1 Corinthians 9:24 (ESV) – “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.”
Today we are continuing to consider what the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians about running a race in such a way so as to obtain the prize. We’ve already looked at running with perseverance, discipline, and self-control. Today our focus is on running with humility.
Humility is defined as a modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance or rank. To be humble is to be not proud, not arrogant; modest; low in rank, importance, status; lowly; courteously respectful. To humble oneself is to lower in importance; abase; to destroy the independence, power, or will of.
What does the Bible have to say about humility?
Deuteronomy 8:14-18 (NLT) – “Do not become proud at that time and forget the LORD your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. Do not forget that he led you through the great and terrifying wilderness with its poisonous snakes and scorpions, where it was so hot and dry. He gave you water from the rock! He fed you with manna in the wilderness, a food unknown to your ancestors. He did this to humble you and test you for your own good. He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’ Remember the LORD your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath.”
2 Chronicles 7:14 (NIV) – “. . . 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.”
Psalm 25:8-9 (NLT) – “The LORD is good and does what is right; he shows the proper path to those who go astray. He leads the humble in doing right, teaching them his way.”
Proverbs 11:2 (NLT) – “Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”
Proverbs 15:33 (The Message) – “Fear-of-God is a school in skilled living—first you learn humility, then you experience glory.”
Proverbs 18:12 (The Message) – “Pride first, then the crash, but humility is precursor to honor.”
Proverbs 22:4 (ESV) – “The reward for humility and fear of the LORD is riches and honor and life.”
Matthew 23:12 (ESV) – “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Ephesians 4:2 (NLT) – “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.”
Philippians 2:3-5 (NLT) – “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”
James 3:13 (NLT) – “If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.”
James 4:6-10 (The Message) – “It’s common knowledge that ‘God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.’ So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.”
1 Peter 3:8 (ESV) – “. . . have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”
1 Peter 5:5-6 (NLT) – “. . . dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.”
What would it look like for us to run with humility this race of training our children? Several of the Scriptures we read talk about humility being the goal we go for. Let’s look at three practical applications.
Firstly, running with humility means not seeking to gain our children’s (or anyone else’s) approval. This is reserved for God alone – He is the one we want to please. If we do receive some kind of approval, affirmation, kudos, or honor, we can receive it gracefully, but it is not our primary aim to obtain that. As the saying goes, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” We are not out to win a popularity contest with our children or with anyone else. Sometimes they’re not going to like the decisions we make. We make the decisions we make first and foremost to please God. (If our children happen to like them, yippee!)
Secondly, running with humility means we do the best we can with what God has given us, and we leave the outcome and timing in His capable hands. The Lord invites us to lay down our agendas, desires, control, preferences, and all that we are at His feet. John Wimber, the leader who began the Vineyard movement of churches, famously said, “We’re all just change in Jesus’ pocket. He can spend us any way He wants to.” We just need to show up and be available.
Thirdly, running with humility means understanding that if we choose not to humble ourselves, then we will without a doubt be humbled. I was deeply impacted at a prayer conference in the early 2000’s by a Ugandan pastor who likened God’s desire for us to be completely His to a server offering us a choice at a restaurant: “How would you like your transformation? Through desperation? Or through devastation?” This is not a threat but a description of how life works. 1 John 2:16 (The Message) – “Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him.” God gives grace to the humble. Running with pride means climbing the pedestals in life: going after our own way, wanting everything for ourselves, or wanting to appear important. The problem with pedestals is that we will inevitably fall off of them. Or we can lay our lives down, as Jesus did, in humility and surrender, going after God’s way, wanting what He wants, loving as He loves. We can trust God to do with us what He wants, when He wants. We can trust Him to give us what we need, when He knows we need it. He is good.
I found this excerpt in article in “Runner’s World” – it’s a pretty good description of what we go through in our journey of training up our children. “Running is always an exercise in humility. We have good days and bad days in training. We have poop stories, chafing incidents, farmer blows, public pees, and black toenails. We have rough races. We fall and get banged up. We go for PRs (personal records) and sometimes come up with DNFs (did not finish’s). We suffer injuries and combat aging. We dust off and try and try again . . . Perhaps we are worn like the Velveteen Rabbit. The miles and the sweat have rubbed us real.” I had the softest skin I’ve ever had when I lived in Russia. The combination of dirt, snow, and ice being flung onto our faces whenever a bus or truck rumbled by served as an extremely effective exfoliant. I would never have guessed that something so humble as dirt, combined with something so ubiquitous as snow and ice, would have produced something beautiful after many repetitions over time. We don’t know what God will use to bring about beauty in our lives and in the lives of our children. Our job is to let Him use whatever He likes and trust Him with the rest.
I want to close with another story penned by Whitney Powell, a self-styled athlete and adventurer who volunteered to serve as a guide for a blind marathon runner. I think this is beautifully analogous to training up children because God gave us the privilege and authority to be their parents, and a big part of this means that we are the guides who accompany them the most on their journeys and help them to find their way even if they can’t see as much as we can yet.
“My super-runner grabbed my arm and started to run. My tiny, shuffling steps didn’t match his longer gait, but it was on me to adjust. Another challenge. A few miles in and we were a little behind where we should have been and were making a bathroom stop. This was going to be a long race. Miles ticked on and slowly but surely, we were able to run more minutes and walk less. Fourteen miles in, I realized something: I was running a marathon too.
I KNEW I was running a marathon, but it occurred to me I hadn’t done anything remotely close to how I usually raced, and I kind of liked it. There is a huge difference in running a marathon and racing a marathon, and I’m very competitive. Usually I’d be over-thinking my hydration and pacing strategies and personal records and so on, but suddenly, 14 miles had gone by and I was solely concerned about him feeling confident and having enough water and nutrition to crush this marathon. A manhole in a road can be devastating to a blind runner, so my attention to every crack in the road and distance between us and the people around us was so acute, it sucked every bit of attention and brainpower I had . . .
As we crossed the finish line, I couldn’t help but be a little frustrated that we didn’t make it under 6 hours at 6:06. Running a marathon is never “easy”, but I have to admit, I gained a new respect for people that are out there running longer. I was really tired! I watched a woman put a medal around his neck and thought about what he said to me about 1k before the finish line: that he was so grateful for me being there with him to help him finish and I was doing a great job being a guide. I almost cried. My whole attitude changed and I knew I had been incredibly selfish in my goals and motivations for this marathon before we started. I was thinking about MY needs and goals and wanting to bring him along for the ride. I hadn’t thought about myself at all during the race and had spent every ounce of my being serving him – wanting nothing but for him to be proud of what he’d done and was about to do by running all seven continents, some of them with me.
To be someone’s eyes, and be TRUSTED with the task of guiding someone through 26.2 miles of crowded city roads, something we take for granted every single day, was an incredible honor, and I was so ashamed that I had an attitude going up to the starting line. I was honored to be with him as a number-less, chip-less runner while he stood in the limelight, and not getting a race shirt didn’t take the experience away from me . . . Think about serving others. What are their needs? . . . Be there for them, and you will absolutely be rewarded in the end.”