The challenge of being humble

First published 5th January 2015

One of the phrases that comes up reasonably regularly in the bible is The Word of the Lord came to... followed by the name of a person. Quite often that person is someone we would call a prophet - someone like Elijah or Jeremiah - which makes us think that God only speaks to special or anointed people.

It is certainly true that prophets have a particular calling and role to speak what they sense God is telling them, but the word of the Lord can come to anyone and regularly does. God, through the work of his Holy Spirit, is continually looking to catch our attention and to draw us into what will be good and healthy for us in spiritual terms, what will bring a blessing to us and to others, what will build and enrich human life, our own and that of the people we share our lives with.

It is possible to practice that listening for the word of the Lord, not only by setting aside time for it in our days and by developing our sense of awareness throughout the comings and goings of daily existence. But even if we are not attempting to do this, God will catch our attention every now and again regardless, and even when we have no idea that it is the Holy Spirit opening our horizons.

One of the moments that the word of the Lord came to me in 2014 was when I was in an audience of Chief Executives, military commanders, Heads of charities and other senior leaders at a conference strategic leadership. As it happened, this word came to me through a retired Church of England bishop, but that is not the point. What caught my attention was when he said, very honestly and humbly, Of course, I have to admit that I may be wrong. I may have invested my life in a belief which is mistaken. The bishop then gently said, I dont think I have but the significant thing was his owning the fact that his convictions could have been misplaced.

I found God speaking to me profoundly through this seeming aside and it turned out that I was not alone. This mans humility was deeply attractive and affective. He was laying aside his desire to compel and convince and simply coming to us as one person among many.

That example and lesson has stayed with me and only today, as I prepared this, did I name it as a word from God not just for me, and others, then but something to pass on at the beginning of the year. Humility is a virtue which flows through the Christmas narrative like words through a stick of seaside rock the humility of Marys yes to God, Josephs acceptance of Mary, the social status of the shepherds, the search by the wise men, and the place of Jesus birth. Humility necessitates being willing to admit that we may be wrong, being prepared for fresh insights and learning which might prove to be at least in the first instance quite disturbing. Being humble involves listening for the truth in what challenges our convictions, which perhaps are our bias or prejudices.

Humility will take us into uncomfortable places and positions. We may need to exercise humility by listening to those who are living on benefits, or those whom we have dismissed as economic migrants, or those from another faith or culture whom we regard as looking to undermine our own. With a General Election in view, those who are seeking our votes must avoid over-promising and acknowledge the issues they do not have easy solutions to fix and where their policy may depend more on ideology than values. Humility invites us to acknowledge our weaknesses and others strengths, not just the reverse.

Practising humility is difficult and takes perseverance. Yet it leads to a society in which truth is more easily told and heard, where there is less defensiveness, greater generosity and openness. Humility is neither weak nor lacking conviction but a way of valuing and respecting others.

History shows that humility was not considered a virtue before the birth of Christ; what transformed attitudes and behaviour was Jesus life and, most significantly, his crucifixion and resurrection. My prayer for myself, and for our communities across ourDiocesein 2015 is that we will rediscover and embrace the power of humility and be increasingly receptive to that ever timely word of the Lord.


January 2015

This New Year message from Bishop Lee Rayfield was first broadcast on BBC Wiltshire on 1 January 2015.

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