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Mary and Joseph: What is Humility?

Reading: Matthew 1

Scripture

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” —which means, “God with us.”

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. Matthew 1:18-25 (NIV)

Observations

Joseph and Mary are such an inspirational couple. Having each received the most profound of revelations, and facing as a couple the certainty of public humiliation because of the circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy, they each responded with a humility that is breath-taking.

In effect, by accepting God’s will for their lives, they were also accepting the promise of both humiliation – for a time – and glory. The same went for Jesus himself, who would accept not just humiliation, but also death on a cross, knowing that glory was coming (and joy!) And yet I wonder, were they humiliated? Is it possible for the truly humble to be humiliated by others?

Application

There is something essentially different between humiliation and humility. Humiliation is a feeling, a feeling of shame and foolishness which comes when my pride and dignity is injured. The attitude of my heart determines how vulnerable I am to being humiliated, and perhaps also what is hidden in my heart. When I’m vulnerable, I open myself up to the possibility of being humiliated either by others, or simply as the result of my own actions. It might come as the result of being ‘exposed’.

Humility is not a feeling, but rather is an attitude of the heart. It comes from within, and is under the control of my will. As humility grows, pride diminishes, and I become less and less vulnerable to humiliation, which means that the way I feel about myself is no longer at the mercy of others. Instead, it is my core beliefs about what is true that set the tone for how I feel.

As a Christian I will feel less need to justify myself to others, because having God’s approval has become the most important thing. That may in fact define what humility is: The state of heart where I value the approval of God more highly than I value the approval of anyone else.

What strength of character humility brings! It enables me to endure much, and is the perfect partner for courage. In fact, I wonder if true courage may in its very essence be simply godly humility in action.

Prayer

Thank you Lord God for the inspiring humility of Mary and Joseph. Their courage and their willingness to obey you in everything is something that I want in my own life. Please help me to be humble and brave, and to follow their example. I offer myself to you and ask that you would create in me a heart that is pure and trusting, and that you would work humility in me for your glory.

You can find more great reading about Mary and Joseph in Luke 1-2 and Matthew 2, and about humility in Philippians 2:1-16 .

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thrown in the Deep End

Reading: Jeremiah 1

Scripture

“Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. Jeremiah 1:17-19

Observations

When young Jeremiah looked at himself in the mirror that evening, after having received the above calling from God, what did he see? A fortified city? An iron pillar? A bronze wall? I suspect that rather, he saw a stunned young man, one who was more than just a little afraid, and who would gladly have run away from this terrifying assignment.

But fortified cities don't run away. Iron pillars and bronze walls don't quietly sneak off to hide. And today, God had said it himself: “I have made you a fortified city…” It seems Jeremiah was given no choice, no chance to think about it, and no opportunity to wait until he was a bit older and wiser. It would be Jeremiah and God vs everyone else, starting now.

Application

God isn't afraid of throwing me in the deep end, because nothing is too deep for him. So long as he is with me, it doesn't matter if the whole world would seem to be against me. It doesn't matter how daunting the task before me seems. Nothing is daunting to God. If God appoints me, mine is simply to trust and obey.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

Prayer

Thank you for the opportunities that lie before me, Lord. I choose to trust you, and when the time comes that I find myself out of my depth (no doubt that feeling will come again!), help me to trust you then too, and to find my strength in you. I ask for wisdom to know your will, and that you would open my ears, so that like Jeremiah, I might hear your voice clearly.

 

Joy, Suffering and the Fragrance of Life

Reading: Philippians 1

Scripture

For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. Philippians 1:29 (NLT)

Observations

The “privilege of suffering.” The phrase could easily have been penned by poet Rupert Brooke who, during WW1, wrote idealistically of the 'glory of war'. But whereas Brooke died from infection en route to the battlefield before having faced a single day of active combat, Paul was certainly a man familiar with suffering, and even as he wrote was chained up in a Roman prison because of his faith.

Unlike Brooke, Paul doesn't speak of the 'glory' of suffering for Jesus, but rather the privilege of suffering. Elsewhere he speaks of “the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Phil 3:10), and Peter speaks of “participating in Christ's sufferings”. (1Peter 4:13)

But Paul does say that if we share in his sufferings, we will “also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17), and Peter says, “But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1Peter 4:13)

Paul even goes so far as to say that he wants to know the fellowship of sharing in Christ's sufferings! (Phil 3:10). He has reached such a level of trust in Jesus and love for him that his greatest, most heart-felt desire is that “Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:20-21)

Application

When Jesus suffered for me at the Cross, his work was complete. There is nothing left still to be done to put me right with God. He died on the Cross “as me”, and I now live forever under the favour of God, a “co-heir with Christ.” But until the day when God puts all things right, I can expect to encounter suffering for being a Christian. In a sense, I am suffering “as Christ”, as his ambassador.

Prayer

Jesus, thank you that you did not turn away from suffering, but instead you let love and obedience determine your path. For the joy set before you, you “endured the Cross, scorning its shame…” I also want to walk a path of love and obedience. Please grant me courage to be your ambassador, to share you with others, to carry your love and grace to the world in which I live.

Help me Lord to be bold without being obnoxious, and sensitive without being timid. Like you did, Jesus, help me to look beyond any suffering I might face to the joy that is before me, and even now to live in that joy as I serve you, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 (NIV)

See also, To Him Who Overcomes

 

Moments of Profound Learning

Reading: Mark 2-3

Scripture

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Mark 3:4-6 (NIV)

Observations

You can almost read the Pharisees' minds: “Hey, this guy isn't obeying the rules!” But how long had it been since they had pondered the purposes of God and understood his heart for the sabbath? Jesus asked them a rhetorical question, yet to offer the answer would be to admit that their own take on the rule book was missing the point. It could have been a moment of profound learning, but the humility required was absent. Instead, both parties became angry, Jesus at their stubborn hearts, and the Pharisees like dogs who had been backed into a corner. Jesus is described as being “deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts.”

Application

Is there any stubbornness in my heart? I would like to think not, but more likely the conditions that might provoke stubbornness are just not currently presenting themselves. It's easy to feel smug when times are good, but who knows how I might respond in a squeeze. What can I do now so that in the time of testing I will respond with humility instead of stubbornness?

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29

Prayer

Jesus, I want to be humble, and to find a place of peace away from the need to perform and be right, away from the need to cling to worthless principles instead of learning. Though I hesitate to ask, may I have moments of profound learning that I too may become gentle and humble in heart.

 

I Serve as a Free Man

Reading: Galatians 1-5

Scripture

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:13-14 (NIV)

Observations

We can live either under the law, in which case we must obey all of it, or live under grace, in which case we must follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. The intent of the law was that we learn to love God and love one another. Effectively, by following the Spirit, our lives will bear fruit that satisfy that intent, since “the fruit of the Spirit is love…”

It is for freedom that Christ set us free. (Galatians 5:1) It seems that freedom doesn't always come naturally to us. We are in danger of becoming slaves to the notion that we must earn God's favor. Obedience is still required, but to the promptings of the Holy Spirit our guide, our helper, our advocate. He brings forth the fruit in our lives.

Application

Yippee! I am free! Free to love unconditionally, free to serve others, free to be joyful and enjoy the benefits of living under God's favor. I plan to enjoy it! I don't have to worry about whether or not I will make the grade. Actually, I flunked and it doesn't matter a jot because Jesus sat the test for me and passed with flying colors.

Prayer

Thank you Lord for the freedom I have in Jesus to enjoy a relationship with you, free from guilt, and free from anxiety. Thank you for joy, and as I serve you, and serve those in my sphere of influence, I thank you that I serve as a free man.

 

Wake Up and Listen…

Reading: Isaiah 49-50

Scripture

The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught. The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back. Isaiah 50:4-6 (NIV)

Observations

This is a wonderful insight from Jesus talking in first person about the process of listening and obeying. Jesus is woken each morning not by his alarm clock but by the voice of his father calling him. His ear is awakened to listen. Day by day, in other words, every day begins by waiting on God and listening.

What is covered in this time of listening? Perhaps they're things I need to know concerning the day ahead. Perhaps things concerning the future, or my general calling. Perhaps a word that I can share to encourage someone else. Or maybe something that God really wants me to know.

But of greatest importance is how I respond to what I hear. Ultimately, I listen so that I can know, understand, and obey. As Jesus says, “I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back.” And when the rubber meets the road, how much easier is it to obey when I have actually spent time with God, heard his voice, and determined in my heart that I will trust him and obey.

Application

Aside from my normal quiet time, I need to set aside 5-10 minutes each morning, before anything else, to just listen to God. I can start as soon as I wake as I lay in my bed. Perhaps a short walk to escape distractions would help too. And like Daniel, spending a few minutes during the day would also be a great help.

Prayer

Help me Jesus to follow your example and become a dedicated listener. And father, I pray that just as you woke Jesus morning by morning, you would awaken me, and awaken my ears to hear your voice. Please speak, your servant is listening.

One great way to listen to God is to read the Bible and apply SOAP. You can learn more about this helpful technique here: What is SOAP?

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