Coop's Column - Generous Humility and Compassion: A Servant Spirit
In this series of meditations on the work of the Holy Spirit, we are considering features the English Puritan Christians said are Spirit-prompted and Spirit-endowed and which more and more ought to mark the lives of those who aim to follow Jesus faithfully. Christians who do display these qualities are LUI— Living Under the Influence of the Spirit. In this article we consider the sixth of these marks: “Generous humility and compassion—a servant spirit.”
“I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us…Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good.” (III John 9-10)
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience." (Colossians 3.12)
In this series of meditations on the work of the Holy Spirit in believers’ lives, we are considering (seven) features about Christians which the English Puritan Christians said are Spirit-prompted and Spirit-endowed and which more and more ought to mark the lives of those who aim to follow Jesus faithfully. Christians who do display these qualities are LUI— Living Under the Influence of the Spirit. In this article we consider the sixth of these marks: “Generous humility and compassion—a servant spirit.”
“You are a lot more underwhelming than you think you are.” So a reader reminded veteran blogger, Elizabeth Scalia, after reading one of her posts. Scalia took her critic’s rebuke carefully to heart. Her response: “…the overwhelming evidence before us—from Eden until now—suggests that making strange gods for and of ourselves is something that comes to human beings as naturally and easily as taking a breath….It would be an interesting exercise, perhaps, to try to keep count of how many times a day we say (or think) the word I or me. Our demonstrated narcissism would likely leave us appalled, especially if we put our numbers up against how many times we’d thought of God or anyone else throughout the same day.”
The idolatry of I
Scalia’s final indictment of herself and of all humanity: “We are, by far, our favorite and most fascinating subjects….Our ideas are full of I.” The idolatry of I entices and entraps us all. Thus, in his Word the Lord keeps calling us back to humility. Humility means learning to think and to live in such a way that one “does not think more highly of himself than he ought.” (cf Phil 2.5ff) It calls for “considering others better than [our]selves,” (Phil. 2.3), and learning to give prior place to their welfare over our own. It requires, too, devoutly aiming to swell God’s honor and not our own.
God not only gave us texts on humility. He also sent us his Son, Jesus, a flesh-and-blood textperson, whose well-lived life was devoted to serving others and to increasing his Father’s glory. Doing these things, Jesus modeled humility. He “emptied himself,” Scripture says, “and took the form of a servant. He…became obedient to death—even to death on a cross!” (cf Phil 2.5). God calls his children to think and to act daily like Jesus: humbly they must love and obey God above all, and humbly they must live as much—or more—for others’ welfare as they do for their own.
Called to compassion
Sara Teasdale sobbed: “My life is a broken field, plowed by pain.” Her sadness is mirrored by the sadness, whether disclosed or hidden, of every one of us. Each of us, Barbara Brown Taylor says, “is simply a fellow struggler. None of us has our life or our pain under control, though sometimes we pretend that we do.” Who can challenge what she claims? To be sure, the shape of one’s own tears may differ from the shapes of those running down others’ cheeks. That fact is trivial. What really matters is to stay aware that others’ hurts and sadnesses are as real—and as important—as our own.
How then, to respond to (an)other’s tears and troubles? Again, Scripture’s words teach us and Jesus’ tenderness shows us that God calls his children to be compassionate. He bids them to be moved—deeply—by (an)other’s distress (cf. Matt. 14.14). How, in fact, do we respond? Too often we are unwilling to enter into the arena of another’s griefs and burdens, and to bear them with them. (cf. Gal 6.2) Too often fail to weep with another. Too often we fail even to try to do something—anything—to remedy another’s hurts (cf. James 2.16). Too often we avert our eyes from another’s distress, and pass by at safe and uncaring distance (cf Luke 10.32). How quick and willing we are to bend our knee before our idol of I and how slow to make room for others within our small, tight circle of concern and care.
How to do battle against (our) deep-seated pride and hardheartedness? And how to nurture Christ-like humility and tenderness? In his classic, Rule of St Benedict, the famous sixth-century monk from Nursia, Italy advises that when Satan tempts them with evil thoughts, followers of Jesus ought to “dash them against Christ immediately.” What an apt and vivid strategy for combatting sin. Benedict bids Christ’s followers to hurry to the empty tomb of their risen Lord; to draw near to him standing there in regal triumph and strength; and then, at his bidding and by his Spirit’s power, to hurl their evil thoughts and desires against his stalwart resurrected body. Doing so, they shatter their evil thoughts and desires to pieces.
And where better to practice this important spiritual exercise than in the congregation of saints who gather weekly on Sunday to worship their risen Lord, and from his Spirit to receive fresh strength and resolve to live, as Jesus did, humbly and compassionately?
“Think not the advancement of thy brother to be a lessening of thy worth.” (Jeremy Taylor, 1616-1667)
“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1802-1887)
Lord, open our eyes
that we may see you in our brothers and sisters.
Lord, open our ears
that we may hear the cries of the hungry,
the cold, the frightened, the oppressed.
Lord, open our hearts
that we may love each other as you love us.
Renew in us your spirit.
Lord, free us and make us one. Amen
(Mother Teresa of Calcutta, 1910-1997)