DAY 1 – James 4:1–10
The book of James is, in some ways, the Proverbs of the New Testament. In this letter, James provides 12 short teachings that summarize the teachings of Jesus using a style similar to Proverbs. His purpose is not to provide new theological teachings, but rather to challenge us to live out the teachings of Jesus.
In our reading today, James applies one of the most important biblical themes, humility, to the way in which we treat one another. According to the Bible, human pride is at the root of most of our problems. It was part of the sin that lead to the fall of humanity. Humanity's path to redemption begins with humility. Jesus humbled Himself in order to reach us and save us. And we must respond by humbly receiving the salvation He offers.
In this short teaching, James points out that most human conflict is the result of us wanting to get our own way. The desire to get our own way is so strong and shows up in the way we treat people with our words and actions. We quarrel, we fight and in the extreme even commit murder, as we seek to get our way. In trying to get our own way we repeat the sin in the garden as we reach for and grasp for ourselves what is pleasing to our own eyes. This is the way of the world. And if we would rather adopt the way of the world then we make ourselves enemies to God's way of living.
In contrast, the Bible tells us the proper posture is to trust God to provide us all good things. Trusting is better than taking. Trust leads to patience. Trust teaches us to receive from God and to wait for His timing. James then quotes Proverbs 3:34, "God opposed the proud, but gives grace to the humble."
REFLECT / PRAY
- Is there an area in your life where you are not getting your way and it is causing conflict or strife in your relationships? What might it look like to humble yourself before God in this area?
DAY 2 – Philippians 2:1–14
Paul's letter to the Philippian church has some great and memorable one liners. "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." "To live is Christ to die is gain." "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." This letter is structured as a series of short essays, each encouraging us to live transformed lives so that as a community of christians we will be "shining stars" is a world of darkness. The entire letter revolves around an amazing poem in 2:6–11 that tells the story of Jesus's incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension.
And this poem expresses how everything about Jesus's incarnation, life and death were done in complete humility before God. Therefore, God exalted Jesus in His resurrection and ascension. Jesus humbled Himself and let God make Him in the form of a man. Then Jesus humbled Himself further and surrendered His life to let God use Him in life. Then Jesus humbled Himself further and sacrificed His life on the cross for God's purpose to save humanity. In response, God exalted Him by resurrecting Him in a glorified body. God exalted Jesus to heaven and gave Him all authority in heaven and earth.
Everything about Jesus is a beautiful example of true humility. His birth, His attitude, His words, His actions, His interactions with people, His trust in God, His prayers, the way He faced hardship and opposition and His own death; everything was done with genuine humility. Even though He was a king greater than all kings, the king of the universe, the Son of God, He acted nothing like the kings of this world. He did not come in pomp and circumstance, He did not show off or try to make a name for Himself, He cared for those the world ignored, He treated everyone, even the lowliest, with dignity and love, He was silent before His false accusers, He forgave those who betrayed Him and those who mocked and despised Him. This post will not be long enough to list every example! And because of His humility and faith and obedience, God has given Jesus all the nations as His inheritance.
In this letter to the Philippians, Paul says that we, as Jesus's followers, are to share in the same attitude of humility that Jesus has. And Paul emphasizes that Jesus's humility is most evident in the attitude He displayed when life was difficult and He faced hardship and suffering. As humans, we are even more likely to think of ourselves rather than others when life is hard. We are far more likely to complain, compete with one another, create conflict and to hoard resources for ourselves rather than be kind and generous and share with others.
How do we develop humility? Here is what Jesus says to His disciples in Matthew 11:29 "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." We learn humility from the truly humble One. Jesus promises to teach us. He even teaches us with humility and gentleness. We learn from Him by coming to Him, through prayer, through meditation on His words and examples, and we learn by putting His teachings into practice in our life as we face opportunities each and every day.
REFLECT / PRAY
- Compare what Paul says about Jesus in 2:5–11 with Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. Why did Adam and Eve grasp for equality with God and what was the result? Why did Jesus refuse to exploit His equality with God and what was the result?
- What are some specific ways that Paul encourages us to share Jesus's attitude of humility?
- Is there an area of your life that does not share in Jesus's humility? What might it look like to share in His attitude in this area?
DAY 3 – Psalm 37
"Blessed are the humble for they shall inherit the land." – Jesus (In His opening for the Sermon on the Mount)
This famous line from Jesus's most famous sermon is actually a quote from Psalm 37. This is a go-to psalm when things seem upside down. Do not get vexed when the wicked prosper and succeed. Keep trusting in God and doing what is right. God will fill your heart with joy and in the end He will turn the world right side up and you will enjoy a great inheritance while those who refuse to trust Him will no longer be found. The Good News is that this great reversal has already started with Jesus in unexpected ways.
I love the worship song "King of My Heart." The lyrics are simple and biblical. And the melody draws me in. My favorite line of the song is "You're never gonna let me down." It is the hardest line to sing. Every time I sing it, I think, "Really? You're never gonna let me down?" I'm pretty sure I have felt let down by God on several occasions. I can think of times when God has not done what I hoped He would do. I can think of lots of times God has not worked in the timing I had hoped. I have felt disappointed more than once when life is hard or tragedy strikes.
Yet this line that is so hard to sing is also true! It is absolutely true. It is amazingly true. It is over the top, take it to the bank, true. Every time I sing it, I want to either shout with joy or cry with gratitude. How can this be? Welcome to the beautiful tension of trusting God in the midst of a dangerous world. The biblical authors never shy away from this tension.
David says in verse 25 of Psalm 37 "I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread." It is the kind of statement Job's friends would say and precisely the kind of statement the book of Job is designed to question. Although Job was righteous and blameless, he endured great suffering for no fault of his own. It forced Job to question his over simplistic theology that good things always happen to good people and bad things only happen to bad people. By the end of the story, Job has humbled himself before God and confessed that his accusations were the rantings of a man who had no idea what he was talking about. And God restored to Job double. Notice how the story ends. Job humbles himself before God and God exalts him.
Seven times this psalm promises an inheritance of land. Inheritance is something that is received from another as a gift. Land was incredibly important to the biblical authors. It represented the blessings of covenant faithfulness. And while there is a literal fulfillment in which the earth will be given to the humble, there is also a metaphorical fulfillment in which you can receive the kingdom and dwell in the presence of the Lord now.
This psalm contains 7 promises that there is a group who will receive an inheritance of blessings from God as a gift. Who inherits this gift? It is not the powerful nor the wealthy nor those with political power. It is not the wicked nor the proud. Those who inherit the blessings of God are the humble, those who wait and trust in the Lord, those who depart from evil and do good, those who delight in Him and commit their ways to Him.
Most translate this psalm starting with "Do not fret..." However, the Hebrew word actually means to get hot, to burn, to kindle and is usually translated as anger or fury. In other words, do not get worked up or boiling mad when the world is upside down and you feel like you are on the bottom. God will never let you down. Therefore, keep doing what is right in His eyes. For the humble will inherit the land of God's Presence and blessing.
REFLECT / PRAY
- This whole psalm is infused with language of God giving...giving an inheritance, land, prosperity, abundance, salvation and a posterity. Read through the psalm slowly, paying attention to the kind of people God delights in giving an inheritance. Now read verse 4. What might it look like for God to give us the desires of our heart?
DAY 4 – Ecclesiastes 1:1–17; Matthew 4:1–11
"It’s the only cloud in the sky and it’s drizzling, right on me. Somehow, I’m not surprised." – Eeyore
For me, reading Ecclesiastes is like listening to Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh – it feels like a big wet blanket "Vanities of vanities" says the preacher in Ecclesiastes. Other translations have "meaningless, meaningless." The Hebrew word is "hevel" and it means vapor or smoke. The author of Ecclesiastes uses "hevel" 40 times! He uses this metaphor, I think, to convey two ideas about life. Life is short. It is here and then it is gone – like a vapor. Also, the meaning of life can be hard to grasp – just as smoke is. You can see it, but as soon as you try to grasp it, you can't. I think a better translation than vanity or meaningless is enigma or mystery. The meaning of life can be an enigma – just when you think you have it figured out, you realize you don't.
Ecclesiastes is part of the wisdom literature of the Bible and it challenges a simplistic interpretation of Proverbs. Proverbs says to honor God and do what is right and life will go well for you. Ecclesiastes says, "That may be true, but is it always true? Because I see examples where that does not happen." In Ecclesiastes 8:14, the preacher says "there are righteous men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked. On the other hand, there are evil men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous." He goes on to say this is an enigma – it makes no sense to him.
The preacher's other favorite phrase is "under the sun." I think it is his way of referring to life in this broken world which is compromised by evil and sin. This book forces us to think through what exactly are God's promises to us "under the sun," or in this broken world. It is a great temptation to think that the purpose of following Jesus is so that He will fix all my problems and make all my dreams come true. The problem with this myth is that it turns the Gospel upside down.
The gospel properly understood is the Good News that God is working to redeem this world and He is inviting me to play a role in His story – a story that climaxes in the cross and the resurrection of Jesus. We often flip this and think the Good News is that God is being invited down to my story to make sure that my story works out well and in the manner that I want.
The genius of Ecclesiastes is that it leaves us in a position of humility. What do I do when life does not make sense to me. Am I angry with God, blaming Him for not meeting my expectations? Will I presume that life has no meaning just because I cannot figure out what it is? Or will I trust God that my life has great meaning even if I'm cannot recognize it in the moment? Will I trust Him that my choices and my actions matter, that doing what is right in His eyes matters even when life does not turn out the way I hoped?
The book of Numbers is a fascinating story of how the people of Israel responded to hardship in their wilderness journey. They refuse to trust in the character of God when their journey gets hard. Rather than remain in the place of humility, trusting God's purposes, they repeatedly insist that God meet their expectations, and when He does not, they complain, get angry, and rebel against God and His chosen leaders. The first time I read through this story I thought, "what is wrong with these people? Why are they so stubborn and why can't they just trust God?" Later, after continuing on my own journey, I realized this book was meant as a mirror so I could see myself in their story.
Matthew 4 has a very important story of how Jesus faced hard times. After His baptism the Spirit immediately led Jesus into the wilderness where He had no food or water for 40 days. During this time of hardship, the devil came and tempted Him. "Why are you starving if you are the Son of God? That makes no sense. Take matters into your own hand and turn these stones into bread so you can eat." Jesus remains in the place of humility, saying something to effect of, "That is not how it's going to work. I'm going to starve you, devil, of the doubts about whether God will provide food for me. I would rather do His will than presume He will do my will."
It really is a very profound story which culminates in His great prayer of surrender, "not my will, but your will be done," the night before His crucifixion.
REFLECT / PRAY
- In Romans 8:17 Pauls says that if we share in the sufferings of Christ, we will also share in the glory of Christ. How is this related to the idea that God exalts the humble?
- Think about your own responses to hardship or suffering. Are you currently facing any difficulties in this season? What might staying in the place of humility look like for you?
DAY 5 – 1 Genesis 32
"Never trust a man without a limp" – John Wimber
"Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real." - Thomas Merton
Check out this devotional on Jacob wrestling with God from The Bible Project.
DAY 6 – 1 Corinthians 13
"You may know God, but not comprehend Him." – Richard Baxter
"Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less." – Rick Warren
"True humility isn’t about acknowledging what we lack, but acknowledging God’s ability to do more" - Lisa Harper
We often talk about knowing God, but have you ever paused to think about God knowing you. When writing to the Galatians Paul talks about coming to know God and then stops mid sentence and says, excuse me, rather to be known by God (Galatians 4:9). This is a very powerful concept. Although we can know God, we do not know Him that well. However, He knows us completely. Think about a parent-child relationship. A child knows their parent, but not completely. There is much about their parents that a child does not know. However, a parent generally knows their child very well. And in may ways, a child's confidence comes not just by knowing their parents, but by being known and loved by them.
That we cannot fully know God, yet He fully knows us should instill both humility and confidence in us. That we are finite creatures with limited ability and knowledge should produce a deep humility. We cannot understand everything nor can we control everything. We are limited and we are dependent on God. However, the all knowing, all powerful God knows you completely and He loves you deeply. You don't have to figure everything out for you have someone who is looking out for you. Your identity is secure in Him. This should produce towering confidence in you.
Confidence and humility are a powerful combination. There are several things that masquerade as humility, yet are not. A lack of confidence is one of them. You can be confident and humble. They are not opposites. Pride and arrogance are opposite of humility. However, confidence and humility actually complement each other. The more confident you are the more humble you can be. The more humble you are, the more confident you can be.
Moses was called the most humble man on the earth. Yet, when Moses first encountered God at the burning bush he lacked confidence and humility. He gave God 5 excuses for why he was not worthy of the task God was calling him to do. How did God respond? With anger. Why? Because Moses's lack of confidence was not humility. Moses was was looking at his own inadequacies rather than trusting God's ability. Later, when Moses is leading the people in the wilderness, he has remarkable confidence that He can intercede for the people and God will listen and respond. Furthermore, in a great act of humility he offers his own life in exchange for the people's.
What changed? Exodus 33 gives us a clue. After the golden calf incident, God tells Moses to leave Him alone so that in His anger, God can deal with the people. Yet Moses does not leave God alone and instead asks God for mercy on the people, even offering his own life as atonement for the people's sin. And while God refuses Moses's offer, He does respond to his prayer for mercy. What was the basis for his bold prayer? Moses says to God, "You told me that You know me and that I have found favor in Your sight" (33:12, 17). The remarkable story of Moses is the story of a remarkable God who knew Moses intimately, and because of that, revealed Himself to Moses so that Moses could experience His love and come to know the God who already knew him.
The idea of being known by God was also something central to Jesus's own message. Jesus was fully known by God the Father and He fully knew the Father. Jesus told His disciples that God knew everything about them, even counting the hairs on their head. He also said, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them" (John 10:27).
REFLECT / PRAY
- 1 Corinthians 13 is known mostly as the love chapter as it contains one of the most famous descriptions of love. Notice how he ties faith, hope and love with being known by God (verse 12-13). How does being known by God lead to faith, hope and love?
- Look at the way Paul describes love in verses 4–8. How do these qualities of love relate to humility and confidence?