• Our hope-filled future is bound up in sharing the story of Jesus, in discipling others, in bringing those disciples together into communities of believers, and in developing and releasing those believers to create other communities... till Jesus the King comes again!

Self-forgetfulness

One indicator of a “closing mind” is addressed through active listening to others or demonstrating “intense interest” in another’s journey (James 1:19). A second indicator which I described as “an unhealthy confidence in my own cultural (and spiritual) journey that would keep me from looking at new ideas, new perspectives,” is more difficult for us to address.  Put another way, this indicator points us to the need to deal with our very own pride.

Now this is where it gets sticky.  We are well aware of the statement that James makes a little later in his letter where he says: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (4:6). We know then that the ultimate objective is humility rather than pride.  Yet, how does one become more humble?  The moment that you think you are making progress in becoming more humble, you have immediately become prideful about that very progress.

C.S. Lewis in his witty yet insightful work, The Screwtape Letters, struggles with this very question. It is the fictional story of Screwtape, “a self-described under-secretary of the department of temptation,” and his nephew Wormwood a “junior tempter.”  Though this quote is extended, I think it is worth the read:

“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 … But there are other profitable ways of fixing his [the Christian] attention on the virtue of Humility.  By this virtue, as by all the others, our Enemy [God] wants to turn the man’s attention away from self to Him, and to the man’s neighbors.  All the abjection and self-hatred are designed, in the long run, solely for this end; unless they attain this end they do us little harm; and they may even do us good if they keep the man concerned with himself, and, above all, if self-contempt can be made the starting point for contempt of other selves, and thus for gloom, cynicism, and cruelty. 

You must therefore conceal from the patient the true end of Humility.  Let him think of it, not as self-forgetfulness, but as a certain kind of opinion (namely, a low opinion) of his own talents and character …

To anticipate the Enemy’s strategy, we must consider His aims.  The  Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another.  The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbour’s talents … For we must never forget what is the most repellent and inexplicable trait in our Enemy; he really loves the hairless bipeds He has created.”

A “closing mind” is addressed by a certain “self forgetfulness.”  As one friend put it, not thinking less of oneself, but thinking of oneself less.  So one way this can happen, or can begin to happen, is when God becomes so BIG, so major in our lives that other pieces of our lives truly become secondary.  It happens when we are overwhelmed by Him and His love (read Psalm 136 for example) to the point that it actually influences how we relate to others, how we do ministry.  

 

3 Responses

  1. Self-forgetfulness is the key to all of this. When we are enraptured by visions of the beauty of God, His very righteousness (as pointed out by Piper in “The Passion of Jesus Christ”), we are enabled to forget about ourselves, both in the sense of being superior and being inferior. How can I really love my neighbour (or my spouse) if I am consumed by my importance or lack thereof? That simply cannot happen. However, as we become that which we are, truly beloved ones who enjoy the beauty of our Redeemer, we are able, in genuine self-forgetfulness (I´m ok, because I believe God´s promise that I am ok, and therefore do not need to “look out for Nº1”) to focus on others around us, truly spurring one another on to love and good works. Is it not a wonder to see all that we have because of Jesus´ magnificent and completed work on the cross?

  2. Three of us in our assembly are team-teaching a class on the “Gospel-Centered Life” (a 9-lesson electronic module—offered free to WTers in past eLinks). Last week we spoke on idolatries of the heart, or ‘sin beneath our [surface] sin.’ As we discussed the next lesson on how the Gospel not only cleanses us inwardly but propels us out to love others, I thought about self-forgetfulness. Our primary text this week is Gal. 5:13-15 where we are exhorted to focus our new-found freedom towards serving one another through love.

    A brother raised a good question: how do we exhort one another to good works in a way that it does not become ‘try harder’ but flows out of our freedom? We know we ‘should’ reach out to our neighbor. But ‘should’ has no motivational power. As John Wilson noted earlier, Phil. 2 is crucial as we reflect on Jesus’ attitude, who made himself to be a nobody for our sake. I am reminded that Gospel renewal leads to having this mindset in ourselves which was also in Jesus, for without him I can do nothing. On the other hand, we can do it through Jesus who indeed strengthens us.

    We too often see things at one end of the spectrum or the other: perfection or hopeless failure. But if transformation is ongoing, as 2 Cor. 3:18 and other passages indicate, then we should take heart that God will enable us grow in other-centeredness. We need the reminder and hope that this does and will happen as we walk in Jesus. As one writer says, “Grasping the external propulsion of God’s grace is crucial to our understanding of mission.” I thank God for this very real living hope and reality.

  3. You ask: Yet, how does one become more humble?
    I have a long journey to make, but there is a thought I nurture that helps me abhore pride. I believe that God hates pride so much because it violates one of his primary commands “thou shalt not steal”. Pride is theivery; it steals from glory that is to be God’s alone. Woe to me if I should attempt to steal God’ s glory.

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