Learning Humility Cooperating with God

Learning Humility: Cooperating with God in God’s Time and in God’s Way

If I should ever happen to meet the Old Testament prophetess Huldah, I would fully expect her to have pale blue eyes like my friend Mary’s. Mary had turned her eyes on full power the day she rebuked me for being a hypocrite. Gulp…

Until that point, we were having a great visit, sharing how the Lord was at work in our lives. At some point in the conversation, I confessed to her that I was concerned about one of our sons–nothing serious, just a lingering worry that he was encountering multiple obstacles at a tender time in his growth.

The lumen level of Mary’s eyes spiked immediately, and she didn’t speak for several long seconds. Then, she let me have it: “After all the beautiful words you’ve written about trusting God… Did you mean it? Let me pray for you right now.”

And pray she did! Right there in the kitchen between refrigerator and microwave!

Bowing my head, I felt misunderstood, forsaken, and harshly used. Tears stung my eyes, but I shifted into anger to send them packing. Clearly, Mary was not a “safe” friend, and I began to vow that I’d share my heart elsewhere from now on until, somehow, the voice of the Spirit started to break through my defenses.

Sitting in the presence of this kitchen-praying prophetess, I found humility grabbing a foothold in my stony heart. After the amen, I returned her smile, thankful that the blue eyes had returned to their normal power.

On the drive home, I had some soul-searching to do. Do I write sometimes as if trusting God might be my first instinct? Am I making it sound too easy?

Learning Humility

For a writer, for a mother, for a friend, humility is the foundational virtue, and for me, it seems to be the threshold through which all other virtues must travel. My pride blocks the door to gentleness, respect, love, self-sacrifice, and even truth-telling.

A lack of humility will keep me from recognizing my place in the greater scheme of things. A pursuit of humility as a virtue will ensure that I remain always a learner, always open to rebuke when I’m in the wrong.

Learning humility, however, is NOT like riding a bike. It’s not a once-and-done proposition where I master it today and ride the wave of success for the remainder of my three-score-and-ten.

Richard Foster offers the view that we learn humility best when we “observe a healthy humility functioning in others.” However, he cautions against the folly of imitation. Observation is the key–not chasing humility, but “simply taking up those things that, in God’s time and God’s way, will lead us into the virtue of humility.”

For readers who have already met Richard Foster through Celebration of Discipline (now a classic), Learning Humility will be a welcome reintroduction to Foster’s gentle leadership in spiritual formation. Those who are meeting him for the first time will be surprised to discover this nuanced but compelling invitation to grow in Christ.

Humility is the foundational virtue. Lack of humility will keep me from recognizing my place in the greater scheme of things. Pursuit of humility will ensure that I remain always a learner, always open to rebuke when I’m in the wrong.

The book has a lighthearted feel, for readers are looking over the author’s shoulder as he makes entries in his bright red journal. I found myself nodding in agreement that, yes, humility is countercultural in 2023. Yes, it’s hard–but SO worth the learning process.

And it’s a learning process that cannot bypass the work of the Holy Spirit. I got the feeling that Richard Foster was conducting an experiment, observing and recording his own heartbeat as he drank his coffee, tended his fire, and cooperated with God in God’s work of grace.

A Year of Searching for a Vanishing Virtue

My practice of paying attention to the footnotes was richly rewarded, for Foster’s reading has run deep and wide throughout his long life. Thinkers from Aristotle to C.S. Lewis have weighed in on humility and Foster’s “Year of Searching for [the] Vanishing Virtue” has done much of our research for us. (I was challenged to add The Cloud of Unknowing to my reading list.)

An unexpected framing of the book around the thirteen moons of the Lakota calendar with their evocative descriptions linked humility with nature’s beauty. This should be no surprise, given that humble means “grounded” or “from the earth”–it’s just that we need extra help these days in finding our way there.

Rich parallels deepened my understanding of humility as Foster’s research challenged him to hold humility up beside wisdom, service, repentance, and strength and to create space for wondering about the connection. Like him, “I will think on it.” And I will let the discipline of thinking things over in the presence of God bring about the much-needed change.

Holding you in the Light,

#LearningHumility has a lighthearted feel for readers are looking over #RichardFoster’s shoulder as he makes entries in his journal. Humility is countercultural in 2023. Yes, it’s hard but worth the learning process. @ivpress @renovare

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Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

12 thoughts on “Learning Humility: Cooperating with God in God’s Time and in God’s Way”

  1. It’s so true that pride can slither in nearly undetected, and genuine humility can be highly elusive and hard to find. Foster’s book would surely help us move toward the latter. I have a feeling we’d also find contentment along the way.


      1. It seems to me that when we stop feeding our egos and caring so much about what other people think–even wanting to impress them–we’d be more likely to find true humility. Contentment (with who we are and what we do) would be a probable companion.


  2. Your story about the conversation with your friend Mary really hit home. I wonder as I hit publish how many times I make faith sound so easy. Am I being realistic in my own faith journey?

    Humility is an area that will convict and teach me until the day I die. May I be true to who I am right now as God’s daughter.


    1. It’s a humble posture to accept the person we are without trying to up the polish level. And when we write about those moments when we are flat on our faces, I believe it’s an invitation for God to work in that moment.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Your friend’s words would have stung me too! Bravo for choosing humility. I’m afraid I would have closed myself off or mumbled a Proverb on a timely word. 🙂 Humility certainly goes against our natural human instinct.


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