Poll the average non-believer - heck, you could even poll the average believer - as to what is the defining characteristic of Christian people, and you'll not likely hear in response, "humbled." As it relates to our awareness of sin (ours and others'), we are far more apt to harbor one or more of the following attitudes:

1. Condemning others for their outwardly obvious sins

2. Justifying ourselves for our own righteousness

3. Beating ourselves up for our own unrighteousness

4. Giving little thought to the consequence of unrighteousness (ours and others') because God has forgiven us

In contrast, consider some of the great prayers in the Bible. For example, you could do worse than the ninth chapter of the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel. In each, one detects a profound sense of reverence for God, confession of our undeniable pattern of waywardness, and grateful acknowledgment of God's merciful acceptance. The primary postures of Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, and others was not haughty condemnation of others or boasting in self, nor was it a perfectionist's lament over having made mistakes or a hedonist's nonchalance over sin's effects. Rather, it was humble, humbled, grateful, and worshipful.

Or consider one of the more recognizable stories in the New Testament, that which is commonly known as "the parable of the prodigal son." This is Jesus' carefully chosen story in response to the grumbling of the religious leaders of the day that He, alleged this great spiritual force, was rubbing elbows with the outwardly immoral people in society. He speaks of a son who opts out of his family, asks his father for his inheritance up front, squanders it in a faraway land on prostitutes, hits rock bottom, and decides to return to his father. Not as a son, for he has already severed that possibility, but as a hired hand, for at least he can support himself on his father's wages. His long-rehearsed mea culpa - "I am no longer worthy to be called your son" - belies his acceptance (preference?) that sonship is out of the question, and that a working relationship is what he seeks.

Jesus wants the hearers of this story to come away with this image of the father: he runs. Though he was thoroughly embarrassed by his son's dismissal, though his son has been dishonorable, though putting out his son would have likely been accepted and applauded by the community at large (the law at the time seems to suggest that, for such a betrayal, the son deserved to be put to death) - yet the father runs. The son's long-rehearsed statement is swallowed up by the fierce and overpowering love of a father who runs out to his son, embraces and kisses him, and orders up a huge party for all to join in on to celebrate the son's return. There is more to the Christian story than this story, but I would be hard-pressed to offer you a better, more central, or more defining glimpse of what I believe my God is like, than this emotionally charged and profoundly humbling account.

And so Christians ought to be known by many characteristics; but "humbled" should be a central one. Humbled by our own waywardness - not in a perfectionistic "I'm supposed to be good and instead I messed up," but rather in a desperate awareness of guilty stain in the presence of eminent holiness. And humbled by the fierce and overpowering love of a father who runs to us, embraces and kisses us, and orders up a huge party for all to join in on to celebrate our return.

I leave you with the lyrics from two worship songs that have been on my mind of late, that I have meditated on and prayed through in response to my own waywardness and that of this generation. It is not easy for me to be humble - insert self-deprecating joke here about "when you're as awesome as I am" - what I mean is that pride gets in the way. But it is easy for me to be humbled, when I have encountered the God of Ezra's, Nehemiah's, and Daniel's prayers, the God of Jesus's story about the prodigal son, the God who is still in the business of running to us and embracing us and celebrating over us. Would that others encounter such a God as well; and would that we who have, would pray like Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel, for God to heal this generation.

Before You Call

Come to me my people, come
There's no need to be afraid of your Father
When I see you I will run
I will be there, I will be there

Before you call, I will answer you
While you still speak, I will hear
My ears are turned to the cry
Of my chosen ones
In my love you can rest in me
For you are my very own
So hold on to the hope You have
That I would draw you to myself
For I will never leave you alone

I will not forget you,
I gather my lambs in my arms
So I will comfort you and carry
You close to my heart

Save Us, Oh God

We confess the sins of our nation
And Lord we are guilty of a prayerless life.
We've turned away our hearts from Your laws
And have taken for granted Your unchanging grace.

Turn away this curse from our country.
We say that we robbed You and our storehouses are bare.
Open wide the floodgates of heaven.
Rebuke the devourer so we may not be destroyed.

You said that if we humble ourselves and begin to pray
You would heal our barren land and cleanse us with Your rain.
Don't pass us by, let this be the generation, Lord
That lifts up Your name to all the world.

Save us, oh God, save a people for Yourself, oh Lord.
Let the fear of the Lord be their standard.
Save us, oh God, cleanse us from our unfaithfulness.
Let the place where we live be called a house of prayer.

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