“When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”
1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (NIV)
I am a mom of three kids, aged 10 and under, so if anyone knows humility, it is a parent. Now maybe it is a forced humility, but kids can sure break down your pride. They make you question everything you know. They also make you not want to judge any other parent because you know how hard the job truly is.
When I think of humility, I think about posture. When a person wants to show respect or humility to someone, they will either bow or kneel. When we do ministry, when we go into a situation to love and serve someone else, our posture reflects our humility with the people we are either serving with or serving.
Five years ago, my husband, John and I, and our boys, moved from Columbus, Ohio to Atlanta, Ga., with Encompass World Partners. To say the least, we were excited for our new mission field. I think my posture was a little bit like standing on a chair. Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t think I knew all the answers or had everything figured out, but because of my excitement and passion, my humility was almost non-existent. at is the funny thing about pride, we mostly equate it to thinking we are better than others, but sometimes it comes from good intentions that just make us not good learners or observers. We are too excited to be effective.
Fast-forward a couple of months, and I started looking a lot more like someone slouching in a chair. It is humorous how exhaustion can humble you. There were so many needs, different cultures, and much to learn. About a year into our time in Atlanta, I heard a sermon that changed how I look at and do ministry. It was a sermon on Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. Growing up, I was taught that the moral to this story was that Jesus made time for a lowly, sinful, woman who was from a group of people that Jews normally didn’t cross paths with. So we should be kind to the sinners around us or the people who are not like us.
But this pastor highlighted how Jesus empowered this woman right where she was, and gave her honor while sharing truth. It wasn’t about what he did, it was about her. He humbled himself enough to take what was considered the lth of the earth, a pagan woman in that day, and talked with her from a posture that was like sitting on the ground with legs crossed.
First, he shared with her his need and he asked for her help. He was thirsty and he needed water. I am sure if Jesus had really wanted to, he could have gotten his own water. But he wanted to engage this woman in a way that would open her to what he wanted to tell her and immediately show her value.
I can’t tell you how many of my relationships have flourished over me just being vulnerable, whether with a follower of Jesus or with someone that doesn’t yet know Him. Allowing someone to see my struggle or my needs, and then asking them to help, breaks down barriers, and deepens a relationship quicker than hours of time together. It gives people worth and shows them they are needed.
Secondly, he talked to her, well actually, let her talk, and ask questions. And he listened. How many times do we walk into a situation where we want to share Jesus with people and before we set foot in the room, we already know what the problem and the solution is for these people that we haven’t even met?
My kids go to a school where more than 20 different languages are spoken by the parents of the students. God has truly given me a heart for these international families, but several times, I have tried to implement programs to serve them and none of the families have shown any interest. But when I take time to talk with these families individually and find out where they are, and what their lives are like, they not only feel valued by my listening but I can actually meet a real need that they have.
Thirdly, Jesus empowered her to go tell others about what he had told her about His living water. Now I believe that at that moment, that he “sent” her, she was a follower of Jesus, but she definitely had no training and no experience to tell others about him. However, the best person to tell others about the power of Jesus, is a person who has just seen His power drastically change their lives. I believe God can use any of His creation to bring glory to Him, and when a woman like this started talking about Jesus, I am sure people’s heads turned. And they had to know the power that Jesus truly had.
In my life, this story has played out in numerous ways. Over the last four years, I have gotten to know a Muslim woman that has become very close to our family. She is a single mom and an Egyptian immigrant who struggles with her English and her understanding of American culture. She has had a hard life and when I began a relationship with her, I figured I would be the one serving her.
Yet, she has outdone me in generosity, self-sacrifice, and hospitality. She has treated me like a sister and has put my family before herself. She has attended church with us, we have prayed together, and cried and laughed together, and often we feel more alike than I would have ever thought. God has emptied me of myself, helped me get over my presuppositions, and given me His eyes to see her true value and worth. Instead of my goal being to “ x” her, my goal has been to show her how much God loves her and encourage her to journey with me in my daily life.
Humility is also important with other followers of Jesus. I started to get to know another mom at my boys’ school. She was the kind of woman who seemed like she had it together. Her perfection turned me o but our paths seemed to keep crossing. I could have tried to put myself up and present myself at her level, but when it came down to it, I felt like just being real with her would help our relationship more. I shared with her some of my struggles with parenting and life and how God was helping me through. She immediately softened and opened up about her struggles.
Since that conversation, I have come to learn she is a faithful follower of Jesus. She has also been a huge support for my ministry at my boys’ school. We have invited their family to our church and have learned that her husband is not a Christian. She struggles with that, and I have been able to just listen and pray for her and help her feel heard and supported.
When we empty ourselves of our wants and just focus on obedience to God’s calling, we have a sense of what Paul talked about in 1 Corinthians 2. We have all been there when we feel our total inadequacy with doing God’s work. But in our humility, people see and hear God, not us.
And only when we get to this point, can God truly be able to use us. When it becomes more about Him and less about me… I am willing to feel powerless and allow someone to serve me so they can feel needed and valued. I am willing to just sit and listen and not give advice so someone else feels understood. I am willing to empower someone and not just do it myself so they can feel the joy and fulfillment of obeying God’s calling.
So when I think about ministry, I want to think about it from a posture of sitting cross-legged on the floor. When we serve others in this posture, we are ready to listen, ready to learn, and ready to value all the members of the team. We also won’t get in the way with our egos or our agendas and we can just let God do his perfect work through us.
Humility is hard but when we are aware of our posture, sitting face-to-face, walking alongside others, it helps us to be more humble. This gives value and dignity to those that God has called us to live life with and will allow us deeper relationships than we have ever known and the opportunity to share about the true living water that only God can give.
Kate Ward works with Encompass World Partners, producing videos and assisting with church planting. She lives in Atlanta, Ga., with her husband, John, and their three boys. is is an edited version of her talk at Access2017, the national conference of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, which was held in Fremont, Ohio, July 25-27, 2017. To receive your personal copy of the magazine mailed directly to your home, click here.