Chapter OneThe Promise of
In a culture that so often rewards the proud-a world
quick to admire and applaud the prideful, a world
eager to bestow the label "great" on these same individuals
-humility occasionally attracts some surprising
Take, for example, the bestselling book Good to Great.
Since 2001, this leadership manual from Jim Collins has
become one of the most popular and influential in the
business world. I rarely meet a leader who hasn't read it.
The book is driven by this question: Can a good company
become a great company, and if so, how? To find the
answer, Collins and a team of researchers spent five years
studying eleven corporations that had made the leap from
being merely good companies to being great ones.
I had the chance to hear Jim Collins speak on this
topic to an audience of pastors and business leaders. In his
presentation, Collins identified two specific character
qualities shared by the CEOs of these good-to-great companies.
The first was no surprise: These men and women possessed
incredible professional will-they were driven,
willing to endure anything to make their company a success.
But the second trait these leaders had in common
wasn't something the researchers expected to find: These
driven leaders were self-effacing and modest. They consistently
pointed to the contribution of others and didn't like
drawing attention to themselves. "The good-to-great leaders
never wanted to become larger-than-life heroes,"
Collins writes. "They never aspired to be put on a pedestal
or become unreachable icons. They were seemingly ordinary
people quietly producing extraordinary results."
When Collins interviewed people who worked for
these leaders, he says they "continually used words likequiet, humble, modest, reserved, shy, gracious, mild-mannered,
self-effacing, understated, did not believe his own clippings;
and so forth" to describe them.
In God's Gaze
Here, it appears, is open acknowledgment of humility's
value-recognition that humility works, that it goes far in
building respect for those who have it and in inspiring
trust and confidence from people around them.
Yes, amazingly, humility sometimes attracts the world's
But here's something even more astonishing: Humility
gets God's attention. In Isaiah 66:2 we read these words
from the Lord:
This is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word.
This profound passage points us to an altogether different
motivation and purpose for humility than we will
ever find in the pages of a secular business manual. Here
we find motivation and purpose rooted in this amazing
fact: Humility draws the gaze of our Sovereign God.
If we understand the background of this passage, we
find even richer meaning. Here God is addressing the
Israelites, a people with a unique identity. Chosen by God
from among all the nations on earth, they possessed both
the temple and the Torah-the Law of God. But they
didn't tremble at His word. In a sense they had everything
going for them except what was most important. They
lacked humility before God.
So in this passage, God in His mercy is drawing the
Israelites' attention away from their prideful assumption of
privilege as His chosen people and away from their preoccupation
with the trappings of religion. These things don't
attract His active and gracious gaze. But humility does.
God Helps Those .
The eyes of God are a theme running throughout
Scripture. Take, for example, the familiar words of
2 Chronicles 16:9, "For the eyes of the LORD run to and
fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to
those whose heart is blameless toward him." Obviously
God doesn't have physical eyes; God is spirit (John 4:24).
He doesn't need physical eyes, because He's also omniscient.
Nothing escapes His notice. He's aware of all things.
But though He's aware of everything, He's also searching
for something in particular, something that acts like a
magnet to capture His attention and invite His active
involvement. God is decisively drawn to humility. The
person who is humble is the one who draws God's attention,
and in this sense, drawing His attention means also
attracting His grace-His unmerited kindness. Think
about that: There's something you can do to attract more
of God's gracious, underserved, supernatural strength and
What a promise! Listen to this familiar passage again
for the very first time: "God . gives grace to the humble"
(James 4:6). Contrary to popular and false belief, it's not
"those who help themselves" whom God helps; it's those
who humble themselves.
This is the promise of humility. God is personally and
providentially supportive of the humble. And the grace He
extends to the humble is indescribably rich. As Jonathan
Edwards wrote, "The pleasures of humility are really the
most refined, inward, and exquisite delights in the
world." This book's purpose is to help position you to
receive and experience those exquisite pleasures.
What Is Humility?
For me, Jim Collins's book was an encouraging reminder
that even in a world that celebrates the proud, humility is
still valued. But books like Good to Great have severe limitations;
they can take us only so far in understanding
humility because they're not rooted in a biblical worldview.
Our definition of humility must be biblical and not
simply pragmatic, and in order to be biblical it must begin
with God. As John Calvin wrote, "It is evident that man
never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously
contemplated the face of God, and come down after
such contemplation to look into himself."
That's where the following definition can help us:Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God's holiness
and our sinfulness.
That's the twin reality that all genuine humility is
rooted in: God's holiness and our sinfulness. Without an
honest awareness of both these realities (and we'll reflect
on both throughout this book), all self-evaluation will be
skewed and we'll fail to either understand or practice true
humility. We'll miss out on experiencing the promise and
the pleasures that humility offers.
That's why I want to direct you to God's help for evaluating
your life honestly, to understand whether you're
growing in the humility that draws His gaze and attracts
more of His grace.
Do You Have It?
A few years ago our church-Covenant Life Church in
Gaithersburg, Maryland-celebrated its twenty-fifth
anniversary. As we gathered on this occasion to rejoice
together, Gary Ricucci, who's part of our pastoral team
and one of the church's founding pastors, stood before us
to present an overview of our history. He observed that
though much had changed over the previous twenty-five
years-such as the physical appearance of certain pastors
like myself-the particular values that were present at our
church's inception had remained unchanged.
Listening intently to Gary that morning was a church
member and small-group leader named Jim. Before
attending Covenant Life, he'd been a part of a congregation
where, regretfully, a serious church split had taken
place. As he listened to Gary describe our church's enduring
values, Jim's mind was busy comparing these with the
values evident in his former church. "Why was my experience
so different?" Jim wondered.
He heard Gary affirm that, right from the beginning,
Covenant Life Church had a love for God's Word.
And Jim said to himself, Yes, we had that.
Gary continued, "We were in love with Jesus Christ
and grateful for His substitutionary sacrifice on the cross."
Yes, Jim thought, we had that, too.
"We loved grace, and we loved worship."
Yep, had that.
"We believed in the importance of relationships," Gary
Once again Jim inwardly responded, Okay, we had
Then Gary said, "And there was a strong emphasis on
humility, especially among the leaders."
And Jim thought, Nope. That we did not have.
Let's ask ourselves: When it comes to the values we
live by, what will others say about us one day? Will they
testify that humility characterized our lives?
So many human ventures, so many grand designs of
mankind, have been undermined because humility was
lacking on the part of those involved. In the following
chapter we'll take a look at just how dangerous pride is,
but our motivation for rooting out pride must go beyond
a knowledge of its pitfalls and perils. Our pursuit should
be driven by the amazing promise that humility holds out
to us: God gives grace to the humble!
What are you building with your life? A marriage? A
family? A business? A church? A career? In all your ventures,
are you aware of your need for God's grace to give
your efforts lasting value? Do you long for God's providential
help and blessing? Then let's allow the promise of
humility to shape our life and choices, so our children and
others will one day look back and say of us, They had that.
They had humility. They had what mattered.