From Chapter 6 of From Survive to Thrive by Sam Rodriguez (“Humble Pie — Serve Before You Slice”)
In the midst of crisis, when we experience loss and unimaginable devastation engulfs us, we have an opportunity. This is true not only in times of a pandemic but at any time in our lives. When we’re grounded involuntarily, we’re tempted to despair. But when we remain grounded in humility, we trust in the Lord. We have no pride, no hope, and no resources except through Him. When we’re forced to our knees by life’s blows, we struggle to get up. When we choose to fall on our knees in prayer and worship before our mighty God, He lifts us up.
Those of us committed to following Jesus always try to obey God and receive power from His Spirit, but when our usual routines and systems are turned inside out, many of us realize we are not trusting the Lord as completely as we could. In those moments we realize our self-righteousness has become an idol. Rather than maintaining a posture of gratitude, stewardship, and humility, we allow our egos to eclipse our souls.
Christians are just as susceptible to pride as anyone else. The enemy knows how to adjust his strategy and play to our egos, inflating the way we see ourselves above others — and equal to God. It’s the same ploy the devil used back in the Garden of Eden when he told Eve and Adam that they would not die if they ate the forbidden fruit— they would instead be like God (Gen. 3:5). The truth, however, is that we are not God and will never be His equal. We are His creation, made in His divine image, but not His equal.
We will never move from surviving to thriving unless we bow before Him as the Lord of all. God’s Word clarifies our place before our Savior: “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10–11, NIV). Whether we’re boastful in our own power, like the Philistine Goliath, or self-righteous in our assessment of others, both lead right back to human pride and away from godly humility.
In order to thrive, only one source must anchor our identity, our power, and our worship.
The Ultimate Example
When we consider the kind of humility required to thrive, Jesus set the ultimate example. He accepted what God the Father considered necessary to restore relationship with human beings: incarnational reality, Word made flesh, God in the body of a baby in a manger in Bethlehem. He who was worthy of every accolade, title, luxury, and comfort went as low as He could go — no palace or golden cradle, no woven blankets and fur-lined crib, no attendants to see to His every need, no heralds to raise a royal banner and announce the news.
Instead, His early parents, a teenaged girl and an obedient carpenter, were forced to travel away from their home in order to comply with government requirements. They took shelter in a stable because there was no room in the inns. After He was born, they wrapped Jesus in cloths and laid Him in a feed trough lined with straw. Shepherds came from the nearby fields, along with foreigners bearing gifts. The only thing out of the ordinary was God’s birth announcement: a star dazzled the night sky as angels heralded the news.
The circumstances surrounding His birth were only the beginning of Christ’s ultimate journey in humility. He did not come from wealth and power, from religious leaders or educated scholars. He did not command an army or lead the religious order of His day. He did not oversee an army or seek political power or cultivate celebrity.
Instead Jesus waited until He was thirty years old and asked a ragtag band of scruffy fishermen and common laborers to join Him in His mission. Facing resistance from the establishment — the Roman government occupying Israel, the temple religious leaders waiting on a superhero Messiah to restore their nation to greatness, and the Jewish zealots anticipating a warrior to overthrow all oppression — Jesus refused to conform to anyone’s expectations. He turned them all upside down and repeatedly and consistently demonstrated what it meant to surrender His own will to His Father’s will. Instead of putting Himself — the only human to ever walk the earth and deserve its highest place of honor — first, He put Himself last.
Jesus yielded Himself to God’s perfect purposes in ways that we must emulate in order to grow and mature in our faith. Such a surrender of self seems counterintuitive and feels unnatural. Everything in our society, our culture, and our world tells us to compete, to compare, to fight, to win. We’re taught to put ourselves first if we want to attain what we think we need and want. We’re conditioned to make our lives the center of our universe — around which everything and everyone else is to revolve.
This is not the example set by Christ on the cross.
This is not how we were meant to live.
This is not what obedience to God looks like.
We are called to keep our egos surrendered to the power of God’s Spirit within us. We are called to put ourselves last and others first. We are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves. Consider the apostle Paul’s admonition based on his explanation of the incredible example Jesus set for us:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus not only humbled Himself to be born in a manger, raised in a household of meager means, and doubted by the people He came to save. No, He maximized humility like no one before or after Him. Christ, the only perfect and innocent man, endured the ridicule, injustice, and torture of corrupt and selfish leaders. He who could have blinked and caused their death or summoned countless angels instead suffered brutality and anguish reserved only for the vilest of criminals.
Jesus sacrificed everything He was entitled to receive so that you and I would not receive what we deserved. He defeated death once and for all so that we may have eternal life. He showed us how to let go of the demands of our egos and instead yield to God’s Spirit within us. We don’t have to wait until an unexpected crisis or devastating loss to worship and obey God. Even if we didn’t always respond in the faithful ways we wanted during the pandemic, we can always draw closer to Him. We can confess our pride and humble ourselves before the Lord, trusting in His healing power and cleansing love. We’re told, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14, ESV).
Holy humility opens up our hearts for God to work. His Word promises, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (Jas. 4:10). Only when we stop relying on our own power can we exercise complete trust in God.
And when we exercise complete trust in God, we thrive!
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and the pastor of New Season in Sacramento, California. He is a civil rights advocate, best known for his work with immigration reform and racial reconciliation.