Category Archives: Humility

Day 23, The Ephrem Prayer (part 7)

prodigal-detail1Pray this prayer again – slowly. Jesus doesn’t warn against repetition – just meaningless repetition! Now that you’ve reflected on the meaning of each petition, pray slowly enough to always mean it!

O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of
apathy, despondency, ambition, and empty talk.
+++
But give rather the spirit of
purity, humility, patience, and love to Your servant.
+++
Yes, O Lord and King!
Grant me to see my own errors
and not to judge my brother or sister;
For You are blessed forever, to ages of ages.  Amen!
+++

Read the commentary by Schmemann on HUMILITY:

The first and wonderful fruit of this wholeness or purity is humility. We already spoke of it. It is above everything else the victory of truth in us, the elimination of all lies in which we usually live. Humility alone is capable of truth, of seeing and accepting things as they are and therefore of seeing God’s majesty and goodness and love in everything. This is why we are told that God gives grace to the humble and resists the proud.

A version of the whole commentary can be read here.

Day 17, The Ephrem Prayer (part 1)

Rembrandt, 'Return of the Prodigal Son' - detail
Rembrandt, ‘Return of the Prodigal Son’ (detail)

For many years I have been deeply impacted by what is known in the Eastern church as The Lenten Prayer of Ephrem the Syrian. I encourage us to memorize it, and pray it each day in the morning or before retiring for the night (or both.)

Starting tomorrow and into next week, I want to share some of the wonderful commentary on this prayer as we examine each petition.  It parallels the Apostle Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 4 to “Put off the old and put on the new.” It is a prayer for transformation!  The +++ indicates pauses where traditionally one would bow or make a prostration (face to the floor.)

O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of
apathy, despondency, ambition, and empty talk.
+++
But give rather the spirit of
purity, humility, patience, and love to Your servant.
+++
Yes, O Lord and King!
Grant me to see my own errors
and not to judge my brother or sister;
For You are blessed forever, to ages of ages.  Amen!
+++

Poetry Monday – Humility and hope in a broken world

narniaI try to always read some poetry on my day off – my Sabbath Monday. This poem by Anne Porter struck me in a unique way. It reminds me of my part in the brokenness inflicted by sin. My “blind complicity” as she says in the third stanza. How I dismiss people in their wounded state, “as if I were not one of them.”

The last lines remind me of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when Aslan’s resurrection ushers in the spring of the New Creation!

Whatever harm I may have done
In all my life in all your wide creation
If I cannot repair it
I beg you to repair it,

And then there are all the wounded 
The poor the deaf the lonely and the old
Whom I have roughly dismissed
As if I were not one of them.
Where I have wronged them by it
And cannot make amends
I ask you
To comfort them to overflowing,

And where there are lives I may have withered around me,
Or lives of strangers far or near
That I’ve destroyed in blind complicity,
And if I cannot find them
Or have no way to serve them,

Remember them. I beg you to remember them

When winter is over
And all your unimaginable promises
Burst into song on death’s bare branches.

“A Short Testament” by Anne Porter, from Living Things.
reprinted in The Writer’s Almanac

Prayers I Go To Constantly

prayerI find my prayer life becoming more simple.  I didn’t say simplistic.

Quite the opposite, I find that I am drawn to the Biblical prayers; the Ancient words that quickly “put me in my place” as the beloved forgiven sinner who belongs to the Mighty and Good God! I mentioned this idea in last week’s teaching on The Battle with Anxiety

Here are three of my “Go-To Prayers.”  

The Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
There are variations based on the biblical references (e.g. Luke 18:13, 38 and historical usage.) See this previous post on the use of the Jesus Prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer: the pattern given to Jesus’ disciples when asked, “Teach us to pray!” All true prayer is contained here.  Let’s use it as both a prayer and a frame upon which to hang our every petition. Look at this article about how Martin Luther practiced and taught using this prayer and other scriptures.

The Lenten Prayer of Ephrem the Syrian:   Read a great commentary on this 4th cent. prayer.
O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of
apathy, despondency, ambition, and empty talk.

+++
But give rather the spirit of
purity, humility, patience, and love to Your servant.
+++
Yes, O Lord and King!
Grant me to see my own errors
and not to judge my brother or sister;
For You are blessed forever, to ages of ages.  Amen!
+++

Do you have prayers or scriptures that you GO TO that help you “Pray without ceasing?”   Leave a comment.

C. S. Lewis on the Battle with Pride

fourbattlesIn a sermon on 1 Peter 5:1-6, The Battle With Pride, we had readers do an excerpt from C.S. Lewis’ famous Screwtape Letters. I’ve listed some great Lewis quotes on Pride and Humility below.  But if you’d like to read the whole Letter (#14) from Screwtape, just click here.

I’ll end with some background on the writing of Screwtape during WW II that you will find fascinating!

Lewis Quotes on Humility and Pride:

There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. […] There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves.[…]The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility.  (Mere Christianity)

If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. [The way to take this first step, continued Lewis, is to glimpse the greatness of God and see oneself in light of it.] He and you are two things of such a kind that if you really get into any kind of touch with Him you will, in fact, be humble, feeling the infinite relief of having for once got rid of [the pretensions which have] made you restless and unhappy all your life. (Mere Christianity)

True Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. 

After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of ourselves, out of the little dark prison we are all born in. (Yours Jack, letter)

I suppose (it seems hard saying) we should mind humiliation less if we were humbler. It is at any rate form of suffering which we can try to offer, Colossians 1:24.

Try not to think, much less speak, of their sins. One’s own are a much more profitable theme! And if on  consideration, one can find no fault on one’s own side, then cry for mercy: for this must be a most dangerous delusion. (Yours Jack, letter)

The ‘Hitler connection’ in the writing of The Screwtape Letters:

The letters were originally published in (Engl newspaper) The Guardian in 31 weekly installments – from May through November, 1941. Lewis conceived of The Screwtape Letters in the summer of 1940. On the evening of July 20th, he heard a broadcast speech by Hitler and later wrote to his brother, Warnie: “I don’t know if I am weaker than other people, but it is a positive revelation to me that while the speech lasts it is impossible not to waver just a little.”

Lewis went on to explain that (after going to worship) he was “struck by an idea for a book which I think would be both useful and entertaining. It would be called As One Devil to Another and would consist of letters from an elderly retired devil to a young devil who has just started work on his first ‘patient.’ The idea would be to give…the psychology of temptation from the other point of view.” …God becomes “The Enemy” and “Our Father’s House” is not heaven but hell…

The Screwtape Letters was greeted with great critical and popular enthusiasm when it first appeared. The book was reprinted eight times in 1942 alone. Contemporary reviewers wrote that “Lewis is in earnest with his belief in devils, and as anxious to unmask their strategy against souls as our intelligence department (is) to detect the designs of Hitler.”  (The Guardian, 13 March 1942)

NOTE: Lewis was paid £2 per letter—but he would not accept the money. Instead, he sent the editor of The Guardian a list of widows and orphans to whom the £62 was to be paid. He did the same with the fees the BBC paid for the ‘Mere Christianity’ broadcasts, and those The Guardian paid for the weekly installments of The Great Divorce in 1944–5.

SOURCE: Lewis, C. S. (2011-08-15). Screwtape Letters (Enhanced Special Illustrated Edition), Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Be a Humble Apologist!

The New Testament letter of 1 Peter provides a wonderful paradigm for the “Defense of the Faith.”  (Christian Apologetics) This is vital to understand if we are going to welcome tough questions – either our own or those that others want to discuss or argue.

“…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy,
always being prepared to make a defense to anyone
who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;
yet do it with gentleness and respect…”
1 Peter 3:15, ESV

Let me suggest three qualities of a Humble Apologist that spring from this very rich passage:
[You can listen to the audio sermon here.]

1. Have CONVICTIONS that honor Christ as Lord – keep going deeper in your relationship. It will help you be secure in times of your own questioning and secure as you speak with others who ask you questions.

2. Have REASONS that engage and are clear – in language that others outside the faith can understand.  Jesus and Peter do not expect us to withdrawal from discussion and debate, but rather to proclaim and embody Jesus as the hope of the world!

3. Have CIVILITY – humility and respect for the persons you converse with. In the words of Richard Mouw, the word “tolerance” has lost its effectiveness. We need convictions with civility that show respect to all!  (see this previous post)

As I promised in this morning’s sermon, here is a poem by C.S. Lewis, on the humble part of being an apologist for the faith.

The Apologists Evening Prayer

From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity,
Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.

Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead
of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts,
even from my thoughts of Thee,
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.

Lord of the narrow gate and the needle’s eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.

C.S. Lewis, “The Apologist’s Evening Prayer,” in Poems, ed. Walter Hooper (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1964), p. 129.

StackFor those who want to go deeper, John Stackhouse has written a fine book with the same title of “Humble Apologetics.”

Poetry Monday – Yes, Lewis wrote poetry!

C. S. Lewis aspired to write great poetry. And though he was not known for his poetry, his long time friend and editor, Walter Hooper, compiled a book of verse – some gathered from loose papers and flyleaves of books.  It speaks to his humility that Lewis, though he had a photographic memory for all he read, wouldn’t remember his own poetry when Hooper quoted it to him!

Speaking of humility, here is Lewis’ poem called The Apologist’s Evening Prayer:

From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity,
Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.

Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead
of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts, even from my thoughts of Thee,
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.
Lord of the narrow gate and needle’s eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.

From “The Apologist’s Evening Prayer” in Poems by C. S. Lewis (Orlando: Harcourt, 1964), 129.

How ‘Secure’ am I?

At Christ Church this month we’re exploring Matthew 18 around the theme of “Life Together: Jesus and Relationships.”  Healthy relationships begin with childlikeness.  (Not that children are our models for selflessness and humility, but taking the humble place of a child in how we see ourselves.) Being secure in the arms of God’s love energizes us to love without manipulation or other selfish motives. (see here for the sermon)

Donald Miller says it well:  even our doing good can be twisted:

 “When we meditate on how much God loves us instead of on how loving we are, we tend to love others selflessly out of a feeling of completion, while if we meditate on how much we love others in order to get them to love us back, we love others out of a sense of compulsion or need. The same is true for our righteousness. When we think about how good we are, we may no longer be good. Instead, we can think about how good God is, and how much we are loved by Him, and then just live in the overflow of those truths. It’s tricky, but one is a prison and the other is freedom.”
(read his whole blogpost) 

Ask: How does growing more secure in my relationship with Christ impact all my other relationships?

Screwtape – on Pride and Humility

In our series on the Seven Deadly Sins, we’ll have occasion to see what ‘Uncle Screwtape’ has to say to his junior devil ‘Wormwood’ about the develish strategy for influencing his Christian ‘patient!’ Here’s the opening paragraph from C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters – #14 on Pride to whet your appetite. You can read the whole letter below which includes questions for discussion on the numbered paragraphs.

Letter # 14  “The Mystery of Genuine Humility”

MY DEAR WORMWOOD,
(0) The most alarming thing in your last account of the patient is that he is making none of those confident resolutions which marked his original conversion. No more lavish promises of perpetual virtue, I gather; not even the expectation of an endowment of “grace” for life, but only a hope for the daily and hourly pittance to meet the daily and hourly temptation! This is very bad.

(1) I see only one thing to do at the moment. Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is especially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble”, and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of his attempt—and so on, through as many stages as you please. But don’t try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humor and proportion, in which case he will merely laugh at you and go to bed.  Continue reading Screwtape – on Pride and Humility