‘There was a spiritual old man who lived a secluded life. He was held in high estimation in the city and enjoyed a great reputation. He was told that a certain old man, at the point of death, was calling for him, to embrace him before he fell asleep. He thought to himself, if I go by day, men will run after me, giving me great honor, and I shall not be at peace in all that. So I will go in the evening in the darkness and I shall escape everyone’s notice. But lo, two angels were sent by God with lamps to give him light. The whole city then came out to see his glory. The more he wished to flee from the glory, the more he was glorified. In this was accomplished that which is written: “He who humbles himself will be exalted.” ‘
——-Abba John the Dwarf
Every person who seeks to be a fervent follower of God wants to be seen as humble. Humility is the identifying hallmark of Jesus our Savior. No matter how hard we try, we are still driven by the human desire to be recognized and appreciated. Much of our spiritual journey is spent trying to control our need to succeed. After much prayer and determination we may arrive at the point in life where we really don’t want the spotlight and recognition. Then the new journey begins. Our challenge now is how do we avoid worldly affirmation and acclaim?
The spiritual old man was struggling with that very challenge. He, no doubt, had put much prayer and work to arriving at place in life where he shunned the notice of others. He wanted to comfort the brother who had reached out to him, but he devised a plan of making sure that his act of kindness would be done in the dark of night. That way, he thought, no one would notice, but God had another plan. God decided to send angels to light his path. This display of spiritual presence brought a torrent of attention on the spiritual old man. The very attention that he had sought to avoid was what he received. What does this mean?
Abba John uses the scripture: “He who humbles himself will be exalted” as a way of expressing why such attention is thrust upon the spiritual old man. The truth that I would like to point out is that acclaim only has value if God is the source. The world recognizes worldly values, God recognizes kingdom values. Perhaps if we all sought to be anonymous purveyors of blessing, we may find ourselves more valued by God and the world than we ever dreamed or imagined. The key to getting all the acclamation, success and self-esteem we can handle is found in the ability to be truly humble. That is kingdom humility and it is the goal of every follower of the Christ.
Lord instill in me the form of humility that is not derived in self depreciation and doubt but one that is spiritually placed by you. I ask you today to give me the insight to understand what you mean by humility so that I might be one who is gifted with kingdom humility. With that gift we are allowed to be tremendous servants to the world. Lord I pray for this gift and with it I may be your faithful servant.
There are certain kinds of trees which never bear any fruit as long as their branches stay up straight, but if stones are hung on the branches to bend them down they begin to bear fruit. So it is with the soul. When it is humbled it begins to bear fruit, and the more fruit it bears the lowlier it becomes. So also the saints; the nearer they get to God, the more they see themselves as sinners.
—–Dorotheos of Gaza
Paul called himself the chief, or first, of sinners. Isaiah said, “We are all sheep that have rebelled, and gone our own way, and God has laid our sin upon the shoulders of the messiah.” (My paraphrase) When we can come to grips with these three factors: we are all primarily sinners, we will go our way and Jesus took ours sins upon himself, we will begin the process of becoming humble. Without the humbling of our souls, we will never do the true work of God. On our own we can become legally righteous and live a “punch list” sort of Christianity, but the spirit of the ONE who went to the cross for us will never be the pervasive force in our lives.
A great deal of energy is expended to avoid pain and difficulty in our lives. We shield our children and consequently ourselves from the reality of the world that surrounds us. These activities in and of themselves are not harmful or sinful. They can, however,r lead to a false sense of accomplishment and safety that does not challenge us to meet the powers of this world and find the victory that comes when we do. We are given battles, our souls are weighed down, our branches are pruned, but all of these things make us stronger in our reliance in God. Most importantly, we are reminded that we are fatally flawed without our reliance on Him.
Coming nearer to God, as the monk says, is a matter of acknowledging our sins and living with them and not being controlled by them. We will never know the true power of God until we recognize our weaknesses. If we are to bear fruit in this life we must don the garment of humility that weighs down the arms of self-sufficiency that so naturally dominate us. Such an action will bring humility to our souls and spiritual productivity to our lives.
Lord, give me the wisdom to know the need and marshal the courage to accept the garment of humility that my sinful soul so badly needs. By accepting the garment, I am allowing you to lead me in the direction of spiritual humility which blesses me and those I encounter. Lord, this day I ask my arms to be drawn down by confession of my sins, so I might be lifted by your grace.
Abba John said, ‘We have put the light burden on one side, that is to say, self-accusation, and we have loaded ourselves with a heavy one, that is to say, self-justification.’
He also said, ‘Humility and the fear of God are above all virtues.’
Abba John gave this advice, ‘Watching means to sit in the cell and be always mindful of God. This is what is meant by, “I was on the watch and God came to me.” (Matt. 25:36) One of the Fathers said of him, ‘Who is this John, who by his humility has all Scetis hanging from his little finger?’
—-ABBA JOHN THE DWARF
The two competing margins of any man are self-justification and humility. We all have a great drive to be the controllers of our own destiny. To achieve that destiny we must find ways to justify our actions. There are many people that are consumed with, meeting the right people, doing the right thing, being seen at the proper places and above all else being in control. As I see it, self-justification is just another way of being a controller.
The Monk said that self – justification was a heavy burden to bear. Not only was it heavy, but it is a burden that we choose to bear. Man has a tendency to load himself down with burdens that originate with our own ego. Our ego tells us that control is the primary objective of life. Perhaps the greatest expression of control that is observed in our spiritual journey is the art of self – justification.
The Monk observes that humility and fear of God are the greatest virtues that anyone can possess. Those virtues, in conjunction with the ability to “sit” and wait on God will bring us to better place than we could have ever hoped for or imagined. The Monk desire that the community to be “hanging from his little finger,” this came about as the natural result of living a life that seeks God above all else. The Benedictine rule instructs us how to greet our guests. “At the door of the monastery, place a sensible old man who knows how to take a message and deliver a reply, and whose age keeps him from roaming about. This porter will need a room near the entrance so that visitors will always find him there to answer them. As soon as anyone knocks, or a poor man calls out, he replies, ‘Thanks be to God’ or ‘Your blessing, please’.” Such humility can go a long way in reaching people with the good news of Christ. Self-justification takes us nowhere other than the path of control and evil self-righteousness. Perhaps that needy knock on the door is God calling us. Let us seek Him. May we choose our path.
What do you seek?
How do you seek it?
Why do you seek?
Lord fill me with the humility that is necessary to seek Your face. Allow me to discover virtue in those You send my way. Give me the patience to wait on You in the place You have given me. For in humility, virtue and waiting You reveal your glory to me and make it possible for me to live in peace and harmony.
One of the fathers use to say, ‘before anything else we need humility: a being ready to listen whenever a word is spoken to us, and to say, “I submit”, because through humility every device of the enemy, every kind of obstacle, is destroyed.
——Dorotheos of Gaza
Perhaps the definition and function of humility is the foremost issue for anyone who wishes to follow the path of God. Humility is the ability to put yourself last, and to accept hardships that come along with the path of God. For any of us to follow after God, we must have the capacity to submit to God and others. Acquiescing to God is a tough charge, but to others is a near impossibility. We all find submission a problematic part of living. The monk says that submission is the first action, and that all others will follow. Humble wisdom gives us the capacity to sense the good in an act of submission. Further, it is the act of choosing the path that will lead to peace with God and our fellow man. Our day is full of strife and conflict. We live in a time where everyone demands to be heard and followed. Our challenge is to be humble enough to learn the value of a simple act of submission.
Abba Poemen said of Abba John the Dwarf that he had prayed God to take his passions away from him so that he might become free from care. He went and told an old man this: ‘I find myself in peace, without an enemy,’ he said. The old man said to him, ‘Go, and beseech God to stir up warfare so that you may regain the affliction and humility that you used to have, for it is by warfare that the soul makes progress.’ So he besought God and when warfare came, he no longer prayed that it might be taken away, but said, ‘Lord, give me strength for the fight.’
—-sayings of the desert
Our society cries out that a relationship with God is all about prosperity, victory and success. The wise men of the desert voice a different view, and we have much to learn from them. Abba John the Dwarf prayed for all passions to be extinguished from his life so that he might be carefree, but the pastor (poeman means pastor) tells him that struggle is part of the journey. In our struggles we learn the important lesson of humility, which turns us away from self and toward others, especially the ultimate other-God. Humility teaches us the need to be silent, to pray, to worship, and to understand the greatness of God. Then we can know that we must pray, ‘Lord, give me strength for the fight.’