Getting ‘Schooled’ in Humility
God uses humility—the flattening of our lives – as a way to help us battle pride’s destructive nature.
The small book of Micah, one of the minor prophets of the Old Testament, unfolds this dramatically in its relay of God’s judgment upon, and rescue of, Israel. In fact, Micah 1:1-2:11 is really a showcase of Israel’s pride. But in 2:12-13, we see a picture of God’s response to their humility. Notice the beautiful way God takes center stage and acts on behalf of those who are humble, keeping their pride in check:
I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob;
I will gather the remnant of Israel;
I will set them together
like sheep in a fold,
like a flock in its pasture,
a noisy multitude of men.
He who opens the breach goes up before them;
they break through and pass the gate,
going out by it.
Their king passes on before them,
the Lord at their head.
Like Israel, too often we learn this the hard way, don’t we?
One of my most unforgettable life lessons about humility occurred in college, and it came because of the pride that I had allowed to pile up in my life. I was a junior, and my degree track required me to take the course Minor Prophets.
When I took the course as a college junior, I had already been serving as the junior high youth director in my home church for about a year. Young, energetic, and excited to pursue this calling God had placed on my life, I was pouring everything I had into my ministry. Discipling my teens, coordinating my events, and preaching mymessages became the singular focus of my life. And with over 100 middle schoolers in my youth group, well, I felt things were looking up. Unfortunately, that is the way I looked at it: It was my youth group.
As I entered Minor Prophets, I was proudly thinking, I have been working at my home church for more than a year, I study the Bible every week, I teach junior high kids—why do I need this class? C’mon, this little book is just seven chapters and I am bound to ace it. After all, I was making A’s in all the languages and acing my theology classes. So Minor Prophets was sure to be a cakewalk.
I wasn’t the only one who showed up for that first day of class. So did pride. I recall going and, because I felt like my ministry was so important, I took mywork with me—the actual work for my job as youth director. There were tasks that needed to be done weekly, such as communications, cards, and newsletters. Plus studying for my weekly message. So I worked on them during class. This went on for a number of weeks, until one day my good friend said, “Todd, you need to listen. You’re not going to pass the class.”
“It’s just Minor Prophets,” I responded, haughtily. “And only Micah, for goodness sake.”
All semester I didn’t think twice about Micah. I attended classes, but I did myown thing while the teacher kept on lecturing. I took the tests along the way, but the whole thing was, to me, an exercise in futility. I even commented to that same friend later, “We aren’t learning a thing.”
The day of the final exam came, and my friend’s earlier comment, in the end, proved tragically true for me: I got a ‘D.’ Blindly and hypocritically, I had allowed pride to pile up in my life; and it brought me down. I was, believe it or not, stunned. Flattened. I had been to the school of humility.
As you know, you must have at least a ‘C’ in all of your degree-track courses. With a D, I wasn’t hitting the mark. When I realized that I would have to take the course over, humility became a very attractive option. In a flash, I became very interested in those prophets. I even began to love the book of Micah and I wanted to learn all I could.
But it was too late. The class was over. And I had earned a ‘D.’ Now what? With graduation around the corner, there wouldn’t be time to retake it; the schedules weren’t matching up well for that option. Things suddenly didn’t look good from my vantage point.
I realized I had to talk to the professor. So I humbled myself, went to his office, and mumbled something like, “Mr. Griffin, I really can’t live with this ‘D.’”
“I think you are going to have to,” he said, staring straight at me.
“You don’t understand…” I started.
“No, you don’t understand, Todd,” as he proceeded to flatten me. “I have watched you all semester. I have watched you work on your little projects at your seat. I have watched you as you didn’t think twice about what I said. I have watched you just squeak by on your tests. The end result is you got a ‘D.’ So, no, I don’t have to listen to you and I don’t have to make any adjustments.”
Yes, little by little, I was shrinking. I was finding my world—at least scholastically—getting very small. Very flat. So I, in a last-ditch effort, asked, “Is there anything I can do?”
“Maybe one thing,” he said, with a hint of hope, barely grinning. That was like tossing a lifeline to a drowning man.
He assigned me a paper on the book of Micah. I responded, “No problem, Mr. Griffin.” I went home and began work on what was my most humble attempt at explaining the book of Micah. I was going to do all I could to squeeze out a passing grade. So I researched, studied, typed and turned it in, holding my breath and thinking, “Please, just a little mercy.”
What happened? He gave me a ‘C.’ No doubt a mercy ‘C,’ but nonetheless a ‘C.’ When he gave me the grade, he said, “Just be thankful, and pursue humility more.” Groveling visibly, I genuinely thanked him. He had been merciful in the middle of my pride.
I’ll never forget that class and what I learned about pride and humility. Yes, pride destroys. But humility is the antidote. Truly, the way out of pride is down—the way of humility.