When my grandmother passed away, I asked my family if I could play the piano for her funeral. I wanted to do it – it seemed like the one thing I could do for my Grandma. Yet I was nervous. I was afraid of making mistakes. My family worried that my emotions would overrun my ability. I had not had the time to practice that I wanted or needed. So the night before the funeral, I said to a group of my family, “Please pray for me. I’m just not sure how well I know my music.”
An uncle replied with a slogan I’ve never been comfortable with. “God helps those who help themselves.” In other words, you should have practiced more.
More recently, I was reading James 4 in preparation for a bible study. My uncle’s words clashed against v. 6: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Doesn’t that sound contradictory to “God helps those who help themselves?”
Proud people don’t need God. They can do it themselves. They want YOU to know how much they can do it on their own. In fact, proud people struggle with the temptation to develop a God-complex , that they don’t need God because they are powerful enough to figure life out on their own. Is it any wonder God opposes such an attitude? Humble people, on the other hand, are willing to admit they don’t have their act together. They are powerless to figure life out on their own. They are out of control, helpless, dependent.
This isn’t an admission of weakness. This doesn’t mean they haven’t tried. It’s more an admission that God is God and they are not. Their dependence on God starts way before they got to the end of their own human resources. Humble people admit from the beginning that they are not big enough for the job and they need God’s Holy Spirit to partner with them.
I like the way a church camp teacher defined Mt 5:3’s usage of the term “poor in spirit” as spiritually bankrupt. It’s the recognition that I know from the get-go I can’t be all God wants me to be on my own, that I need God’s favor even though I don’t deserve any of it.
The idea that God gives grace to the humble now makes more sense to me. If grace is getting what I don’t deserve, how can God possibly give grace to a proud person who thinks they deserve it because they’ve tried their durndest and now God owes them one? It doesn’t work.
Sometimes life has a way of slapping me in the face and making me realize just how inept I am. I reached this point several weeks ago. I was in charge of VBS music. I also was to lead the worship at our church the Sunday before VBS started. My plan was to present two VBS songs during the worship service and have my VBS praise team of four girls join me.
All kinds of problems ensued. The girls were squirrelly. We had trouble scheduling practices. I constantly struggled against my vision limitation in seeing the power point videos and my aging brain in memorizing the words and motions. I had not slept well for several nights and my husband and I had, as Mark Lowry calls it, several “moments of intense fellowship” the day before. On that Sunday morning, I rose feeling fragile and broken.
“I cannot do this,” I told the Lord. “There is nothing left in me. I am supposed to go to church, act happy and loving to everyone, lead these songs I don’t know well and create this atmosphere that leads people to Jesus. I cannot do it. If you want this done, You are going to have to do it. I need Your grace to do your work and I am the first one in line to admit I don’t deserve it one bit. But this work is for Your glory not mine. I don’t want to misrepresent you, Lord so I need your help. I REALLY need your help.” If God indeed does give grace to the humble, this was the moment He could show off just what that meant.
Guess what? He did. It was like He just took over. Words came to my weary brain I didn’t know were in there. Two mothers encouraged me to go practice with the girls one more time, one of the girls told me how she had been practicing at home AND teaching her little brother the songs (wow!), the perfect reading I needed to transition into the Communion time came to my mind an hour before the service began – everything just clicked.
Many people commented afterwards how well the service went, especially about how well my team of girls did. There was so much talk that I didn’t get much of a chance to slip in who was instrumental in putting together such an awesome service. When I finally did get a word in edgewise and tell one person that it was totally God because I was in no shape that morning to make any sense to anyone, she just stared at me.
That’s ok. God gives grace to the humble. He fills in our brokeness with the salve of His compassion. Or, as Patsy Clairmont once said, He shines through cracked pots.
You know, that’s actually a smart idea. When God, in His mercy and compassion, shines through the cracks of my life, people notice the light and not the cracks. That’s the way it ought to be.
Allowing Him to shine through my brokeness – that takes humility.