Saturday, January 14, 2012

Self-Imagined Greatness

            In last week’s column, I introduced our topic of conversation for 2012 – humility. Last week’s “assignment”: When you enter any room, think of yourself as the least, and look for ways to serve those present. How did you do? Did you find it tough to do? I certainly did.

            We’re embarking on this journey to deeper humility because Jesus called us to be like him, a servant. He set the perfect example and can inspire us to live as he did. One of the ways we’ll do that is to focus every three weeks or so on one of Jeremy Taylor’s (1613-1667) nineteen rules for humble living.

            The privileges you were born into or now have, do ever feel pride rise up because of them? If so, then consider Mr. Taylor’s first rule of living humbly: “Do not think better of yourself because of any outward circumstance that happens to you.” I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth. That’s one way of saying I was well fed but my family wasn’t the wealthiest on our block in Houston, Texas. However, compared to a child in an impoverished country, I had more than enough.  

            Consider some of the implications of Mr. Taylor’s first rule: If you are a whiz at math, do you get credit because your parents got together and created a mathematical genius? If you were born into a royal family, could you boast that personal achievement would eventually put you on the throne?

            Jeremy Taylor uses the example of a horse that can run faster than other horses. Triple Crown winner 1973, Secretariat was such a horse. A lot of circumstances and opportunities combined to put him in winners’ circles. Self-imagined greatness did not make him a winner. Good athletes’ usually have great DNA and opportunities that contribute to their successes, but how fast they run, swim, or swing a tennis racquet isn’t their true make up. The true make up of a pauper or king is on the inside.

            Richard Hagburg in a June 1996 issue of “Fortune” magazine relayed a story that a wealthy executive told him: The executive and his wife stood in line at a driver’s license bureau to get his license renewed. After a rather lengthy wait, the husband exclaimed to his wife, “Don’t they know who I am?”

            His wife replied, “Yeah, you’re a plumber’s son who got lucky.”

            Naaman, a leper, commanded Aram’s army, but pride almost thwarted God’s intended healing for him (2 Kings 5:1-19). Naaman’s wife had a maid, a young Israelite girl, who said, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” Through a series of inquiries and letters, Naaman finally found his way to the Prophet Elisha’s home. The commander arrived with gold, silver, chariots, horses, and servants.

            Elisha didn’t even answer the door when this officer arrived; he simply sent a message for him to go take a bath in the Jordan River. Everyone knew -- even foreigners -- that the river wasn’t more than a muddy canal. Naaman had imagined the man of God waving his hand around and making a big commotion as he invoked God’s healing. After hearing the prophet’s instructions, Naaman departed “in a rage.”

            However, a lowly servant displayed common sense. He reasoned with Naaman: if the man of God had asked you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? When Naaman ditched pomp and pride, dipped seven times in the murky Jordan River, that’s when his skin became healthy. When pride rears its ugly head, it always casts a shadow on right thinking.

            A French proverb says, “The surest way to be deceived is to think one’s self more clever than others.” For the next couple of weeks, look backward in examination of your upbringing, and if extra attention, awards, or applause comes your way in the next few weeks, remember Jeremy Taylor’s rule for living humbly, “Do not think better of yourself because of any outward circumstance that happens to you.”

            Hunger for Humility (2): “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).




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