“An expert is just a little spurt who is away from home.” I heard something similar from a speaker introduced as an expert in his field. This week, we consider the pitfalls of comparison in regards to humility.
Here’s Jeremy Taylor’s (1613-1667) rule fifteen for humble living in the dialect of his day, “Never compare thyself with others, unless it be to advance them and to depress thyself. To which purpose, we must be sure, in some sense or other, to think ourselves the worst in every company where we come; one is more learned that I am, another is more prudent, a third more charitable, or less proud.”
I didn’t share the rest of Taylor’s original writing about that rule, but he further explores that each of us knows what tempts us most, and many lead to unwholesome thoughts. We could tell our bad thoughts to another person, but most of don’t want to admit our darkest thoughts, even to trusted friends. There is an escape from arrogant and evil thoughts – resistance training: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
My parents taught me that verse early in life, and it’s been a cornerstone promise because I’ve experienced the good results of resisting evil. Taylor also reminds his readers to keep in mind that none of us behaves perfectly. Someone has said that it’s disheartening to climb the ladder of success and then to discover it was leaning against the wrong wall. Some of us have experienced that. Taylor brings up the subject of Paul’s first passion to capture and punish Christians, and then how God adjusted his ladder, leaned it against a different wall.
Paul claimed to be chief of sinners, and Paul knew his inmost sins better than others did. He had persecuted and tracked down Christians and killed them. Paul affirmed, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners -- of whom I am the worst. Paul concluded by saying, “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16).
Total forgiveness vanished Paul’s past sins. Wherever he preached he could express the patience of because Christ had pursued him. He could extend the same to others. Paul didn’t claim superiority.
Taylor calls us to consider our inclinations that we are better than others are. I see this in everyday life with the most trivial things. One woman thinks she knows best how to peel potatoes. Another thinks she knows best how to discipline children. A man in the passenger seat thinks his driving habits better than the driver’s habits. We participate in silent thoughts of patting ourselves on the back, while thinking our companions don’t quite measure up to our standards. That’s a tough habit to break. However, humble living demands that we look for the good in others. If we’re comparing ourselves and we think we’re better, then we have put the habit of comparison first, not the other person.
A large stone can cause a stumble or it can become a steppingstone. When in the presence of others, give them a step up. From the book, “Rees Howells Intercessor,” I appreciate what Howells said about forgetting self and embracing the discipline of the Holy Spirit, "I began to side with the Holy Spirit against myself, and looked on the stripping [of self] as a deliverance rather than a loss."
It will take some adjusting, but it’s best to think of ourselves as “little spurts.”
Hunger for Humility (Week 42): “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.” (Romans 12:3)
Cathy Messecar welcomes comments here or at www.cathymessecar.com