Introductory Note:

This week we celebrate the release of Richard Foster’s newest book, Learning Humility. Richard looked to Christian witnesses from the past and the traditional values of the Lakota people to help him ponder, practice, and pursue the “vanishing value” of humility. This fall, Renovaré published a short booklet pairing excerpts from Richard’s Learning Humility and Andrew Murray’s 1884 classic, Humility. You can download that booklet here, and find Richard’s newly released book here.

Renovaré Team

Excerpt from Learning Humility

The Moon When the Wind Shakes off the Leaves1

For thus says the high and lofty one
who inhab­its eter­ni­ty, whose name is Holy:
I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with those who are con­trite and hum­ble in spir­it,
to revive the spir­it of the hum­ble,
and to revive the heart of the con­trite.
—Yah­weh (Isa­iah 57:15)

Humil­i­ty and fear of God sur­pass all oth­er virtues.
—Abba John the Dwarf

This Per­sis­tent Integrity

The tenth Lako­ta virtue is Can­te­wasake, for­ti­tude.”2 It is said of this virtue, After learn­ing patience and inner endurance one gains the strength nec­es­sary to have for­ti­tude. Emo­tion­al sta­bil­i­ty, being alert, and hav­ing deter­mi­na­tion can help in hav­ing this per­sis­tent integrity.

This brings to my mind the words of James about tri­als pro­duc­ing endurance: My broth­ers and sis­ters, when­ev­er you face tri­als of any kind, con­sid­er it noth­ing but joy, because you know that the test­ing of your faith pro­duces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and com­plete, lack­ing in noth­ing” (Jas 1:24). Endurance … for­ti­tude … lead­ing to humil­i­ty of heart.

I would like to think about the ways humil­i­ty and for­ti­tude com­ple­ment each oth­er. I will live with this for the next few days and see if any­thing emerges.

The Birth of Obe­di­ence in the Heart

This morn­ing I wake up to the first snow of the sea­son. Only three or four inch­es but it’s enough to flock the woods out my study win­dow. Won­der-filled! It will melt soon with our warm weath­er, but still … love­ly, love­ly, lovely.

No fire today since over the sum­mer I have accu­mu­lat­ed a gen­er­ous stack of books and papers in front of the fire­place. Still, I sit in my rock­ing chair for some moments watch­ing the snow come down gen­tly. I punch up a Christ­mas CD and begin clean­ing the books and papers away from the fire­place so that next time I will be ready for a roar­ing blaze.

As I work away I come across these words from Thomas Kel­ly of Tes­ta­ment of Devo­tion fame, humil­i­ty and holi­ness are twins in the aston­ish­ing birth of obe­di­ence in the heart.” Is he say­ing that humil­i­ty of heart and puri­ty of life work togeth­er to pro­duce obe­di­ence toward God? I think so. I will see what I can do to put this into prac­tice and see what I learn.

Tex­ture and Feel­ing Tones

A morn­ing hike in a near­by canyon is utter­ly refresh­ing. The land­scape has turned rust-col­ored brown almost overnight. All the plant life is prepar­ing for the win­ter sea­son that is soon to come. But today the sun warms me. Along the trail I can see lit­tle patch­es of snow that have effec­tive­ly hid­den from the sun.

Human hik­ers (except for me) are nonex­is­tent, due I imag­ine to the snow of the oth­er day. Hence, I am able to hike in com­plete silence. I hear only the twit­ter of the rosy finch­es in the trees and the gur­gle of the creek below. The silence does me good. The brown” of plant and rock draw me down toward the earth. There is a kind of humil­i­ty in my get­ting down close to the earth. Humil­i­ty … humus. Hik­ing qui­et­ly, with­out a word. No one knows of my pres­ence, except the mule deer and black squir­rels … and they could not seem to care less.

These times pro­vide tex­ture and feel­ing tones to the word humil­i­ty.

The Small Cor­ners of Life

Ear­ly this morn­ing I sense a divine nudge to learn about humil­i­ty in the small cor­ners” of life. Lord, show me ways to express a hum­ble spir­it in these small corners.

The first order of the day is to take Car­olynn to a med­ical appoint­ment. Once there I wait … and I wait … and I wait. It is not unusu­al, this wait­ing, but I am won­der­ing if this is one way I am to learn humil­i­ty today. Just wondering.

Then we decide we have time for me to get my flu shot for the sea­son. So, off we go to my phar­ma­cy. The lady who attends to us has dif­fi­cul­ty with the com­put­er sys­tem. Again, wait­ing. I sense her frus­tra­tion and pray for her to find a way through the com­put­er maze. Today, it is not to be. She final­ly gives up and asks me to come back anoth­er day. Okay.

Off we go to Carolynn’s phar­ma­cy to see if we might have bet­ter suc­cess. Indeed, we do. She has no prob­lem with the com­put­er … but the inter­rup­tions in her labors are mad­den­ing. I wait … and wait … and wait again. I muse that by learn­ing a patient wait­ing” I bring a hum­ble spir­it into my soul. On the oth­er hand, a wait­ing that is filled with anx­i­ety or anger thwarts humil­i­ty of soul. So, I seek to ori­ent myself to a patient wait­ing.” The phar­ma­cist says it will be twen­ty min­utes. Well, twen­ty min­utes turns into thir­ty and thir­ty turns into forty. Per­haps more. I try not to check my watch.

At last we are reward­ed and I receive my shot, thank­ful for the good care of the phar­ma­cist. And every­thing is done in time to get Car­olynn home so she can get to an after­noon appoint­ment in time. So far so good.

I’m free now and I decide to go to the rec cen­ter for my exer­cise for the day. I make appro­pri­ate prepa­ra­tions and I am off. How­ev­er, I for­got that this is late Fri­day after­noon and the free­way ten miles away has major con­struc­tion delays and so traf­fic is divert­ed to our coun­try road­way. I am five miles away from the road­way, and when I get to it I find traf­fic backed up for sev­er­al miles behind the sin­gle light at our lit­tle inter­sec­tion. I take one look at the long line of cars and decide I have learned enough about humil­i­ty-that-comes-through-wait­ing” for one day. I turn around and dri­ve home. I get my exer­cise by using the tread­mill down­stairs. I’m glad for what I have learned and hum­bled by the experience.

Tend­ing the Fire of my Soul

A won­der­ful snow of per­haps twelve inch­es over two days has turned our home into a win­ter won­der­land. I need to clear off the dri­ve­way three dif­fer­ent times, but once that is accom­plished I can enjoy our qui­et woods … the woods are always espe­cial­ly qui­et after a good snow.

Most of all I am ready for a good, steady fire down in my study. The wood and the flames are good com­pan­ions. In the late after­noon I think back to when I was a child of eight. We had win­tered at an uncle’s cab­in deep in the Rocky Moun­tains. I slept in front of the gen­er­ous fire­place. As this was our only heat source through the night, we need­ed to keep it burn­ing. In time I became the per­son who tend­ed the fire through the night. Tonight I am remind­ed that I need to be con­stant­ly tend­ing the fire of my soul.

The Voice of the True Shepherd

Today I go back to an old friend, John Wool­man, and his famous jour­nal. I am con­sid­er­ing a pas­sage where he is deal­ing with mate­ri­al­ism and his rela­tion­ship to this thorny sub­ject. He brings up humil­i­ty amid a dis­cus­sion of sim­plic­i­ty of life: I saw that an hum­ble man, with the bless­ing of the Lord, might live on a lit­tle, and that where the heart was set on great­ness, suc­cess in busi­ness did not sat­is­fy the crav­ing; but that com­mon­ly with an increase of wealth the desire of wealth increased. There was a care on my mind so to pass my time that noth­ing might hin­der me from the most steady atten­tion to the voice of the true Shepherd.”

For Wool­man the most impor­tant thing is a steady atten­tion to the voice of the true Shep­herd.” May this become true for me more and more … as I am ready and able to receive it.

The Wise Apos­tle Paul

I am seek­ing to set­tle into the writ­ings of the wise apos­tle Paul and espe­cial­ly his words on humil­i­ty. They read like a rat-a-tat-tat of con­cern for the spir­it of humility.

  • Romans 12:10 — Out­do one anoth­er in show­ing honor.”

  • Romans 12:16 — Do not be haughty, but asso­ciate with the lowly.”

  • Gala­tians 5:13 — For you were called to free­dom, broth­ers and sis­ters; only do not use your free­dom as an oppor­tu­ni­ty for self-indul­gence, but through love become slaves to one another.” 

  • Eph­esians 4:12 — Lead a life wor­thy of the call­ing to which you have been called, with all humil­i­ty and gen­tle­ness, with patience, bear­ing with one anoth­er in love.”

  • Eph­esians 5:21 — Be sub­ject to one anoth­er out of rev­er­ence for Christ.”

  • Philip­pi­ans 2:3 — Do noth­ing from self­ish ambi­tion or con­ceit, but in humil­i­ty regard oth­ers as bet­ter than yourselves.”

  • Philip­pi­ans 2:58 — Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.… He hum­bled him­self and became obe­di­ent to the point of death — even death on a cross.”

  • Colos­sians 3:12 — Clothe your­selves with com­pas­sion, kind­ness, humil­i­ty, meek­ness, and patience.”

And to top it all off we have Paul’s mag­nif­i­cent essay on agape love in 1 Corinthi­ans 13. Here we find humil­i­ty hid­den inside agape as an essen­tial ingre­di­ent: Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envi­ous or boast­ful or arro­gant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irri­ta­ble or resent­ful; it does not rejoice in wrong­do­ing, but rejoic­es in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

How is it that Paul learned the spir­it of humil­i­ty so deeply in his soul? Did he learn lessons in humil­i­ty as he stood watch­ing Stephen’s death? The many dis­ci­ples of Jesus that Paul per­se­cut­ed sure­ly taught him about a life of hum­ble ser­vice. I rather imag­ine that his dra­mat­ic encounter with the risen Christ (strong enough to knock him off his don­key and blind him for a time) and his con­ver­sion expe­ri­ence with Ana­nias who addressed him as broth­er Saul” taught him the ABCs of humil­i­ty. Even more impor­tant were his three years in the deserts of Ara­bia, where I rather imag­ine he was con­stant­ly learn­ing direct­ly from his divine Teacher Jesus. Most cer­tain­ly Paul learned well what a life of humil­i­ty in the inte­ri­or cham­bers of the heart looks like. Oh, may I too learn the supreme val­ue of humil­i­ty of heart.

The Most Gra­cious Ecu­meni­cal Spirit

Andrew Mur­ray was a Scot­tish preach­er and pas­tor of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry. Vir­tu­al­ly all of his min­istry years were spent in South Africa. We know him today because of his many books of Chris­t­ian devo­tion, per­haps the most well-known being With Christ in the School of Prayer. My ear­ly train­ing in the life of devo­tion came to a large extent from Andrew Murray’s writings.

I sin­gle him out here because of a slen­der vol­ume (just over a hun­dred pages) he wrote with the sim­ple title Humil­i­ty. Indeed, the title is so unas­sum­ing that more recent edi­tions of the book have sought to embell­ish it a bit with sub­ti­tles like True Great­ness or The Beau­ty of Holi­ness or The Jour­ney Toward Holi­ness. These are jus­ti­fied only because Mur­ray devotes chap­ter sev­en to humil­i­ty in rela­tion­ship to holi­ness, espe­cial­ly the Keswick holi­ness move­ment in his day, some­times called the High­er Life move­ment. But the cen­tral focus of Murray’s book is the Chris­t­ian virtue of humility.

I appre­ci­ate many things about this small book. One empha­sis of Murray’s we can eas­i­ly miss is the ease with which he uses epigraphs from Roman Catholic writ­ers of devo­tion to begin many chap­ters. Remem­ber, in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry the Dutch Reformed Church in which Mur­ray was ordained was not espe­cial­ly warm toward the Church of Rome … to put it mild­ly. Add to this that Murray’s moth­er was a descen­dent of the French Huguenots who had been so severe­ly per­se­cut­ed by Rome, almost to extinc­tion. Yet, in this small book I find Andrew Mur­ray show­ing the most gra­cious ecu­meni­cal spir­it, draw­ing from a breadth of sources:

  • Thomas Aquinas — If you are look­ing for an exam­ple of humil­i­ty, look at the cross.”

  • Thomas à Kem­p­is — The more hum­ble a man is in him­self, the more obe­di­ent toward God, the wis­er will he be in all things, and the more shall his soul be at peace.”

  • Bernard of Clair­vaux — It is no great thing to be hum­ble when you are brought low; but to be hum­ble when you are praised is a great and rare achievement.”

  • Augus­tine of Hip­po — Should you ask me: What is the first thing in reli­gion? I should reply: the first, sec­ond, and third thing here­in is humility.”

Love­ly. I like the quo­ta­tions and, even more, I like that Mur­ray used them.

The Root of All

Andrew Mur­ray him­self says: Humil­i­ty is the only soil in which virtue takes root; a lack of humil­i­ty is the expla­na­tion of every defect and fail­ure. Humil­i­ty is not so much a virtue along with the oth­ers, but is the root of all.”

Again, The call to humil­i­ty has been too lit­tle regard­ed in the church because its true nature and impor­tance have been too lit­tle apprehended.”

Then Mur­ray shares with us his own lack and learn­ing about humil­i­ty: I had long known the Lord with­out real­iz­ing that meek­ness and low­li­ness of heart are to be the dis­tin­guish­ing fea­ture of the dis­ci­ple, just as they were of the Master.”

Final­ly, Mur­ray deals with pride, which he con­sid­ers the crux of our problem:

Let us at the very out­set … admit that there is noth­ing so nat­ur­al to man, noth­ing so insid­i­ous and hid­den from our sight, noth­ing so dif­fi­cult and dan­ger­ous as pride. And acknowl­edge that noth­ing but a very deter­mined and per­se­ver­ing wait­ing on God will reveal how lack­ing we are in the grace of humil­i­ty and how pow­er­less we are to obtain what we seek. We must study the char­ac­ter of Christ until our souls are filled with the love and admi­ra­tion of His lowliness.

Satan at the Head­wa­ters of Pride

Mur­ray sees pride as the great ene­my of humil­i­ty. And he stress­es repeat­ed­ly that Satan is at the head­wa­ters of pride. In one sig­nif­i­cant pas­sage Mur­ray speaks of the pride Satan breathed into humankind.”

The epi­graph to lead off chap­ter eight (“Humil­i­ty and Sin”) con­tains a quote from Jonathan Edwards that I had nev­er read before: Noth­ing sets a per­son so much out of the devil’s reach as humility.”

The theme of pride orig­i­nat­ing in Satan is sprin­kled through­out Humil­i­ty. It is prob­a­bly not the way we would write about the issue today, but for this very rea­son it has unusu­al punch. It under­scores for me the need to be aware that the Ene­my of our souls uses pride as his chief weapon. So, all the more need for me to cul­ti­vate humil­i­ty of heart.

The Best of All the Graces

On this sub­ject Mur­ray was keen­ly aware of the fail­ure of the church in his day: It seems that the church has failed to teach its peo­ple the impor­tance of humil­i­ty — that it is the first of the virtues, the best of all the graces and pow­ers of the Spirit.”

If Murray’s words are an accu­rate descrip­tion of the church in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry … how much truer of us today. Pre­cious lit­tle in today’s cul­ture encour­ages humil­i­ty of heart. Pas­tors find it exceed­ing­ly dif­fi­cult to address the sub­ject in their preach­ing. And the aver­age Chris­t­ian has so few liv­ing exam­ples of how to live qui­et­ly and humbly.

O Lord, for­give us for our lack. Teach us a good way forward.

Every Kind and Form and Degree of Pride

Mur­ray con­cludes his slen­der book with an exper­i­men­tal prayer for humility.

I will here give you an infal­li­ble touch­stone that will test all to the truth: retire from the world and all con­ver­sa­tion for one month. Nei­ther write, nor read, nor debate any­thing with your­self; stop all the for­mer work­ings of your heart and mind, and with all the strength of your heart stand as con­tin­u­al­ly as you can in the fol­low­ing form of prayer to God. Offer it fre­quent­ly on your knees; but whether sit­ting, walk­ing, or stand­ing, be always inward­ly long­ing and earnest­ly pray­ing this one prayer to God: that of His great good­ness He would make known to you, and take from your heart every kind and form and degree of pride, … and that He would awak­en in you the deep­est depth and truth of that humil­i­ty which can make you capa­ble of His light and Holy Spirit.

I am not sure I could man­age Murray’s one-month time frame … but his prayer for humil­i­ty most cer­tain­ly speaks to my con­di­tion. O Lord, God of all mer­cy, take from my heart every kind and form and degree of pride. Awak­en in me the deep­est depth and truth of that humil­i­ty which can make me capa­ble of your light and Holy Spir­it. Amen.

A Sim­ple Prayer

A sim­ple prayer has been drift­ing in and out of my con­scious­ness in recent days. I haven’t got­ten the word­ing quite right and so decid­ed that writ­ing it out might help me artic­u­late the inner yearnings.

Lov­ing Lord Jesus, I humbly ask that you would …
Puri­fy my heart,
Renew my mind,
Sanc­ti­fy my imag­i­na­tion, and
Enlarge my soul.

I think it would be good to stay with this prayer for a while.

The Human Side and the Divine Side

Took a hike today with my lit­tle prayer as my com­pan­ion and sensed that there are two sides to its answer: the human side and the divine side.

On the human side

  • With regard to heart puri­ty, I am to con­sid­er ten­der­ly the cru­ci­fix­ion of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am to see his heart as an open wound of love toward all human­i­ty. And I am to feel the divine love pour­ing out of his wound­ed heart for me.

  • With regard to a renewed mind, I am to think on what­ev­er is true and hon­or­able and just and pure and pleas­ing and com­mend­able (Phil 4:8). Not all the time, but when­ev­er I am able.

  • With regard to a sanc­ti­fied imag­i­na­tion, I am to pic­ture the new heav­en and the new earth, the new Jerusalem, the riv­er of the water of life bright as crys­tal, and the tree of life on either side of the riv­er whose leaves are for the heal­ing of the nations (Rev 21 – 22). Imag­ine that! Pic­ture this, not con­stant­ly, only as I can.

  • With regard to an enlarged soul, I am to find peo­ple I can serve. In small ways, and even large ways. When­ev­er possible.

On the divine side

  • With regard to heart puri­ty, God alone puri­fies the heart. God alone will straight­en out the twist­ed­ness of all desires. God alone will radi­ate light into every dark corner.

  • With regard to a renewed mind, God alone will train the mind into deep habit pat­terns of right­eous­ness and peace and joy in the Holy Spir­it (Rom 14:17).

  • With regard to a sanc­ti­fied imag­i­na­tion, God alone slow­ly, slow­ly, slow­ly chan­nels all the imag­in­ings into that pure stream which is com­prised of the good and the true and the beautiful.

  • With regard to an enlarged soul, God alone will place deep with­in the sub­ter­ranean cham­bers of the heart and the mind and the imag­i­na­tion an under­stand­ing of the over­whelm­ing pre­cious­ness of every sin­gle person.

Then came this author­i­ta­tive word: remem­ber that God is …

  • quick to forgive
  • eager to heal
  • glad to restore.

Related Podcast

  1. Octo­ber 8 – Novem­ber 4. Out of respect for Native Amer­i­cans’ nature-informed way of mark­ing time, Richard orga­nizes his year of jour­nal entries in Learn­ing Humil­i­ty accord­ing to the thir­teen months and moons of the Lako­ta peo­ple of the north­ern plains. ↩︎
  2. While research­ing the Lako­ta cal­en­dar, Richard dis­cov­ered that there are twelve tra­di­tion­al Lako­ta virtues— the first of which is humil­i­ty. Learn­ing Humil­i­ty includes his reflec­tions on Lako­ta val­ues as quite con­sis­tent with a Chris­t­ian under­stand­ing of the moral life” and help­ful in enrich­ing our under­stand­ing and prac­tice of humility. ↩︎

Adapt­ed from Learn­ing Humil­i­ty by Richard J. Fos­ter. Copy­right © 2022 by Richard J. Fos­ter, LLC. Used by per­mis­sion of Inter­Var­si­ty Press. www​.ivpress​.com

Pho­to by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Text First Published December 2022 · Last Featured on December 2022

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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