Monday, March 30, 2009

Humility - Or how I got over myself and learned to love the youth group

Some days, I wonder why people in my church encouraged me to become a youth leader. I didn’t want to do it at first. After praying about it, though, I felt that God wanted me to take this responsibility. For my first few months on the team, I felt horrendously uncomfortable. I thought, “don’t these people realize I might corrupt their children?” One of the kids came to church wearing a Slipknot hoodie and I made him a mix of Darkest Hour songs because they’re a better band. It didn’t occur to me until later that his mom might not be cool with me giving him that sort of music. Then again, she might think nothing of it. The point is, I don’t know how I’m supposed to behave around people ages 12-18.

Two weeks ago, I led my first discussion at a youth meeting. The topic of the day was humility. “Am I really qualified to lead this discussion?” I thought. “Because I think I’m pretty awesome and that seems to disqualify me outright.” As I prepared my questions for the night, I asked God for help. “I don’t know what to say to them about humility. It’s something we’re told to do but nobody defines how to be humble. Like, is it really only the absence of pride?”

Thankfully, God answered.

Humility first begins with understanding our proper place in creation. God is the ultimate, perfect, and self-sufficient being. We are His creation, given dignity because we are made in His image. Even though He gave man authority in nature (Gen. 1:28-30), man’s authority still came from and was accountable to God. We can see this in how He set boundaries of right and wrong for man. In every covenant that God made with man, God set the terms without negotiation. I’ve told people that the true sin of Adam and Eve came from the lie that they might be “like God” (Gen. 3:5). They wanted to define good and evil for themselves, to have a say in what God determined. The world has suffered the consequences ever since.

As a child, I often thought about the paradox that pride was sin and yet parents could still be proud of their children. Pride was wrong, but I could still take pride in doing well in school. In order to stop thinking about it, I started to compartmentalize good pride from bad pride, mixing the black and white together in a comfortable grey. Without knowing it, my elementary mind had begun to accept Hegelian synthesis as a reasonable answer. It may have given me an excuse to stop defining my terms, but it also left me with undefined words. Pride and humility had no true meaning except what I declared based on my perception. The only reason I didn’t see my attitude as relativistic was because other people often agreed with my standards.

But that Sunday night before the youth meeting, God pointed me to a teaching by Terry Virgo. In the final section of a four part series, Virgo talked about false humility. Exodus 2:11-14 tells the first story of Moses as an adult. “Now it came about in those days, when Moses had grown up, that he went out to his brethren and looked on their hard labors; and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. So he looked this way and that, and when he saw there was no one around, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. He went out the next day, and behold, two Hebrews were fighting with each other; and he said to the offender, ‘Why are you striking your companion?’ But he said, ‘Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?’ Then Moses was afraid and said, ‘Surely the matter has become known.’”

Think about this. Moses was a prince of Egypt, a powerful nation who considered its pharaoh as a god. It’s possible that Moses went down among the Hebrews because he wanted to identify with his own people. But to do that, he may have gone undercover. Why else would the one Hebrew say, “Who made you a prince or a judge over us?” If Moses came in his royal clothes, obviously a prince of Egypt, this question would make no sense coming from a slave. When he killed the Egyptian, it seems Moses wanted to act as a protector or deliverer for his people. But again, the question of “Who made you…” implies a kind of contempt. As if to say, “Some hero you are. You’re just a killer.”

Pharaoh learns of the murder and seeks to kill Moses, but Moses runs away to the land of Midian and becomes a shepherd. Children were shepherds. That’s like a man opening a lemonade stand for forty years. Then one day, Moses sees a bush in flames. That’s not so strange, considering the desert sun sometimes causes dry plants to burn. But these flames didn’t consume the bush. After forty years of drudgery, you’d pay attention to little things like that. Of course, as the story goes, God speaks to Moses and tells him in Exodus 3:10, “Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.”

Hey Moses! You wanted to be a hero to your people. Now’s your chance. But Moses says, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” This response echoes what the slave told Moses before he fled Egypt. “Who do you think you are?” It seems that Moses has answered with, “Nobody.” Moses spends so much time telling God that he’s the wrong man for the job he forgets that God is offering the fulfillment of the dream. He also misses the part in Exodus 3:8 where God says, “I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians”. God’s doing the work, Moses only has to go and send the message. Instead, Moses protests and God gets pissed.

At first glance, it may seem that Moses displayed humility in his question, “Who am I?” But Virgo points out that this humility was a cover for disobedience. In many ways, it sounds like the lie Adam and Eve bought in Eden. What Moses really meant was, “I know better, God. I can determine between right and wrong just like you and I say you’ve got the wrong guy. I don’t want to do this.” Moses didn’t properly recognize God’s supremacy and his own place in creation. False humility is really a passive aggressive pride. It’s sin.

Now let’s look at Jesus. You may see some parallels with the story of Moses. God the son came down to earth and became human to act as our deliverer. Like the quarrelsome slave, most people didn’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah and treated him with contempt. But when God told Jesus to go to the cross and offer salvation to those enslaved in sin, He went in obedience. Of course it was agonizing. Of course it was humiliating. But then Jesus got up. As one writer put it, “He arose victorious”. God won and got the glory.

This leads me to believe that true humility comes out of obedience, where we recognize God’s authority and submit to it. That doesn’t mean we reject God’s pleasure in us, or like Moses try to diminish our calling. We can be proud when it comes to doing what God wants. Sometimes dad lets us hold the flashlight while he works on the car. Even though he’s doing all the work, don’t you feel awesome having taken part in the job?

So maybe I shouldn’t worry about my “qualifications” as a youth leader. Maybe I should be happy that I’m doing what God wants and trust that He picked the right man. It sure makes Sunday night more fun when I’m not so self-focused.


Josefin said...

I really like your blog.

I found it quoted in Shane Claiborne's The Irresistible Revolution". Google tells me it's originally in Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard, p. 201.

Josefin said...

Haha, there's always google translate. If you don't enjoy the challenge, that is. I did write in English for a short while but my grandmother got upset so I went back to Swedish.

If you'd like to keep this conversation going, my email address is