My husband and I have a coffee date in our living room every Sunday afternoon (pandemic or no pandemic). We talk about how the morning went, since he leads worship for our church, and we talk about the week behind as well as the week ahead. With everything being shut down and spending most of our time together we haven’t had as much to discuss. Yesterday we ended up talking about how all our friends, who are also worship leaders, have taken to watching each other’s livestreams that are left up online. It’s the first time they’ve gotten to see each other’s work, and it’s sparked a lot of conversation.

I am not a worship leader, nor do I have any role at church besides kid-management and making sure no one gets left behind. But I have enjoyed the ability to watch other church’s livestreams as well. I follow several church’s podcasts, and have done so for years.  A podcast is a different experience though, it’s just the sermon and nothing else, maybe the closing prayer at most. Sometimes the speaker will reference something that happened in the announcements or the worship and you can hear the congregation laugh, but the humor is lost with me since I have no context.

With a livestream, you get the whole picture, the full context of every subtle jest. Even having the worship fills out the context. I believe the Holy Spirit speaks just as much through the music as He does through the message from the pastor. A lot of prayer and preparation goes into both, and I love getting the full message that the Spirit has for those He knows will be listening.

With this new livestream culture I’ve even been able to tune into churches that previously had no online presence. One of my cousins is a pastor in a small town in the Swedish speaking part of Finland, and I have been able to tune into his message for the last three weeks. I know very little Swedish indeed, so I only understand every tenth word or so. Thankfully, my cousin has included a recap in English in each post.

This week I was listening, enjoying the experience of coming before the Lord together, even though we’re a world apart. When something my cousin said struck home. He was clarifying that salvation in Jesus does not mean that every earthly problem goes away. Sometimes the gospel gets oversimplified in its delivery and communicates this false understanding. He said something along the lines of we think, “I’m a mess, but now that I have Jesus I have it completely together.” When the truth is, “I’m a mess and now that I have Jesus, I’m still a mess. But He is committed to help me sort it out.”

I realized two things. 1) I am guilty of oversimplifying the good news of the gospel and implying that Jesus magically makes the mess go away. I try to emphasize the positive influence of Jesus in my life even though I know there is still plenty of mess inside. 2) My cousin was describing humility.

Humility is a concept I have wrestled with regularly. It lies somewhere between the extreme of pride: Nothing is wrong with me; and false humility: There’s nothing good about me. The required reading of Johnny Tremain in middle school was enough to scare me off the pride end of the spectrum, so I have tended towards the false side of things. (For those of you who have not read Johnny Tremain, he is a silversmith apprentice whose arrogance results in an accident that permanently cripples his own hand.)

Humility is important. Over and over again the bible urges us to be humble because God opposes the proud and lifts the humble. Proverbs 3:34, “He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble.” (NIV) In the words of Jesus, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matt. 23:12 NKJV) Or there’s Peter’s take on it, “Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:5-8 NKJV)

In Peter’s description we see there is a connection between pride and contentious strife, and that this contention can be disarmed with humility and consideration for each other. There is also a connection between pride and worry, which invites God’s resistance. But if you stop, humble yourself, and cast your cares on God it invites His grace. Lastly, there is a connection between all of this behavior and the enemy prowling around, waiting for an opportunity for destruction. Pride, which grows contention, disrespect, and worry in us, allows a foothold for the devil to devour our life.

James devotes an entire chapter to this same subject, chapter 4. Right in the middle of the chapter he uses the same quote as Peter, “He [the Holy Spirit] gives more grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hears, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (James 4:6-10 NKJV)

In the verses leading up to this passage James is describing contentious strife from large scale, war; to small scale, lust. He points out that the full scale is a result of selfish desires that are at war within us. A war that is made worse by pride, and resolved by humbling yourself before God.

Here’s what I mean. James calls the people who have warring desires inside themselves “Adulterers and adulteresses.” That seems harsh at face value, but he goes on to point out that “friendship with the world is enmity with God.” We can’t service a war of desire and God, the more we try to do both the more we become defensive, and pride plays a big part in that defense.

I think James calls for repentance from the sin of our hands and our minds because the war of desire ends up creating so much pain and shame that a double-mind is set up with a false-self that serves as a protective front from the pain and from the discovery of the pain. Yet, often pride rises up to protect the protective false front, and this can go on until there is a layering effect. In then end true identity is lost, one might say devoured, to this cycle of self-protection and pride.

It makes me wonder if James is not attacking laughter and joy, in the next verse, but rather false-laughter and false-joy that result from the double-minded activity of a false-self. I believe his call to mourn is a call to healing honesty. It’s as if he’s saying, “That pain and shame you’ve been hiding? It’s time to cry about it. It hurts to stop being double-minded? It’s time to grieve the pain you’ve compounded onto the original pain. Come before the Father just as you are and mourn. Take heart, He is drawing near to you and you will not mourn alone.”

I’m reminded of a quote I read last week, “Humility is agreeing with God about who you are.” It was in the caption of a posted verse on Instagram, 1 Peter 5:6, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under Gods mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time.” (NIV) So humility is not about who we’re not, but who we are. And the act of humbling myself before the Lord is about letting go of a self-defensive double mind and having one mind. If that means coming to terms with the pain and shame in my life, then it’s time to mourn. Not only that, but it is safe to mourn. The redemption I have in Jesus creates a safe environment in which to reveal the soft underbelly of my character without fear of being devoured by the devil. It is because of Jesus that I can be humble and say, “I was a mess, and I’m still a mess. But now I have Jesus in my life and He is committed to helping me sort it out.” God will lift my true identity out of layers of false self, because I let go of the strings of pride that held it all together.

There’s a freedom in humility, and agreeing with God about who I am. Freed from the exhausting work of defense mechanisms and maintaining the front of a false-self. Freedom from the war of desires inside, rather living in the peace of God that comes when I align my desires under His will. There is also a freedom to serve God, and His purpose. All that time and energy I used to put towards the maintenance of sin is freed up to use for obedience to the teachings of Jesus. I can serve God and His purpose as myself, and that is enough.

-Etta Woods

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