Most all of us encounter situations, circumstances and challenges that are simply beyond our human capacity to figure out.
Not long ago, I was asked by a friend to get engaged in helping to sort out some serious marital issues which had been plaguing this couple for some time. I do not present myself as a therapist, but I am willing to listen to people who have open hearts who will consider what wisdom God’s word may have for their situation.
After more than six months of meeting with the couple and each of them as individuals, I came to recognize that the complexity of their marriage issues was simply beyond my capacity to provide answers. (Now, it may be true that we were on a path of reconciliation that they were not willing to pursue, but the outcome was the same.)
That is just one of quite a number of situations that have come across my path in the last year or so. I’ve had an unusual number of profoundly difficult physical healing situations, several financial challenges that others have asked me to address and a few situations that have been stagnant or non-responsive to regular prayer bringing a near paralysis to the people involved.
I want to confess that I’ve been lamenting my inability to make progress in these situations. In the last couple of weeks, however, the Lord has begun to show me that He’s allowed these situations to come across my path to help me understand the nature of true humility in my own life.
Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount that: “The poor in spirit are happy, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:3) Being poor in spirit is not succumbing to regular self-criticism or condemnation or especially shame. Belittling or berating oneself in order to appear humble is not what God is talking about.
King David had overcome enormous challenges to ascend to the throne but part of the reason that he discovered victory was that he knew the secret of humility. “Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty. Neither do I concern myself with great matters, nor with things too profound for me.” Psalm 131:1 Apparently, David was able to impart this same quality to his son Solomon:
“Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.” 1 Kings 3:7
The Apostle Paul captures this same posture when he says
“By the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”
The fact of the matter is that our most honest and transformational prayer seems to occur when we are facing situations and tasks that are simply beyond our reach or, over our heads. The fact is that most of us pray more passionately and hear more clearly and trust more fully when the answer to our situation is beyond our reach.
In a conversation I had with one of our highly committed student ministry leaders I asked him to identify two or three things that every student must have if they are to become fully devoted disciples of Jesus. He mentioned the need to build a life of intimate relationship with the Lord and one or two other very insightful characteristics.
However, helping young people grasp a vision for their life that is simply not humanly possible, given what they know of themselves, is a wonderful gift. Such a vision fuels our prayer life and requires of us that we remain fully surrendered to the Lord so that He would undertake on our behalf.
This is why we often see Jesus challenging the disciples to do things that were simply beyond their reach. “You give them something to eat” when the disciples told Jesus that the 5,000 that were following Him and His teaching were hungry. “You speak to the storm” is what He said to them when they thought they were about to die in the raging waves and winds of the Sea of Galilee. “You heal the sick” in Matthew 10:8.
These and many other challenges were not given to the disciples for them to figure out how to solve them. They were given so that the disciples would come to a place of absolute trust and the cumulative understanding that nothing was impossible with God.
My posture has been shifting over these months to be less critical of myself when I encounter situations that are above my head and actually I’ve been cultivating a thankful response because I am beginning to understand more clearly how the Lord has allowed these things so that my humility, my total dependence upon God, will grow dramatically and as a consequence my potential effectiveness will continue to increase day by day.
These difficult and often times seemingly hopeless situations are allowed by God so that He might show His power and that we might engage every one of them with a posture of true humility. As intellectually unsatisfying as this may be, it is spiritually ground breaking. It’s yet another clear illustration of the paradox of the kingdom of God: where “the weak are strong, the poor are rich and the last are first.”