Last spring I attended a wedding and heard an impressive pastor preach a stirring sermon on a powerful passage called The Kenosis (or The Emptying).

It’s my favorite passage on humility:

Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:6-8)

The pastor urged the couple to be humble, to think first of the other person, and to give the remote to their spouse. He said humility is one virtue all religions agree on:

Confucius said, “Humility is the solid foundation of all virtues,” and the Quran says, “The servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth in humility.”

He claimed to offer the key to marital bliss found in the gospels. He said the entirety of the good news can be summed up on one simple sentence: Be ye humble as Jesus was humble.

But equating the gospel with our humility is confusing cause and effect. The fruit of the gospel is humility, but chasing humility to find the gospel is squeezing bad news from the good news. We’re trying to get wine from a rock.

It doesn’t deal with our sickness

Our deepest inner-sickness is a sense of insignificance. We feel empty, like our lives don’t matter. We’re passionless and without purpose, a dewdrop in the ocean, dust in the wind.

That’s why Paul introduces that famous passage on humility with this verse: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit.” The Greek word for “conceit” (keno-doxia) literally means “empty-glory.” It means, don’t let your emptiness drive how you live.

We think humility is a low sense of self and pride is a high sense of self (as in, “he is full of himself”), but this is the exact opposite of spiritual reality. C. S Lewis says that, “Pride is ruthless, sleepless, unsmiling concentration on the self.” Our emptiness sends us screaming, scratching, and clawing to fill our inner-void.

Even our futile attempts at humility commits our unsmiling concentration back on ourselves.

In the movie Amadeus, the aging composer Salieri is in living hell. Not because he’s hated—he could deal with enmity. His grief is inconsolable  because he’s forgotten . . . and empty.

Pride is not knowledge of our giftedness—some of the most gifted people I know are the most humble (just look at Jesus). The people of highest pride are the people most concerned with themselves. In other words, the people who feel the most empty.

It’s hard to work on humility

We can practice generosity. Try it for a week or a month (a lifetime would be better). Over time you’ll become more generous (and more gentle and patient). But humility is the single virtue—among all the virtues in the world—that practice makes imperfect.

Because, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less” (C. S. Lewis). Even attempting humility directs our attention to ourselves. Practice humility for a day or a week (a lifetime is worse). Soon you’ll start noticing, “Wow, I’m getting humble.” We’re trying to squeeze grapes out of wine.

So what are we to do?

Jonathan Edwards noticed that there are two kinds of virtue, counterfeit and genuine.Moral reformationcreates counterfeit virtue while spiritual transformation creates real virtue. Moral reformation squeezes the heart while spiritual transformation melts the heart.

Moral reformation looks to the rules while spiritual transformation looks to the ruler.

That’s why Paul tells us to look to Jesus. Jesus emptied himself of his glory; but he emptied himself by pouring his glory into our emptiness. On the cross he was forgotten; forgotten so that you and I will be remembered forever.

I’m in favor of humility. My family and friends would live more happily if I lived more humbly.

But I’ll never be more humble by working on myself, only by looking at Jesus. That’s the secret of the gospel; not personal moral reformation, only the spiritual transformation of seeing Jesus; not looking to the rules but the ruler.

At least, in my humble opinion.


Circumstances, commitments, and surprises (the unpleasant kind) overwhelmed me the past six weeks. I had too much to do and too little time to do it. Forces from competing goals pulled me in opposite directions.

Two weeks ago I arrived home from a retreat in Colorado, physically and emotionally drained. But I woke up the next morning in an adrenalin-induced frenzy, desperate to prepare five new sessions for a retreat that began in four short days.

The retreat topic was Hearing God. I’ve been waiting (impatiently) for years to offer a retreat on how to recognize God’s voice, but commitments (and bad surprises) had frustrated my attempts to plan it. I was woefully behind and anxious about the few remaining hours I had for preparation.

When I woke up that feverish morning, I sensed God say to me:

“If your retreat teachings are the greatest talks you’ve ever given, but no one hears my voice, the retreat will be a dismal failure. If you give the worst talks you’ve ever given, but people actually hear me speak, the retreat will be a roaring success.”

I sensed God invite me to take two days off from any retreat work—half of my limited, remaining prep time—and simply to give “my” retreat to him. The word seemed unwise, irresponsible, and a little crazy.

Because everything about Christianity seems crazy

Our biggest problem in our Christian walk lies in our distorted thinking. In fact, every single problem we havearises from our wrong interpretations. Spiritual rebirth is a radical retooling of our minds.

Christianity means a profoundly different grasp of reality. It means that circumstances, events, disappointments—and even our deepest woundings—all reflect a deeper undercurrent of spiritual forces; a revolutionary reality that requires spiritual-eye-transplants to recognize. Not just another pair of Walmart reading glasses.

Worldly wisdom dictates that ministries adopt the latest growth strategy; it orders bloggers to leverage social media for greater impact, and it compels spouses to learn their love languages.

All that worldly advice contains seeds of wisdom, but it also—simultaneously and insidiously—waters the weeds of our inner-destruction.

Our default human inclination is to operate as though success in life (from ministries to marriages) depends on our efforts. But the lesson of Gideon’s three hundred soldiers is that success depends solely on God, and it is precisely in our weakness that he is strong.

For the Hearing God retreat, I needed a transformation of mind, not more hours of preparation.

Jesus always attacks our natural thinking

And I mean he attacks it. Head on. He shocks us, astounds us, pleads with us, and convicts us. Why do you think he was crucified? Didn’t he just preach a message of love? No! He preached a message of complete abandonment of the way the world thinks. He said:

  • If we really want to be great, we must stoop before stinking, dirty feet.
  • Whoever wants the richest of lives must totally and deliberately lose their own.
  • If we wish for a flooding of wisdom we must concede our overflow of folly.
  • Whoever wishes to feel worthwhile must admit to God their unworthiness.
  • The way up is down.

Everything Jesus said was revolutionary. He was an anarchist about every “normal” operating principal of life. What makes sense to the world makes no sense inside the gospel; and the message of the gospel is sheer craziness to the world.

It’s not an evolution

Jesus never offers a nuanced perspective. He isn’t a vitamin supplement. He doesn’t merely spice up a tasteless dish. Instead of adding a dash of reality to our lives, he crucifies and buries our old perceptions to let his spiritual reality be born into new being.

Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Transformed” means metamorphosis, like when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly.

We need must hold a funeral service for the earthbound caterpillar of our worldly wisdom so that a metamorphosed spiritual mind can be born, sprout wings, and fly.

My limited retreat preparation lacked everything I’d ever studied on public speaking. Instead of hearing eloquence in my teaching, people heard God in their personal prayer. I think I did too.


Reset to Who God Wants Me to Be

We’ve all had the experience with our smart-phone, tablet or computer when it didn’t act like it was supposed to.  It stopped doing something it was designed to do or it started doing something that didn’t make sense.

The remedy is usually to simply shut down and restart your device – to perform a RESET.  By doing this we force all the programs that are actively or passively running to stop, and we clear out the memory.

The more we use a devise, the more frequent a RESET is needed.

I have found this to be true of my life.  Sometimes God encourages us to press the reset button and other times He hits it without our permission.

I have seen things in myself that are unhelpful, unhealthy and uncharacteristic.  While this is not new for me, it has been more acute lately.  And, in some ways, I’ve felt like I’ve not been functioning properly – not living out who God has made me to be.

So, God hit my RESET button.

Reset is defined as:

  • To move (something) back to an original place or position
  • To put (a broken bone) back in the correct position for healing
  • To put (a gem) into a new piece of jewelry

In my current RESET moment, I’ve watched things slowly power down both in my life and in the life of The Noble Heart.  Without any ability to stop the power-down / power-up cycle, I’ve simply had to let it run its process, believing that God knows what He is after.

I’m beginning to see a little more clearly how God is moving me back to my original position (who I was meant to be), a correct position (for more healing) and into a new setting (so that the life of God in me and my work can be more easily seen).

Resets bring re-calibration.  I have a mechanical postal scale at the office.  After months of repeatedly putting weight on it, it becomes misaligned and inaccurate.  I have to physically turn the needle back to its original position (zero) where it is supposed to be when it’s at rest.  I could discontinue to use it because it is slightly off, but I don’t.  I simply reset it and it fully does what it’s designed to do and what I need it to do.

This is true of our life and calling as well.  Over time the weight of life causes us to be misaligned and inaccurate, so periodic resets or re-calibration are needed.  What may feel like a season of loss during a reset is actually a season of gain.

Let me encourage you to choose a reset weekend (maybe even a week or a month).  Shut down all the programs that are actively or passively running in your heart and then restart them fresh and uncluttered.

If God has initiated a RESET in your life and calling, be assured that He knows what He is after and prepare for the restart.  It’s coming.