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Cultivating Humility

Written by Mark Vroegop on

Desperate moments humble us.

They help us come face-to-face with our limitations. But something surprising and helpful can also happen. As we experience the painful but hopeful promise of submitting to God’s will, desperate moments can open our eyes to the value of cultivating humility – even after the storm of suffering has passed.

First Peter 5:6-11 is a signature text related to humility. The passage is in the context of an extended discussion on suffering and how believers can embrace their position as exiles in the world.

6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:6–11)

It is telling that Peter would call those who are suffering and those who are fearful to a lifestyle marked by humility. He does this for two reasons:

1. Suffering exposes our vulnerability

It has a way of revealing our self-sufficiency. I’m sure you have discovered this at some level. You “knew” you were dependent upon God’s grace; however, suffering makes dependence very clear.

2. Humility is how you persevere in suffering

As we learn to depend more and more on God’s help, humility is not only a discovery in suffering; it becomes the way through it.

If we’re honest, self-sufficiency tends to be our default position in life for all the wrong reasons. But for the Christian, what would happen if humility were the normal mindset?

Defining Humility

The challenge is that humility is a familiar word, and I’m sure that you would generally agree that humility is a good thing. Do you know what it means to be humble? Some of you will immediately go to a place where you are self-deprecating, where you never receive a compliment or a gift, or where you despise yourself. That’s a misapplication of the concept.

The word means something more closely connected to attitude. It means “to make the heart small.”[1] The sense is not that one falsely creates a condition or mindset that is inaccurate. Rather, the idea is one of re-leveling or bringing something into alignment or into reality of what is actually true.

When Peter says “humble yourselves,” he immediately connects it to the mighty hand of God. So humility, in this context, is seeing ourselves in comparison to God. It means seeing myself in light of who God is, what He’s like, and what He’s done.

Practicing Humility

Cultivating humility, therefore, starts by living under the banner that exaltation only comes from God. It is believing that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. When we are proud, self-sufficient people, we make the tragic mistake of living as if this isn’t true. But we practice humility by getting the greatness of God firmly embedded in our hearts. And then we need to rehearse it over and over.

Humility starts when a person receives the gospel. The miracle of what happens to us through Christ is that God so captivates us with His grace that we see everything differently. We see Him as supreme, not us. We see His plan as perfect, not ours. We believe His power can make a difference, not ours. We believe He’s worthy of glory, not us.

You become a Christian by God giving you a forgiveness that you could not earn, did not deserve, and could not achieve on your own. Christianity starts by humbling us, and it doesn’t stop there. It changes how we see everything, especially ourselves. Tim Keller, in his book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, gives us this helpful summary:

True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings . . . A truly gospel-humble person is not a self-hating person or a self-loving person, but a gospel-humble person.[2]

But we also practice humility through intentional prayer. We are told to “cast our cares on him” (v. 7). The word “casting” is a participle which means it is connected to humility. “Casting” is how you humble yourself under God’s might hand. Rather than trying to make it on your own and in order to be humble, you have to cast your cares on him.

Humility is central to the gospel and a life of desperation. The gospel so transforms us that we can celebrate our weakness, our dependency, and our need. A gospel-loving heart so loves the glory of God that being desperate is actually a good thing. Therefore, we can actually cultivate a dependent heart.

We can choose to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. We can cast our cares on him because he cares for us.

And in so doing, we cultivate humility.

[1] Keller, Timothy. The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness (Kindle Locations 241-242). 10Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[2]  Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 747–748.

Mark Vroegop

Mark was called as the Lead Pastor of College Park in 2008. In this integral role, he is the primary teaching pastor for the North Indy congregation, and he works alongside the pastors and elders to implement our mission of igniting a passion to follow Jesus. He is a graduate of Cedarville University and Grand Rapids Theological Seminary (M. Div.). Mark approaches ministry with a unique blend of passion for Jesus, a love for the Word, and a desire to see lives changed. He is a conference speaker, Council Member of The Gospel Coalition, contributor to 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me, and author of Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament and Weep With Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation. Prior to serving at College Park, Mark served at a church in western Michigan for 13 years. He married his wife, Sarah, in 1993, and they have four children, as well as a daughter in heaven due to an unexpected still-birth in 2004.
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