I have been ruminating on the following phrase from the book of James the past several weeks: “Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position (James 1:9b NIV).”
The phrase, in context, is speaking about Christians who were financially poor with very little material means. The author, James, calls this humble place a “high position,” or actually a place of blessing. In God’s economy, somehow being low meant that you were high—that possessing less was actually a place where a person possessed more—much more.
This elevation is not often how I think about humility.
Though the context of this passage points to financial means, Bible scholars also apply the same principles to people in other types of “humble circumstances.”
When I think about a low position, I think about my life being out of control and scary. Humility seems to be the place where order breaks down into chaos and we have to admit that we are not in control and that there are many unknowns in our life—that there re bigger things at play then just our desires.
Walking this cancer journey has been very much a humble path. It’s not that I feel I have unlocked some secret to this virtue, but rather this disease has literally put me in an inescapable position, hoping the Lord intervenes. There are a lot of things in my life that are now uncertain—namely my future. Within this broad category lie important subcategories like my physical health, career, relationships with family, my service to God—all of these have been affected and could be altered even more.
Take for example my physical health. Several months ago, I was in peak physical condition, including competing in several triathlons. I placed in the top three of my age group in each race, which friends said would be very difficult to do in Boulder County, considering the influx of fit people and pro athletes. At 36 years old, I seemed to be getting fitter instead of declining.
Then came cancer. This low position brought me into a complete reversal of my health. It has kept me from exercising regularly—something I enjoy that helps clear my mind as well as keep me healthy. Paradoxically, I have exercised the least amount of my life the past 6 months.
In addition, the disease has caused back pain, miserable muscle spasms, fatigue and many other symptoms. There have been several times where I’ve needed to ride in a wheelchair. But even worse for me was having to rely on my wife to carry things like our suitcases, infant car seat, etc. I have loved serving my wife tirelessly by carrying the bulk of heavy things and doing physical house chores. But not so much these days.
These setbacks have been somewhat minor individually, but when you add them up they are incredibly painful for me.
Yet, somehow James calls me blessed in this state. For one thing, health is nice, financial security is nice, but they aren’t always there when I want them. In fact, the more I ponder life, the more I know that my relationship with God is the greatest thing I have going for me. This is greatly illustrated in the story of Abraham. Rather than riches or fighting men being his greatest good, God himself was his reward (Genesis 15:1 NIV).
Uncertainty and poverty help remind me that I am not in control. And while this might feel like the most terrifying place imaginable, to be held up by the “Everlasting Arms” should give me far more comfort and joy then I give it credit for. I soon find in God an ever present help, a fortress, a deliverer. I may not feel in control of my life, but I gain a closeness with God that is so much more than I ever lost.
I pray that I can remember these truths. They are often difficult to see from the misty barrenness of the low position I find myself in.
Lord, give me strength to remember that you are my “shield, (my) very great reward (Genesis 15:1b).” In this new life of living low, help me to find the greatest gain in you. I pray you wouldn’t just be a consolation prize in my life, but that you would be the prize. I pray for this in Jesus name, Amen.