Marks of a Mature Believer Artist (I): Humility

If you could only work on one virtue your whole life, I would highly recommend humility. It is the chief of virtues. If our chief sin, dramatically acted out by our primeval parentals, Adam & Eve, is pride, then the chief antidote is the exact opposite: humility.

Now the problem with humility is that you don’t get much credit for doing it right. As John Ortberg wryly notes, “We’d like to be humble . . . but what if no one notices?”
So there you go, it’s a stinker. But it’s also the only way out of a miserable selfishness and into true happiness. The more humility, St. Francis the frolicking monk proclaims, the merrier.
It’s good to remember, additionally, that while we receive humility as a gift from God, we increase it as a habit we develop.

With the virtue of humility so many wonderful things happen to us I don't know where to start, so I'll start here . . . .

· First off, with humility influencing the way my brain works I begin to understand that all I have is grace. All I possess—actually and potentially—whether artistically, intellectually, relationally, practically, financially, and so on, is a gift. I don’t have to be an artist, I get to be an artist. My artistic work is a gift I get to give away, whether to millions of adoring fans or to the birds of the air or to a God whom I cannot see but who takes great pleasure in watching me make art and come alive.

· In humility I see that I am not the boss of me. While I can boast of a job well done, I cannot boast that I did it on my own without God’s help or, for that matter, the help of all the folks who build the roads and computers and clothes and farms and subterranean mysterious water pipes that enable me to live on planet earth circa 2007.

· In humility I shoo away thoughts that make me believe that I can, and should be, a self-made genius for all to bow down to—and for them to say, “How amazing you are,” and I say, “Oh, really, it was nothing,” and they say, “But you’re awesome,” and I say, “Oh stop it” and they say, “No, really,” and I say “Well, if you insist”—and they pay homage to my brilliance which my audience barely deserves but which I impart anyway because, well, they need me and I need their money and affirmation.
In humility, however, I see that this is simply a silly game of fishing for compliments, because at bottom I don’t really feel secure and haven’t yet allowed God to secure me in His love and in His purposes for my life. But in humility I say, “Go for it, Lord of Hosts, show me how to find my security in you. I'm ready, I'm willing. I don't know how it's really supposed to work, but you do and I trust you.”

· In humility I can be free to have a teachable heart. With a teachable heart all is possible. Let me say that again: with a teachable heart all is possible. Why? Because the teachable heart is persistently wide open for God to accomplish his good, perfect and all-together pleasant will in me, which turns out to be a win-win for all. With a teachable heart there is nothing for me to fear as I face the pain of growing out of my self-pity, self-indulgence, self-aggrandizement and all the hyphenated self's that keep me, not powerful but powerless.

· In humility I am not embarrassed or slow to acknowledge my weaknesses, even in front of others. I simply accept that that’s what it means to be a human being on this earth: to have weaknesses and to know, God bless us, that they’re not the whole story. They rather make me a very interesting, colorful person, capable of accomplishing perhaps a lot of things, but not everything.
“I can’t sing in tune, I can’t write well, I have a funny nose, I’m too short, too slow, too impatient with people who are (dis)organized, too shy, too loud, too mopey, too chatty, too distracted, too emotional, chubby, clumsy, bossy, nosy, wussy, and allergic to people who love competitive sports.” I am a colorful person.

· Even more than acknowledging my weaknesses, I will give thanks for them. “Ha ha!” I say to my pride. As Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667) writes, “Give God thanks for every weakness, fault, and imperfection you have. Accept it as a favor of God, an instrument to resist pride and nurse humility. Remember, if God has chosen to shrink your swelling pride, he has made it that much easier for you to enter in through the narrow way.”

· In humility I concede that I have failed and will probably fail in the future. So be it. Cheers! But thank God again, my failures don’t rule me. They are not the end of the world (though they're sneaky and make me believe that life as we know it has officially come to an end).

· In humility I recognize that I need others to succeed. My flesh wants to refute this—“I don’t need him and certainly not her, I can do it on my own”—but I will simply ignore my flesh, or better yet, mortify it. With confidence I can start inviting others into my life and receive their wisdom, input, correction and practical help, even when I feel that I should already know how to do it. Besides, the "I feel like I should already know how to do it" feeling usually puts me into a grumpy mood. . . .

· In humility I recognize that some of my wounds—caused by rejection, loneliness, failure, embarrassment—should not be bandaged over as fast as possible. The wounds are there, often “to be a listening post, a chance to exit the small confines of a self-defined world and enter the spaciousness of a God-defined world.” So says Eugene Peterson in his wonderful middle-sized book, Subversive Spirituality, right on page 160.

· Finally, in humility I remind myself always that Jesus Christ is my Good Shepherd. He is God and I, thank God, am not. And because He is the God who made me He knows how to take care of me. Really. As my Creator and Redeemer, King and Lover of my soul, he finally secures my identity and calling. He alone can make my soul well. To him first I go for comfort and healing. He only can truly, deeply save me--not my spouse, not my parents, not my friends or mentor, not anybody with a lot of money or smart brains or problem-solving super powers.
By day and by night my Good Shepherd Jesus never falls asleep on me, and remembering this helps me sleep sweetly at night.


Important concepts. Looking forward to the rest of the series. The ideas and ideals properly fly in the face of how artists viewed themselves — and how the public viewed artists — over my own lifetime (and probably over the last couple century too).
Pam Howell said…

thank you for the time you invested in this. I appreciate your words and wisdom. Can I refer people to this from my blog site,

Thanks, Pam. That looks great. It's fun to peek in to what y'all are thinking and doing at Willow Creek. Good stuff.
LaurenYarger said…
What a great series. I love the line "Now the problem with humility is that you don’t get much credit for doing it right."
We'll link to this from our blog at
God Bless.
Ed said…
Good stuff, David. I'm just finally reading through these now!

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