Pullquote: The worst was when he hit me, usually with his open hand. When he was angry it was with his fist.
Turning Humiliation to Heroism
Steve’s stepfather liked to say, “My way or the highway!” He had taken over
the fathering of three boys, ages nine, six, and four, after marrying their mother. Due to
abuse experienced from his own father, and alcohol, the man ruled with a heavy hand. Steve and his brothers were required to do all the chores around the house, and when he was displeased, he made them move big rocks from one part of the yard and back again. To save money on haircuts he cut their hair himself. The boys looked like he had placed a bowl on their heads to cut their hair and he loved to cut it short. Humiliated, they returned to school, in a day when long hair was the style.
Steve says, “The worst was when he hit me, usually with his open hand. When he was angry, it was with his fist.” Often it was for small things.
As a result, Steve withdrew into a shell. I felt terrible about myself, he says. Often his favorite place was a local creek where he could be alone.
Have you experienced the smallness of humiliation? It could be the shame experienced from mocking work associates, or the embarrassment of financial failure. It could be the multiplied grief of abuse. It could be the exposure of your own failure such as significant moral compromise or crime. Whatever the source, humiliation devastates our sense of significance.
Pullquote: . . . the most powerful place we can have is humility before God.
Like Steve, the humiliations of life often galled me. I felt low, powerlessness, small and degraded. None of us would choose such a lowly place, and can miss seeing that it can be a launching pad for greatness. I was slow to understand that when I was humiliated, I was in a strategic place, close to the most powerful position a human being can possess.
Perhaps fifteen years ago I began to grasp Bible passages that talked about the place of humility. Why would a person choose the place of being small instead of grasping all that the world offered? I discovered that the most powerful place we can have is humility before God. As we will discover, if we cultivate this strategic opportunity, we will find power with God, influence with men, and authority over our own sinful nature.
Pullquote: . . . whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven Matthew (18:4 NIV).
Humility – A Place of Power
Why would I say that humility is a place of power, when the world says it is a place of ultimate powerlessness only for losers? Consider what the Lord says about those who have influence with Him:
For this is what the high and lofty One says--he who lives forever, whose name is holy: "I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.
( Isaiah 57:15 NIV)
When the Lord says He chooses the contrite and lowly to dwell with Him, He is
defining the kind of person with whom He desires intimate communion, and who pleases Him. The person who takes this low place of brokenness, confession, and yieldedness, can enjoy not only fellowship with Him, but a place of great influence with God.
When the disciples asked Jesus who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, He had a child stand among them, then said:
. . . whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:1-4 NIV)
Not only is the meek one pronounced the greatest before God, but God purposes to
bless and exalt him:
The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Matthew 23:11-12 NIV).
Of What Use is This Place of Influence?
A part of this high place of influence is that God hears the prayer of the humble and works speedily and powerfully to answer their request:
. . . He forgetteth not the cry of the humble (Psalm 9:12b KJV)
In Chapter Four I mentioned Luke18:1-8, the story of the widow and the dishonest judge, from the aspect of never despairing. Another aspect of the story is the small and powerless position of the widow, yet her persistence before the judge. Jesus exhorts us, though we may be small in human influence, to ask boldly and persistently of God in prayer. The one who calls tirelessly in prayer, in that way, will be answered quickly.
Jacob, A Man With Clay Feet
Jacob is an example of one who transformed humiliation to humility -- power and influence with God. As sometimes happens, Jacob’s name also expressed truths about his character. Born a twin, he emerged from the womb in an unusual way:
. . . After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau's heel; so he was named Jacob. (Genesis 25:26a NIV).
In his name and character, Jacob was a heel grabber, a supplanter. In later deceiving his father, and cheating his brother of the blessing of the firstborn (Genesis 27:5-29), he was shown to be one who seeks to displace others so he can have the greater place. In our world it may be one with an inflated ego who climbs the corporate ladder. It is one who pulls others down so he can move up.
Jacob, A Man Seeking God
But though Jacob was human in his failings, he believed deeply in the reality of God. He fervently sought God, and believed in His blessing, which the patriarchs passed on to their sons. He believed strongly enough that he was willing to risk everything to get that blessing from his father.
In his encounter with God at Bethel (Genesis 28:10-22) he showed he wanted to do God’s will. God promised to go with him wherever he went, to bless him, and to return him to Canaan. Jacob vowed that if the Lord went with him in that way, he would ever serve the Lord only as his God.
Humbled? By God?
Jacob traveled to serve his uncle Laban (Genesis 29:1-31:16), whom he found to be
a greater supplanter and trickster than he. Though seemingly taken into Laban’s house as a son, Jacob was cheated in countless ways. Why would God humble Jacob, or any of us for that matter? Because we need to see our failures, and make a new beginning. Is that cruel of God? It is the kindest thing He could do. Some of His most caring actions toward those he loves is to reprove them as sons. Consider what the Lord said about humbling the Jewish people during their wanderings:
Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna . . . (Deuteronomy 8:2-3a NIV).
Pullquote: . . . Esau was coming to kill him.
Facing the Threat
The hostility from Laban and his sons grew,andGod called Jacob to
return to Canaan (Genesis 31:3 NIV). But his return meant a difficult challenge, facing his brother, Esau, whose intention toward him was clear:
Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, "The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob" (Genesis 27:41 NIV)
Fearing for his life, Jacob sent a gracious message to Esau, and took a humbled posture. He hoped for mercy, but instead, the bomb dropped. Without any explanation, Jacob was told his brother was coming with four hundred men (Genesis 32:6). Remembering Esau’s sworn purpose, there was little doubt in Jacob’s mind that Esau was coming to kill him, his wives, children, and servants, brutally fulfilling his vow. Abject terror gripped Jacob. His lying and deceit years earlier in stealing Esau’s blessing, had caught up with him. Though it does not justify Esau’s murderous intent, the threat to all of them could be placed at Jacob’s feet.
Prayer – Doing the Right Thing
In his moment of crisis, Jacob did the right thing – humbling himself before God in prayer. He pleaded with every fiber of his being for God to deliver. Strangely enough, the Lord had already promised exactly that in the promise Jacob had inherited:
*At Bethel, where the Lord promised to watch over him, and give Canaan to him and his descendants (Genesis 28:13-15).
*At the Lord’s call to return to Canaan, He promised to be with him. (Genesis 31:3, 11-13).
*At Machanaim, a place where the angels of God met him as he journeyed. It evidenced that God’s camp of angels, though unseen, were there to protect him (Genesis 32:1-2).
Despite these repeated assurances, Jacob remained intimidated, and pleaded for protection (Genesis 32:9-12). His prayer was not just for himself but for all those with him:
. . . for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children (Genesis 32:11b NIV).
In his prayer and actions he becomes a rescuer and savior of others.
Pullquote: . . . the Lord allowed Himself to be beaten to illustrate to Jacob that he had been victorious in his urgent request.
The Wrestling Match
Though he had humbled himself and prayed fervently, he was still filled with dread. He placed his company over the river, then returned to spend the night by himself. There God met him, as He meets us in our darkest hour. In an unprecedented, unique encounter, the Lord chose to depict Jacob’s protection and victory in a wrestling match.
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak (Genesis 32:24 NIV).
The strangest thing about the wrestling match was that the Lord allowed Himself to be beaten. How could Jacob defeat the Lord God Himself? The Lord allowed it to illustrate to Jacob that he was victorious in his urgent request. In the declaration of his victory the Lord states . . .
. . . you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome (Genesis 32:28b NIV)
Not only does the Lord highlight Jacob’s victory, but he renames Jacob from supplanter to a name that means one who fights with God and prevails:
Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel (Genesis 32:28a NIV).
A Sunrise and a Limp
The wrestling match and name change had immense significance. Not only was Jacob given a vivid picture of the answer to his urgent request but his very identity and character were transformed in God’s sight.
Because the event changed everything, He was given an injury to remember its significance--he walked away with a limp. God had met Him and changed his character. He also walked into a sunrise (Genesis 32:31), a figure of a new beginning as he lived on the basis of his new identity and character.
Power with God and Men
Like Jacob, God desires that instead of surrendering to the shame of humiliation,
we make the switch to being humble before Him, to find a place of true influence and greatness. This place is . . .
*A place of power with God. It is the humble person who has fellowship with Him, and whose cry and prayer He answers in power.
*A place of power with men. God softened his brother’s heart. When Esau met him, instead of violence, he fell on his neck and kissed him (Genesis 33:4). God moves people in answer to prayer.
*A place of authority over ourselves. Brokenness and humility bring us to our right place under God’s rule. Humiliation in life can bring us afresh to accept God’s discipline, and walk carefully, knowing our clay feet.
Steve – the End of the Story
Though Steve and his brothers were humiliated by the severe discipline of their step-father, they resisted the desire to flee the home because of their love for their mother. Finally Doug, the youngest boy, ran away and did not return home for a few weeks. When he came back, he was noticeably different. He had come in contact with a Christian family and been led to faith in Christ. Steve saw in his brother the peace and assurance he longed for. He found himself kneeling, and deciding for Christ himself.
It initiated a new sunrise in his life. Steve pursued training in construction, became involved in nation-wide projects, then began his own business as a licensed contractor. He later met Jody, who came from a Christian family, and he began to learn the love that Christ can bring to a home. They married, had three children, and Steve’s loving fathering became a model to those around him. He became a leader in Scouting, and he was led to use his construction experience as Director of Facilities for a large church, influencing thousands.
Instead of allowing his childhood humiliation to scar his life, Steve chose Christ, a new identity, and a life as God’s humble servant. He lived as a man of power and influence under God, to changing the world for good.
Think It Through Questions
1. Why might humiliation be an appropriate term to summarize what Steve and his brothers endured?
2. In what experiences of life have you experienced humiliation?
3. What does the author mean by the switch? How can humiliation lead us to humility? How does humility differ from human feelings of powerlessness and degradation?
4. What is the value of humility before God? Why would the author say it is a place of power?
5. Why does God allow the contrite and lowly to dwell with Him? Why not the arrogant and powerful?
6. Of what use is this place of influence with God?
7. Years after Esau’s murderous threat, how was Jacob humbled on his return to Canaan?
8. What was the core of Jacob’s burdened plea to God?
9. Why did God appear as a wrestler? In the wrestling match, what was he revealing to Jacob?
10. How can true humility be a place of power in several ways?