Language learning, trust, and humility

Learning a new language, and the accompanying inability to communicate well, has been, for me, quite an endeavor in humility. I desire to listen, to understand, to speak, to encourage… but lack the ability to do so. So I study and study, and continue to try to interact, and progress, but ever so slowly. Particularly the rate of my learning (especially understanding when someone is speaking) has been the source of my lesson in humility. Throw on top of this voiced and unvoiced expectations and comparisons to others who have learned more quickly… humbling. So we leave to get professional help and find that what we’ve learned over the last two years is like that feeling when you work and work to get the house clean (or another large job) and stop to look up and realize you are only ½ there. The frustration one feels in that situation is like ours in that it is related to all the other things you could be doing if you could just get this job finished. Progress yes, but so far to go and so much to do. Speaking like a four year old, struggling to find words, asking people to repeat themselves again and again, feeling useless in not being able to do all the things that I would like to do … humbling.

Humility is a curious quality. Perhaps it can be simply defined as an attitudinal focus away from self, in contrast to pride – a focus on oneself. My thoughts regarding my language learning usually revolve around me. It seems to me that whenever we try to measure ourselves or compare ourselves to a standard or to another, we are stepping into the arena of pride. Have you noticed that humble people are not concerned with measuring their progress or comparing themselves to others?

Humility is difficult to learn apart from (painful) experience. One of the Holy Spirit’s primary ministries is to mold us into the image of Jesus, who had no sense of pride but was wholly focused on others (His Father and people) – humility. He molds us and grows us through circumstances, people, and speaking directly to us about where we are, revealing to us that we are still pretty messy inside, still so screwed up and self focused compared to Jesus. Why does He want our focus away from ourselves? Because we were made in God’s image, and humility is part of His character. We were simply designed to other-focus and not self-focus. The deception of our time is that we must focus on self to live our lives in the best way possible. God’s way is just the opposite: focus on Jesus and on others, more than on ourselves, trusting Him to care for ushen, and only then, will we know life as it was meant to be.

As I look back over my life, I can see definite seasons where I’ve been humbled and broken, to be made aware that my self-focus had again left me empty and that I desperately needed God. Perhaps you have a similar perspective on your past. As I went through these seasons, however, what I felt was confusion, pain, and abandonment from God. The profound discomfort that I experienced created in me a desire to look outside of myself for help. I believe now that these times were actually ordained by God to lovingly change my world-view, my view of myself, and my view of my Father, and to draw me TO Him. How often I wanted to blame these circumstances on the enemy, on bad luck, on another person, when it was the hand of God leading me to humility and to Life.

Pride is so inherent to human nature and it blinds us from seeing things from God’s perspective, as they really are. It is like trying to see life through a mirror, and all we see is ourselves. As we are humbled, the mirror is transformed to transparent glass and we can actually see through it to the other side. Our human perspective will always be somewhat clouded, like looking through tainted glass, but humility brings clarity and an accurate perception of me, of others, and of God.

True humility is not possible without a sense that God is aware of, and in control of (able to intervene in) every circumstance. In order to personally choose to not care for self in any situation, we must know this about God regarding the events in which we humble ourselves. Self-focus is the natural way of our flesh or our natural self. Its voice is ever present within us. How many times have I thought or felt, “If I don’t take care of myself (or my family), who will?” “If I don’t point out my accomplishments, no one will see them.” “I must defend myself! God doesn’t call us to be doormats, does He?” These statements are only true in a God-less world or if God is either impotent or doesn’t care. If God, however, is all-powerful, loves us enough to die for us, and is willing to intervene anytime, then we can trust Him with ourselves and put our focus and energy elsewhere. We are free to go to Him and inquire as to what He would have us do in a given situation or encounter, without concern for “me”. In my language study, for example, it feels like I’m “wasting” so much time and energy when I could be doing so much more if I didn’t have to spend all this time studying. I can place such an emphasis on me and what I think or feel, forgetting to trust the One who has led me here, knowing that I would have to learn the language.

The fruit of humility is varied and beautiful. It produces a lack of concern for self. One humble can serve without care for return and can speak truthfully without having to look good and without care for what the other person thinks of them. Because of the brokenness that one experiences on his way to humility, he can be truly empathetic toward those hurting, knowing firsthand what their pain feels like. He/she can respond to another’s pain without criticism and with learned understanding, which is usually recognized and appreciated by the one hurting.

In Paul’s letter to the Phillipians, chapter 2, we read about the humility demonstrated by Jesus. We so easily say that we want to be like Him, but are we willing to pay the price to be humble, like He is? My time in Brasil, with its many challenges, has made me realize that my desire to be more humble is often just words. As God walks me again through a process designed to produce humility, I grumble and whine instead of acknowledge the sovereignty and love of the One who knows intimately the path down which HE is leading me. As a child I would sometimes wish I could fly, but gravity was a reality that I had to learn to accept. As I live with Jesus and desire to be more like Him, reality is knowing that the path to humility is a difficult and painful one, which will break my self-will many times, and yet is the only path I can walk secure in knowing that He walks with me, leading me ever closer to Him.

The old saying that, “He is more interested in what He’s doing IN you than in what He’s doing through you”, applies to all of us. His love for us compels Him to orchestrate events (usually difficult and/or painful) to mold us and to change us to be more like Him. Lord, please open our eyes to see your hand in the difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves. Please help us to trust you as you lead us through “the valley of humiliation” once again.

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