polite chuckle something to the effect that I was humility-challenged. I can tell you, brothers, that it was years before I ever breathed another word of praise about a child of mine. The odd thing though-and the thing my visitor could not have known-is that she had caught me in a rare instance of total self-forgetfulness. Never have I been so free from pride or fear of man as in that exclamation. It was all God and wonder and nothing else.
My choice to marry was different. I married an Asian man, which prompted a friend to ask years later: "Were you thinking you were tough enough to take on the challenge of 2,000 years of Eastern Confucian treatment of women?" She was right except that it was not toughness but humility that I thought I possessed in quantities surpassing others of my gender. I was going to out-Korean the Korean women. I made lavish promises that now call to mind the effusiveness of Israel on the banks of Canaan: "Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods!" Joshua, more sober, replied, "You are not able to serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:16,19).
Who ever became humble by being told to? More likely he was stunned by a series of reality checks. He arrived at the banquet and grabbed the best seat at the table and was summarily told by the lord of the banquet to slide down a few chairs because a person more distinguished had walked in (Luke 14:7-11).
Would you be free of the roller-coaster ride of a life of serial humiliations? Then assess yourself accurately. Humility is acknowledging reality, nothing more or less. And here are some realities: Everyone is smart at some things and stupid at some things. The Lord has apportioned gifts so that no one has all of them. Your opponent with the opposite millennial view has valid points that you should listen to because the Spirit lives in him, too. The difference in knowledge between you and your brother-as compared to God's knowledge-is like the difference between two boys on the Jersey shore boasting about who can throw a rock the closest to England.
A former president of Westminster Seminary during a faculty meeting asked the meaning of a word he didn't know. After the meeting a professor asked him how he had admitted that bit of ignorance. The president replied thus: He had written his Ph.D. on the Olivet Discourse. By the time he was done, he supposed that he knew as much on the subject as any man alive. But he also realized that compared to what there is to know, he knew nothing. Since then, he was never unduly intimidated by knowledgeable people.
The apostle Paul makes us blush. He says unseemly things like, "You yourselves know how I lived among you . . . , serving the Lord with all humility" (Acts 20:18-19). Either he is proud or he is eminently realistic: "What do you have that you did not receive?" (1 Corinthians 4:7). So devoid of illusions is he, so free from prejudice, even toward himself, that he can speak of his own humility without a hint of awkwardness. Nor is King David embarrassed to call himself great-because he is straight on the Source of it: "Your gentleness made me great" (2 Samuel 22:36). The eye fixed on Christ sees clearly, succumbing to neither pride nor inferiority, because it is not concerned with the self at all.
Humility. No need to foist a fiction on yourself: I am the chief of sinners. I am a daughter of the King.