Humility 101: Continuing Ed for Leaders

Reprinted from the Center for Faith and Work at LeTourneau University.

By Bill Peel

No one aspires to be the lead story in the evening news or connected to the latest scandal on the front page of the wall Street Journal. But humiliation is a distinct possibility for any of us when we get carried away with our own importance. Rather than seeking to serve others, we focus on how others should serve us. Instead of making decisions based on what’s good for the most people possible, we choose what’s best for us. If people don’t agree or cooperate, we jettison them like excess baggage.

Let’s be honest: none of us is exempt. We can become so thoroughly self-absorbed that we bend God’s standards for our own benefit, as if distinctions between right and wrong apply to everyone but us. After all, I’m the leader I so get to do what I want! And besides, no one is watching—or so we think.

Leaders who get carried away by their own hubris are not a modern phenomenon. A number of biblical leaders suffered from ego issues. David, called “a man after God’s own heart,” fell victim to unbridled self-importance when he lusted after the wife of one of his most loyal soldiers. Afterwards, in a desperate attempt to cover his adultery, he contrived a plan to have her husband killed in battle.

Moses got carried away with his own calling. Driven by grand goals and self-sufficiency, he ran ahead of God and killed an Egyptian taskmaster, impetuously pursuing his purpose. Moses had to learn something that many of us need to learn: God wants us to fulfill the purpose for which He created us—but He wants us to do it His way and in His timing.

To teach Moses humility, God put him through a 40-year rehab program.

Rather than discard fallen leaders, God graciously seeks to rehabilitate us. Moses emerged from his failure a broken, humble, but mighty leader—more useful than he could have ever imagined on the front side of failure.

I don’t know about you, but 40 years sounds like serious continuing education. If possible, I’d rather shorten my class time in Humility 101. The good news is that Jesus gave his disciples instructions on how to place out of a lot of this painful course.

When James and John were jockeying for position in Jesus’ leadership cabinet, He gave them this advice:

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 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 10:42-45)

Note that Jesus didn’t rebuke James and John for their desire for leadership; He confronted their concept of leadership. He wanted them (and us) to understand that leadership is not about getting others to serve us or our purposes—no matter how noble, right, and good they are. Leadership is about subordinating our self-interest and serving others to achieve God’s purposes.

Jesus had strong words for swollen heads. He told His disciples,

So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” (Luke 17:10)

Here’s a mid-term exam: To discover whether pride is edging out humility, give yourself a “fruit inspection.” The absence of fruit of the Spirit means something besides the Holy Spirit is guiding you, and could be setting you up for an unwanted spot on the evening news.

  •     Love: Do you focus on what you can do for others or what they can do for you?
  •     Joy: Are you delighting in your relationship with Christ?
  •     Peace: What is your sense of well-being?
  •     Patience: Are you easily frustrated with people and situations?
  •     Kindness: Do you go out of your way to show consideration for others?
  •     Goodness: Are your thoughts and actions wholesome?
  •     Faithfulness: Are you keeping your word and telling the truth?
  •     Gentleness: Are you compassionate and willing to forgive when people make mistakes?
  •     Self-control: Are you mastering your desires, or do they master you?

So how did you do? Whatever your grade, join me in asking God to make us a blessing to everyone we come in contact with today.

Bill Peel is founding Executive Director of The Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University.

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