Last week, I had a chance to share God’s Word before an audience of over 300 students and faculty at Makerere. The topic assigned to me was Mentoring and I had a lot of fun preparing and presenting it. After speaking, I received a ton of positive feedback on all aspects of it. I’m not going to lie, I enjoyed receiving praise and grew a lot in my confidence as a speaker and teacher of God’s Word.
How does one remain humble after receiving so much positive feedback? It’s easy to be humble when the vast majority of my affirmation comes from my mom (whose encouragement I am continually grateful for); it’s slightly more difficult when feedback from a number of sources tempts me to believe I really am all that.
I don’t believe confidence and pride are synonymous. Pride is much too tricky to be that simple. I’ve known people who took pride in their lack of self confidence. I’ve struggled with pride my whole life and I know there’s more to overcoming it than self deprecation.
Here are a few practices in my life that I hope, by God’s grace, to help me remain humble even as I grow in confidence in the ministry God calls me to.
Recognize the source of all gifts: 1 Corinthians 4:7 has recently become one of my favorite verses. “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” Paul’s challenge to the Corinthians rings true to me. It’s not a lie that I have a gift for public speaking and of teaching. But on what merit did I receive these gifts but by God’s grace and His providence.
I am very blessed to have grown up in my family. I grew up watching my dad, who is a much better teacher than I am. I grew up watching him teach publicly in the church, and had the privilege of having him explain scripture to me often as a new Christian. Only by the greatest pride and self-delusion could I deny his role in my development. My mother is also gifted as a teacher and so by nature and nurture, I am who I am. I didn’t earn my heritage, but am simply a recipient of blessing.
Rejoice with other great speakers: One sure testimony of pride is jealousy. So often, my heart wants to grumble when someone else gets the spotlight. The day after I spoke, a good friend of mine was invited to speak at a lunch hour session and he did a great job. That meant that the same people who had been complimenting me now shifted their attention to him. I had to make an intentional decision to affirm his ministry and to be sincere about it.
I love how Paul responded to the ministry of another leader in the church in Corinth. Apollos served faithfully and skillfully so that people began to choose between Paul and Apollos. Instead of getting into the debate, making a case for himself, Paul responds to point attention back to God. “Who then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed as the Lord assigned to each… So neither he who plants and he who waters are anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:5-7).
We as Christians frequently claim that only God deserves the glory for His work among His people. We corroborate our belief in that when we allow Him to use someone else to do what we feel we also could do just as well, if not better.
Seek to constantly grow in my gifts: The parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 speaks to anyone who has been given responsibility for anything in God’s providence. We are stewards of all we own, accountable to God for how we use it. Notice that the master wasn’t satisfied with a simple return of his money by the third servant. He expected investment, development and growth. How proud and ungrateful are we when we think we have arrived and don’t invest in developing what God has given us?
Some of you know I’m a big fan of (read: obsessed with) the New England Patriots football team. The team’s quarterback- a player who could retire today and be guaranteed a spot in the hall of fame- is a great role model of this. In post game conferences, he will regularly talk about needing to improve as a player and as a team. Fourteen years into the game, he still has a tutor teaching him to improve his throwing in the offseason.
Recognize the limit of my responsibility: In the book of John, Jesus teaches the disciples about His vision for the church after His death, resurrection and ascension. He tells them, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father… He will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness because you have been with me from the beginning.” Essentially, He tells them that evangelism will be the work of two entities: The church and the Spirit. Who will actually bear the responsibility of bringing about transformation and salvation? The Holy Spirit; not us (John 16:8-11).
Ultimately, as a teacher of God’s Word, my job is to introduce people to Jesus through whatever topic and scripture I teach on. Whether I do a great or horrible job, the responsibility is on the Spirit of God to bring true vision of Christ’s glory, repentance and transformation. My pastor uses the analogy of a pencil. Nobody in the history of written communication has ever praised a pencil for any work of literature produced. It’s easy to see when a writing utensil doesn’t perform up to standard, but when it does its job well, all the glory goes to the author. May we seek simply to be worthy tools in the hands of our master.
Ultimately, the task of remaining humble is one of prayer. These principles in themselves have no ability to control the deceitful self-aggrandizing of the heart. Only God, through reminder of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13) and the piercing of His Word (Hebrews 4:12) can restrain and purify the heart.
From Christ and through Him and to Him are all things.
To Him be glory forever