Humility is one of those challenging things to teach, write, or speak about because anything said sounds exceedingly, shall we say, not humble? I’ve written rather sterilely about humility here, here, and here. However, looking back, the realization washes over me that I was writing theoretically from head knowledge rather than from practical experience. To be plain, I was pridefully writing about the importance of humility. Arrogance is an interesting component of the human experience. For example, there is a mythological, nearly universally held belief that arrogance is exclusive to the rich, the powerful, the famous, the intelligent, and the beautiful. This is not so, pride is not a respecter of persons, and it will happily trap the poor, the weak, the silly, the obscure, the ugly, and the witless.
Most alarmingly, pride initially creeps into a heart like undetected cancer, attacking the healthy cells and gradually gaining greater and greater control. Like cancer, many suffer from pride long before they realize it is even in their system. The longer pride has been allowed to fester without confrontation, the more intensive the treatment process becomes. Furthermore, the certainty of a complete recovery becomes less and less assured as pride silently attacks more vital areas of the soul. Early detection can mean the difference between spiritual destruction and deliverance.
Without being too personal, this past year (really longer) has been the most painful season of my entire life. Agonizing pain, absolute rejection, abject betrayal, and total disappointment leave an individual with a profound sense of powerlessness. The desperation that ensues leaves no room for pride. It’s almost as if God surgically removed every cancerous tumor of pride from my soul without warning or anesthesia. At first, I treated God like I treated my heart doctor as a child prepped for a fourth open-heart surgery. “Why are you hurting me?” I’d shout indignantly towards the heavens. God responded just like that doctor, “I’m trying to save your life, but the process is painful.”
There are two spiritual results of humility that we typically overlook. One, genuine humility produces desperation that encourages complete dependence upon God. Two, desperation and absolute dependence upon God set the stage for a freakish (almost nonsensical) level of faith that activates the miraculous. Oddly, humility and desperation are much closer cousins than we typically realize. And, humility and desperation are the foundation of almost every major miracle described in the Bible.
Recently, a respected friend enlightened my thinking regarding a perplexing faith enigma in the ministry of Elijah. The enigma is this: Why would Elijah have the faith to confront the prophets of Baal and call down fire from Heaven only to flee from Jezebel and sink into suicidal despair moments later? What changed? Why the drastic difference from one moment to the next? I believe there are two reasons, but I’ll only share one now, and I’ll save the second reason for another article. We tend to think of Elijah’s showdown on the mountain as an act of confident superhuman faith. But, I think the text and the context support the thesis that Elijah was acting out of an absolute dependence that gave him no choice but to completely put his faith in God. In other words, Elijah reached a place of such deep desperation that he realized God was going to do it or he was going to die praying for God to do it.
It is not paradoxical to say that faith and despair are tightly connected in the realm of the miraculous. God does not respect desperation without faith, but faith without desperation is rarely genuine faith. I know that it takes a minute to get your head around, but Scripture overwhelmingly supports this concept. Psychologically speaking, the connection between desperation and the miraculous makes a great deal of sense. We do things we would never otherwise do when we are dangling from the end of our rope, looking down at the jagged rocks below. When we have nothing left to lose and everything to gain, we become willing to do what God has been telling us to do all along. Tepid levels of faith resist the voice of God when it thinks it still has other valid “less crazy” options.
Scripture emphasizes how the woman with the issue of blood spent everything she had and tried all the “reasonable” avenues before desperately touching the hem of Jesus’ garment. Peter had nothing to lose when he stepped out onto the water. If Jesus didn’t intervene, he was likely going to die anyway. So, he stepped out onto the sea with desperation induced faith. When Moses stretched out that rod towards the Red Sea, he had no other choice but to trust God or die. Every leper that Jesus healed was already an outcast and freak in society, so they had nothing to lose by running to Jesus. What did blind Bartimaeus have to lose by ignoring the critics and screaming for Jesus to stop and have mercy upon his situation? He had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Three and a half years of drought. No revival or repentance. Elijah was lonely, righteously indignant, and bone tired. Those were the perfect ingredients for a freakish act of faith, like publicly calling down fire from the sky. Sometimes it takes a certain level of indifference towards the miracle. An attitude of almost spiritual recklessness that says, “Lord, I’m trusting you with the impossible, and if I end up looking foolish… who cares!”
Think of the humility it took for the three Hebrew boys to say, “God can save us from the fiery furnace, but even if He doesn’t, we will not bow to the king’s idol.” Almost every major act of faith comes down to the willingness to do something utterly crazy, believing that God can do anything, but inwardly determining that even if God doesn’t, you will still do the right thing. It’s nearly impossible to have that mindset until every drop of pride has been drained from your soul.
Freakish faith and desperate dilemmas are almost inseparable. You’ll likely never tell a mountain to move out of the way in Jesus’ name unless you are desperate beyond words to get to the other side. You won’t pick up your bed and walk until you stop caring what people think about you. You won’t let Jesus rub mud and spit in your blind eyes until your pride is dead. Prideful prayers don’t move God. Prideful praise offends God. But humble, desperate, freakish faith calls down fire and closes the mouths of lions. And just when everyone thinks your freakish faith has finally gotten you killed, you will answer from the pit like Daniel:
“…O king, live forever. My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt. Then was the king exceedingly glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God.”Daniel 6:21-23