Romans 12:3 – For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. (NIV)
Years ago, a young woman came to work with me in an inner city mission. Unfortunately, she seemed to have next to no self-confidence, and constantly worried whether she was doing "it" right or not. Finally, I asked her about her childhood. Was it a happy one, or did she experience constant bullying at school? I was wondering how she came to have next to no self esteem. She thought for a few minutes then sadly blurted out, "It was my dad. He constantly said to me, 'You will amount to nothing!' I guess I did." I am sure she felt very small inside.
This incident never left me, for it reminds me of Paul saying he was "the least of the apostles" (1 Corinthians 15:9 NIV) What did Paul mean? Throughout his writings, Paul comes across as very sure of himself, but compared to the other apostles, who actually learned from Jesus for three years, Paul saw himself at the bottom of that class.
As an ordained minister and a child of the manse (a minister's home), what kind of self-image did I receive? As a woman, I think I automatically received a low self-image, not at home, but everywhere else, and had to pray constantly for self-assurance and faith in myself. Yet, as a teenager, I thought nothing of climbing through the church window — to play the organ — because the door was locked. Now, as I think about it, climbing through a window is a symbol of life for many women — so many doors are locked. So, does an early self-image make one humble or a scrapper?
When meditating on the word "least" as Paul must have, what does it really mean when applied to oneself? Do I think too highly of myself as a minister, wearing a gown and strutting down the aisle on the first hymn as the service of worship begins, or do I see myself as the least of Christ's servants? Can humility be worn like a gown? I doubt it. This garment comes only through prayer! But pride and humility can be measured on self-reflection. "There, I did that not too badly," I say to myself upon completing a task. But did I pray before starting the task? Am I proud of what I accomplished, or proud of what Jesus did through me?
Pride of accomplishment is normal, but keeping humble about it comes only through faith, for true humility comes through prayer — it is given to us by God. Yes, I have done a lot in my life as a minister, even to leading congregations through two building programs, but I say that, knowing full well that it was Christ in me who accomplished it all.
Prayer: Lord, use us as You will, that whatever we are able to do today may be directed and empowered by You. Then, to You be all the glory as we accomplish something really well done together. Show us, Lord, what You want us to do for You, and we trust You to see us through. Not by our personal will but by Yours it is all accomplished. May others see You in us as we work, go to school, till the garden, cook dinner at home, and share our faith. Clothe us, Lord, in Your garment of unselfish humility. Help us to see ourselves clearly through the measure of faith You have given us. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.