Two years ago I went to a great conference. There were a few speakers and each one seemed to thread the theme of humility into their talks – in different ways. After a bit of stammering, I surrendered my thoughts a bit and started to realize that in some areas of my life I lacked humility and teach-ability. I also recognized that I had gone to such great lengths to avoid accepting this truth because it was not an easy thing to discover about myself. Then I had a picture in my head of being like the Pharisees who Jesus referred to as “cleaning the outside of the cup” but paying no attention to the inside. Just when I was about to try and come up with some happy thoughts I instead found myself asking God to help me understand it better. Then John Maxwell spoke and shared a story that really touched me.
Many know of him as a world-renown expert, writer and speaker on leadership. He is also a teaching pastor at a large church. He described a time (in recent years) when he made a leadership decision that was challenged by several people in his congregation. As he was preparing his sermon one week, he decided he needed to give a message to them about humility. His intent was to convict them and show them he was right. After all, he was an expert on leadership. As he reviewed the sermon over and over he felt more and more justified in his position and he was excited to give the sermon. He even decided to practice on his wife and show her the great words he had created. His wife listened, and when he was done she asked if he really felt that was the kind of message he should give to his congregation. After taking some time to pray, John felt God was saying that the sermon was meant for him…not for his congregation. He re-read his words a few times and the truth began to set in. He read it as a message God was giving him and was overcome with humility. He realized he was wrong in not taking the time to listen to people, and he realized he had pride in his heart. He decided to give the sermon to his congregation that Sunday, but he told them the message was for him. Afterward he cried and asked for their forgiveness, and asked them to pray for him.
John also pointed out that as a leader he had to wrestle with the question: can I lead myself? While we are not all “leaders”, I think we all have to wrestle with a similar question: are willing to do what we expect of others? – as parents, workers, spouses, family members, friends…oh, so I guess pretty much every one of us has someone in our lives we influence.
Recently I’ve been reading small chunks at a time of A.W. Tozer’s “The Root of the Righteous”. That guy didn’t sugar-coat anything – phew! But I’ve been challenged by the premise of his book, which (using the analogy of a fruit-bearing tree) describes the danger in only seeking the outcome others have achieved (the fruit in their lives) without learning from the character-building struggles they chose to endure (developing roots). Here is a quote: “Today we write the biographies of such as these and celebrate their fruit, but the tendency is to ignore the root out of which the fruit sprang. Our fathers looked well to the root of the tree and were willing to wait with patience for the fruit to appear. We demand the fruit immediately even though the root may be weak and knobby or missing altogether. Impatient Christians today explain away the simple beliefs of the saints of other days and smile off their serious-minded approach to God and sacred things.”
This is hard-hitting stuff, but I guess it’s not supposed to be easy when you look at it this way. In my zeal to develop more character in my life – woo hoo – it didn’t take long to feel discouraged. How do you change a lifetime of self-centeredness? Well you don’t. It’s only in seeking a relationship with Him – developing roots – that you even start to have a consistent desire. Only He can even give you the “want to” to change. Then it’s one step, one choice at a time. Sometimes it means failure. But you shove that root back into the ground…and you do what it takes to keep it there. You wrestle with God about it. You do what it takes. Instead of picking up the bag of oreos (and who would EVER eat a whole bag at one time??), the drink, or turning to whatever else is your escape….you decide to do business with God. Of course it’s not easy. It means doing it over and over. It means choosing something different than what you have chosen before…and all for fruit that make take years to see.
But what do I really want? And will I waste more years posturing and cleaning the outside of the cup while the inside is filled with nasty coffee stains? No! I root myself in Him and the inside becomes like a new stainless steel mug all on its own.
Jeremiah 17:8: They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.
© Kristin Gordley and Moments In The Story, October 2012.