The surest way to succeed, our culture tells us, is to be accomplished. Athletes “make history”, and business people keep score by how much money they’ve made. Leaders want power, gangbangers want respect, and everyone dreams of being able to do whatever they want to do. The Bible has a different take on being great: It says if you want to achieve real greatness, start by being humble. If you’ve never considered that, you might be surprised at how much difference that makes in the long run.
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14, NIV). This is a pretty well-known verse from 2 Chronicles, which came from a dream Solomon had right after he had made sacrifices and dedicated the temple. They were justifiably proud of what they had accomplished. But God appeared to Solomon and reminded him how important proper worship was, and what God required of his people.
A Different Standard
God’s word to Solomon was one of those “If—then” conditional statements that rely upon the fact that God’s character is consistent and unchanging. In this case, God is reminding Solomon (and us) that He has the authority to forgive our sins and heal our land. Since we are His children, that makes perfect sense. But what’s required of us?
First of all, we have to be God’s people, the ones who are called by his name. We need to be in a relationship with God, one that is exhibited enough externally so that others know what we are about. When people think of us, do they think of Him?
Second, we have to humble ourselves. In a world full of ego this is an attitude that we don’t see very often today. (The Special Olympics might be a place where humanity comes close to exhibiting this virtue, and there may be a couple of others. But, the world is far more calibrated to celebrating money, power and looks than it is to celebrating the efforts of humble people.)
So, Humble Yourself
We are surrounded by so much ego that we think it’s right to puff ourselves up and to treat the universe as if we are at its center. Because it is what we are surrounded with, it stands to reason that we might even approach the Lord that way, too. Are you proud of anything? Then you are NOT humble. (Not sure if being proud of grandkids counts on this one, I think that may be a small exception…) But when we are proud, in the long run we figure that if we’re a little bit sorry, and tell God He is Lord, then we’ve achieved humility.
Perhaps there is more to humility than that. Back in the day, people tore their clothes, put on sackcloth and sat in ashes, they wept and fasted, and they lay prostrate on the ground before the Lord. Quick check: when is the last time you humbled yourself and prayed like that? (That’s what I thought. Me neither…) And let’s not forget that humility is not an external show, but an internal transformation. We humble ourselves from the inside out, not the other way around.
Third, we need to seek God’s face. I think this implies not only seeing eye-to-eye, but being transparent, open, and intimate with God. Face to face means seeing Him as He truly is, and realizing that He sees us as we really are, without masks or excuses or spin. While we present our outward appearance to the world, the Lord sees our hearts.
Finally, He tells us to turn from our wicked ways. If enough of us humble ourselves and do this, He promises to forgive our sin and heal our land. What are your wicked ways? Do you think our land needs healing? Great news! God has already given us the prescription: when you turn from THEM, turn to HIM.
A Truly Humble Prayer
If my people, called by my name, will hear what I have to say,
And keep My word which they have heard, and come to me and pray;
If they will humble themselves, confess the wickedness they are in,
Then I will hear, and heal their land, and I’ll forgive their sin.
Come to me without delay– repentance must not wait–
For only through humility can you be truly great.
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