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The Practice of Humility

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark  10:45

As we anticipate growing more in Christlikeness, we look to take on the qualities and virtues Christ modeled. Jesus not only lived a life of true humility but his life ended with the ultimate expression of humility.  Jesus humbled Himself and became obedient unto death. In death he gave the highest, the perfect proof of having given up His will to the will of God.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself
 by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:8

Jesus himself encourages all of us to "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:29).

“If humility be the first, the all-including grace of the life of Jesus—if humility be the secret of His atonement—then the health and strength of our spiritual life will entirely depend on our putting this grace first too, and making humility the chief thing we admire in Him, the chief thing we ask of Him, the one thing for which we sacrifice all else.” (Murray, Humility).

Humility is a difficult practice to engage, Murray in his book Humility describes it as “one of those virtues that is never gained by seeking it” It is more than a life-style, life-long quest or a practice, it is a life.

Adele Calhoun in The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook provides some guidance for the practice of this discipline which include things such as:

  • refraining from image management
  • deliberately keeping silent about accomplishments and talents
  • refusing the impulse to name-drop
  • backing away from becoming the center of attention
  • drawing others out
  • avoiding favoritism
  • honoring others as God does
  • choosing downward mobility so others have more

Some additional practical suggestions come from Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, “More than any other single way, the grace of humility is worked into our lives through the Discipline of Service.” he states that “nothing disciplines the inordinate desires of the flesh like service, and nothing transforms the desires of the flesh like serving in hiddenness.”

Service can include such simple things as:

  • the service of guarding the reputation of others,
  • the service of listening, service of bearing the burdens of each other
  • the service of common courtesy

Bonhoeffer in Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community also provides some guidance: “it is part of the discipline of humility that we must not spare our hand where it can perform a service and that we do not assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God.”

The Psalms and Proverbs are full of guidance in submission to God and in nurturing a humble spirit. The gospels reveal Christ’s humble spirit in His words, actions, His teaching, and His final surrender on the cross. Jesus was Humility Incarnate. Christ’s humility in turn directs us to God as “Christ is the humility of God embodied in human nature; the Eternal Love humbling itself, clothing itself in the garb of meekness and gentleness, to win and save us.” (Murray, Humility).

Jesus practically demonstrated his humility to his disciples by washing their feet at the last supper,  and exhorted them to have the same spirit.

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” John 13:1-17

Jesus’ humble spirit is evident to all in the way he refers to himself:

For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. John 6:38

François Fénelon (Talking with God) describes the humble as “calm and peaceful, of a contrite and humble heart, merciful and compassionate. They are quiet, cheerful, obedient, watchful, fervent in spirit, and incapable of strife. They always take the lowest place, rejoice when they are despised, and consider everyone better than themselves. They are lenient to the faults of others in view of their own”

In our best moments humility is simply pride that is too grateful to look down on anyone” Brother David Steindl-Rast.

 

Confession and Self-Examination

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. 1 John 18-10

A spiritual discipline that does not receive as much attention as it should is the discipline of confession and self-examination. To some it can sound antiquated, belonging to a different era and also a different faith tradition, and to others it can sound emotionally and psychologically heavy, and shame and guilt inducing. It is neither.

Calhoun in The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook describes self-examination as “the process whereby the Holy Spirit opens my heart to what is true about me. This is not the same thing as a neurotic shame-inducing inventory. Instead it is a way of opening myself to God within the safety of his love so I can authentically seek transformation. Confession embraces Christ’s gift of forgiveness and restoration while setting us on the path to renewal and change.”

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24

Corbin Reuschling in Desire for God describes confession as “the act of speaking about what is known, true, and real. Confession is to acknowledge or agree with God and others about the wrongs we have done by bringing them to light.  Confession is offered in the context of a relationship with the God who knows and loves us still, and has desires for our lives that we cannot even begin to imagine. Confession of our sin signals our profound understanding of our need for forgiveness, fresh starts, and newness of life. Confession itself is an important act of self-discovery and a means by which we speak the truth about ourselves to God and others, always in the context of God’s love, grace, and the gift of the Holy Spirit for better ways of being the kinds of persons God desires us to be.”

Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. Psalm 32:1-2

David deSilva in Sacramental Life, give us further guidance “self-examination and confession is not just a mental exercise. We sin with our whole being; we need to repent with out whole being. We need to allow ourselves to feel genuine sorrow, engaging our hearts as well as our minds in this discipline. This does not mean subjecting ourselves to feelings of inadequacy or guilt, as if piety meant self-loathing. Rather, it is an exercise in appreciating the full import of our sinful choices, attitudes and lifestyles, so that we can comprehend the depth of God’s mercy and compassion toward us and, experiencing a fuller measure of gratitude toward him, be catapulted into greater degrees of love toward God and our neighbor.”

Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; 
so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Psalm 51: 2-4

We confess sins of commission, the things we have done that have defied God and God’s purpose for human life. Yet we also acknowledge our sins of omission, those behaviors, attitudes, and perspectives that have kept us from doing what we ought to have done. We confess our belief in God and reaffirm our allegiance to God’s kingdom in order to resist all other gods or idols that would draw us away from our ultimate desires for relationship with God and a life ordered by the justice that God loves and desires for creation (Corbin Reuschling, Desire for God).

The practice includes spending time with God and:

  • Admitting to God the natural propensity to rationalize, deny, blame and self-obsess
  • Examining the “sin network” in your life as evidenced in presumptuous sins, besetting weaknesses, self-centered habits and broken relationships
  • Replacing sinful habits with healthy ones
  • Seeking God’s grace to change

The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook

Another helpful practice is to meditate on Psalms 32, 51, or 139

Confession becomes a means by which we resist the evils and harms that come with leaving areas of our lives outside the purview of God’s grace, mercy, and justice. If Christ is Lord, then all areas of life—the public and the personal, the social and the individual, the sacred and the profane—must be open to and under the purview of the love, justice, and mercy of God. Resistance calls us to say yes to Christ as Lord and no to the things that deny the goodness of God and wreak havoc in human lives and communities. (Corbin Reuschling, Desire for God)

 

Rest

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. Genesis 2:2-3

A healthy balance of working and resting is fundamental to our health and well-being, but not all of us take enough time to do this properly. When we don’t get enough rest we become stressed, and prolonged stress can lead to the development of chronic health problems. When we don’t get enough rest our body is weakened and we are more susceptible to acute illnesses, our memory is negatively impacted, we underperform, we are more likely to suffer from impaired judgment, we lose our joy, we can become disconnected from loved ones, but most importantly, it pulls us away from God.

Mary Kate Morse describes the benefits of rest:

Resting draws the heart and body back to God’s overarching love and sovereign will. Rest recalibrates us and brings us back to the center. Rest is a trust response to God’s love. Rest reminds us that ultimately our true significance is in our love relationship with God and not in our productivity.” A Guide book to Prayer.

The Sabbath is God’s gift to us. It gives us time to recharge our tired minds and bodies, and also to restore our relationship with our Creator.

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Mark 2:27

It may not be possible to take a whole day to rest, but start with whatever time you have available. Prepare for this time by:

  • Putting away distracting devices (cellphones, TV’s, laptops)
  • Setting yourself boundaries within this time (decide not to check email, answer calls, or any other stressful work)
  • Banish all to-do lists for the Sabbath period
  • Take a break from chores

And instead:

  • Switch off the alarm clock and sleep later or lay in bed for a while after you wake.
  • Try going to bed earlier
  • Take a nap
  • Pray. Try a new and easy prayer practice (for a list click here)
  • Go on a nature walk
  • Spend time with people whose company you enjoy
  • Listen to some relaxing music
  • Do something that relaxes you and brings you joy

Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. Psalm 116:7

 

The Spiritual Discipline of Detachment

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Matthew 16:24

Adele Calhoun in the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook describes the spiritual discipline of detachment:

Detachment means replacing the attachments to idolatrous relationships and self-serving goals and agendas for success, money, power, ego, productivity and image with wholehearted attachment to and trust in God alone.

Unhealthy attachments greatly interfere with our relationship with God. They also have a negative impact on our own personal emotional and spiritual growth and maturity. St Ignatius talks about detachment as “making use of those things that help to bring us closer to God and leaving aside those things that don’t.” We tend to develop, at different times, unhealthy attachments to our money, time, and possessions. We can also have an unhealthy attachment to our image and identity depending on the approval of others, labels and titles, prestige, glory, acclaim, and power for our self-worth.

As a first step, we have to identify our unhealthy attachments. Calhoun recommends taking an attachment inventory. You could ask yourself such questions as:

How do I handle failure and weakness, suffering and loss?

How do I feel and respond when someone comes in ahead of me?

What is my attitude to my money, time and possessions?

How do I treat other people? Do I tend to manipulate and control them for my own needs?

From where do I derive my sense of self-worth and identity? Do I engage in image management?

Do I trust God to provide for my needs?

The practice of the spiritual disciplines does not provide an instant remedy for our problems, instead it puts us in a posture of being open to receiving more of God’s grace. We can’t do this alone, we are totally dependent on God’s help. But we can start by identifying and naming our attachments, and then invite God to help us let go. We can spend time in prayer confessing and surrendering our attachments to God and requesting His help. We can monitor our daily behavior and become more self-aware of triggers and needs. When we find ourselves falling into old patterns of behavior and thinking, we can remind ourselves that God's grace and mercy are unconditional and unlimited. We can replace our unhealthy attachments by developing a healthy dependence on God for all our needs. We can reclaim our true identity in Christ and use Him as our role model, guide and teacher. And last but not least, we invite the Holy Spirit to sustain and empower us on our journey. God bless you!

 

Discernment

It is inevitable that at some stage we will be faced with difficult choices and will have to make decisions that could have a big impact on the course of our lives. Sometimes the right choice is quite clear and not much thought or prayer is needed. At other times our hearts may be saying one thing and our minds another. And sometimes we don’t hear from either our hearts or minds.

The Vineyard embraces treasures from other Christian faith traditions that enrich our spirituality and connection to God. Ignatian Discernment is one such treasure and comes from the Catholic tradition, more information can be found hereThe following article “How Ignatian Spirituality gives us a way to discern God’s will” elaborates on the difficulty of making decisions and guides us in how to seek God’s assistance and guidance. Trained spiritual directors can also assist you with issues of difficult discernment. For more information on the Vineyard Church’s Spiritual Direction Ministry click here.

 

Self-Compassion

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Colossians 3:12

As Christians, compassion is a virtue we regard as essential to our core beliefs. Jesus is the model for compassionate living. Everywhere he went He demonstrated compassion. He had compassion on crowds of people (Matt 9:36, 14:14, 15:32), on individuals seeking healing (Matt 20:34, Mark 5:34, Luke 4:40, Luke 8:50, Luke 18:42), on the poor, the hungry, the orphans, the widows, all the oppressed and marginalized. But Jesus also exercised self-compassion. After He had healed the sick, driven out demons, performed miracles, taught, and preached, Jesus would often retreat into solitude to spend time with His Heavenly Father and recharge.

The practical tip for the sermon given on the 28th of June talked about being more self-compassionate. Being self-compassionate means having the same compassion for yourself that you would have for others. What this practically means is when you are tired, sick, experiencing self-judgment, being self-critical, feeling burdened down by life’s worries, or hurting, maybe it is time to give yourself time to rest, give yourself time to heal, forgive yourself your failings, be kind to yourself, acknowledge your pain without guilt for doing so, or self-pity. Treat yourself the way you would any other child of God coming to you with your situation. Spend time with God as Jesus did, be compassionate toward yourself, and experience His compassion for you.

 

Prayers for the communities affected by the recent church fires

As we hear of black churches being burned in Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina, our hearts grieve for the communities of those affected, and what this means. We send out our prayers and lament alongside them.

Stand by Me (1905)

Charles Albert Tindley 
When the storms of life are raging,
Stand by me;
When the storms of life are raging,
Stand by me.
When the world is tossing me,
Like a ship upon the sea;
Thou who rulest wind and water,
Stand by me.
 
In the midst of tribulation,
Stand by me;
In the midst of tribulation,
Stand by me.
When the hosts of hell assail,
And my strength begins to fail,
Thou who never lost a battle,
Stand by me.
 
In the midst of faults and failures,
Stand by me;
In the midst of faults and failures,
Stand by me.
When I do the best I can,
And my friends misunderstand,
Thou who knowest all about me,
Stand by me.
 
In the midst of persecution,
Stand by me;
In the midst of persecution,
Stand by me.
When my foes in battle array
Undertake to stop my way,
Thou who saved Paul and Silas,
Stand by me.
 
When I’m growing old and feeble,
Stand by me;
When I’m growing old and feeble,
Stand by me.
When my life becomes a burden,
And I am nearing chilly Jordan,
O Thou “Lily of the Valley,”
Stand by me.
 

From “Conversations with God: Two Centuries of Prayers by African Americans” 
by James Washington. 

 

Prayers for the congregation of Emmanuel AME in Charleston, SC.

We join in with the nation as we all grieve the senseless killing of nine of our brothers and sisters in Christ from Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Rev Clementa Pinckney, Rev Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lee Lance, Cynthia Hurd, Rev Daniel L. Simmons Sr, Rev DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson, our hearts go out to their families and loved ones and the congregation they served.The lament we shared together can be found here.

The Last Supper by Angela Hardy

Dearly beloved

We are gathered here today.

When two or more are gathered

I wonder what they prayed

In the moments before the bullets

Gathered in my name

I imagine, for their families

For their jobs

For their friends

For relief

Dearly beloved

We are gathered here today

Did they pray for their enemies?

For any unbelief?

When two or more are gathered

Gathered in my name

What were they reading:

Passages, scripture,

Sacred texts,

Holy words,

Asking, wondering...

God’s “living” word spoken

Right out loud

From living lips.

When two or more are gathered

A usual Wednesday night

Bible study.

Gathered in my name.

Are the Bible pages

Soaked with their own holy eucharist

Gathered in my name

And what about the host

This is my body

This is my blood

When two or more

In the name of the father

the son

and the holy ghost

Are gathered

What did they pray?

In my name

Truly I say to you

When two or more are gathered

Tonight I will be betrayed

Gathered in my name.

 

Psalm of Lament for Charleston by Shonagh Chimbira

Hatred, fear, senseless evil,
Lord we cry out “why?”
Grief, pain, incessant tears,
Lord we know you weep too.
Murder, violence, injustice,
Lord your body took it all.
Resurrection, vindication, liberation,
Lord you overcame it all.
Redemption, restoration, reconciliation,
God you offer this all to us.
Pain, anger, fear,
God it holds us back.
Love, mercy, grace,
God that is what you give to all,
Faith, trust, hope,
God that is what we need.
Lord save us!
We are drowning.
God help us!
We are despairing
Holy Spirit fill us,
We are running on empty.
Grace support us,
We can’t stand on our own.
Mercy heal us,
The pain cuts too deep.
Love restore us,
That’s the only way we can do this.
 
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