Thursday, July 21, 2011

Provoking God's Mercy

Are there any limits to human wickedness? Imagine a guy who practices witchcraft and seances, fortune-telling and necromancy. Picture him engaged in human sacrifice by burning is own children on altars of fire. Give him nationwide authority and influence, so that he not only practices these things, but encourages and trains others to do the same. Now, if there is room left in your imagination, envision this man finding a way to win God’s affection.
What moves God’s heart? Buried deep in the Chronicles of Israel is the story of a despicable ruler guilty of such things. Yet he captured the Father’s grace and mercy by humbling himself before God. His name is Manasseh; you can read about him in 2 Chronicles 33. In the space of one chapter King Manasseh was transformed from a man who provoked God to anger to one who caught God’s attention because of his humble heart. There is a lesson here for every Student of Jesus: it’s not that Manasseh simply experienced God’s mercy, he provoked it.
The Father loves humility. It turns his head. Jesus tried again and again to share this secret pathway to God’s heart: “the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” He used this phrase no fewer than four times. Jesus demonstrated humility as he lived in the low places of Israel’s society. He portrayed children as exemplars of humble trust in the Father’s care. He derided self-sufficiency.
Humility is an expression of truth and integrity. People intuitively hunger for humility in their spiritual and political leaders. It seems this hunger for authentic humility is growing stronger: the Google search-phrase that has most often brought people to this blog is the simple phrase, “How can we Humble Ourselves?” Although that post is more than two years old, people find their way to it week after week. All over the world people enter search phrases like, “how to be humble like Jesus,” and “how do we humble ourselves before God?” There is beauty in the humble way.
Humility is the sail that captures the grace and mercy of God. His ear is tuned to hear the weakest words of a humbled heart. In King Manasseh’s story we find hope for everyone who has wondered if they could possibly grab God’s attention. Here are four sure lessons from Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33) for those whose hearts are inclined:
  • Even in the midst of gross iniquity, God is still speaking: (v10) Even after a long list of rebellious acts against God, the text reveals that God was still reached out to Manasseh. If you’ve been told that God hides from your sin, you’ve been misled. Our sin is one of the very reasons God continues to reach out to us. He loves us and refuses to give up on us. But it's not just that his love reaches down; a humble heart reaches up.
  • God knows how to humble us: (v11) There’s a massive difference between being humbled by the Almighty and humbling yourself before him. God may arrange circumstances that bring us low in the eyes of others, but only we can lower ourselves before God. He can extend severe mercy, in C.S. Lewis’ phrase, but we remain in control of our own thoughts and hearts.
  • Our hearts can move God’s heart: (v13) This is an astounding revelation! God is not impressed by human power, wealth, or wisdom, but he is impressed by the human heart. When a man or woman chooses contrition, the Father tells all heaven to be quiet. Our prayers never have more power than when we take our proper place before him.
  • Our humble example can influence the generations to come: (v25) Manasseh had a grandson named Josiah, who (as a child) sparked a nationwide revival. I like to imagine that Josiah heard first-hand from his grandfather the horrors of rebellion and the grace of humility. Our life-lessons can become the seed that springs up thirty, sixty, and a hundred fold in the lives of those who follow.
These are more than theological considerations, they are postures of the heart. They are examples for Students of Jesus. Jesus embodied the life of humility before the Father. It worked out pretty well for him--he demonstrated that the humble path leads to glory, a glory unimagined by the wisdom of men.
Even more than Manasseh, Jesus modeled the way of humility. Consider Paul’s magnificent description of the humble way:
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.  (Philippians 2: 6-11)
What is whispered in the Old Testament is shouted in the New: humility is the doorway to God’s Kingdom. Humility spared Manasseh's life. It was the way of life for Jesus. It is no less the way for us.


  1. I like the phrase: Humility is the "posture of the heart."

  2. Thanks for visiting, Caleb!

  3. Good post. Sometimes I think we forget that those folks that seem to be the most low down, stinky, jerkified, mean-spirited and hard to love people are actually quite miserable inside. They know that they are rotten, they know that they aren't doing it right (even if they won't admit it to anyone), and because of that, they aren't necessarily that far from finding salvation. If you have to be at your spiritual lowpoint before you honestly turn to God, the worst of the worst are in a good position to make that change.

  4. That's such a good point, Dan: we only have to endure mean-spirited people while we are around them. They have to endure the inner-dialogue of their thoughts and hatred 24 hours a day. They are in misery, and as such may be able to find the place where they can humble themselves before the Father.