June 24th, 2012

This devotional, published in the Hickory Daily Record June 23, 2012, is part four of some early excerpts from a book I’m writing on humility.  Humility creates a set of grooves in my mind that results in simple phrases that express my thought process: “I don’t know,” “Help me understand,” and “Me, too.”

This week’s phrase is “I need.”  Americans don’t like to be needy.  When Bob Wiley, the psychiatric patient in Bill Murray’s 1991 film, “What About Bob?” pleads with his doctor, “Gimme, gimme, gimme, I need, I need, I need, I need,” we don’t want to be like him.  We value what Ralph Waldo Emerson called “self-reliance,” whether it’s in finances, decision-making, or faith.  Americans love our independence.

“I need,” however, is a phrase that regularly flows through a humble mind.  “I need” is not an unhealthy sense of dependence on others.  Humility doesn’t look like laziness, lack of initiative, or Wiley-ish attachment.  But humility acknowledges our need.

The Psalms read like a handbook on humility, expressed with a range of deep feeling.  Consider some of the many ways the psalmists admitted, “I need.”

I need mercy.  Perhaps the most well-known plea for forgiveness is Psalm 51, David’s confession after the Bathsheba affair.  But the psalmists regularly their awe at God’s willingness to pardon when our spiritual brokenness is so evident .  “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?”  (Psalm 130:3)

I need protection.  We may not be victims of a Hunger Games-like manhunt, as David was when running from Saul, but dangers to body and soul lurk all around.  “The LORD is the stronghold of my life,” David writes in Psalm 27, “of whom shall I be afraid?”

I need honesty.  Whoever said real believers don’t struggle has not read the Psalms.  “I believed, therefore I said, ‘I am greatly afflicted,’” Psalm 116:10 says.  If you don’t believe in God, then no one’s in charge of the world and you don’t have any unanswered questions.  Only believers ask, “Why” (Psalm 22), and “How long?” (Psalm 79).

I need perspective.  Human beings have been around for a long time.  I don’t personally feel the need to debate whether humans have walked the earth thousands of years or millions.  At age 55 I resonate with Moses in Psalm 90 who said our lives “quickly pass and we fly away.”  God is everlasting, but we are like grass.

I need history.  Many of the psalms retell the story of Israel.  Some, like Psalm 78, do so in detail to “tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD.”  We humble ourselves by learning from their mistakes and listening to their insights.

I need patience.  David loves to express God’s deliverance in a short poem, but we can’t forget that behind “I waited patiently for the LORD” (Psalm 40:1) is a much longer story.  Humility waits for God to act, waits for others to change, and while waiting allows God to change me.

I need direction.  Psalm 119 is one, long, beautiful acrostic poem about God’s word.  “Oh, how I love your law!” the psalmist writes as he realizes what a gift God has given us to guide our lives.

I need God.  The dominant theme of the psalms is awe.  “Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise” (Psalm 96:4).  I need God’s salvation, I need his presence, I need his help, I need his protection. But mostly I just need God.  He is my soul’s craving.

The psalms are mostly about humility before God.  But humility must also change the way I act toward my neighbor.  When I realize how needy I am, I will be far more prone to love others as I have been loved.

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