Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Humility: True Greatness

A few weeks ago, I heard about an opportunity to receive and review an advance copy of C.J. Mahaney’s new book, Humility: True Greatness. Though I’ve never read any of Mahaney’s other books, I’m somewhat familiar with his church, the ministry organization he leads, and his family (his wife and adult daughters have a great blog)—and humility is a topic I always need instruction on. So I jumped at the chance. I’m glad I did! The following is my review of the book. I hope it will inspire you to pre-order it on or buy it as soon as it comes out at the end of the month! You can read a sample chapter for yourself here.

Though Humility: True Greatness, by C.J. Mahaney, is small, its depth and impact are big. It’s accessible but profound, rooted in Scripture yet intensely practical. And there isn’t a single one of us who couldn’t benefit from its message. As Mahaney points out:

“The sad fact is that none of us are immune from the logic-defying, blinding effects of pride. Though it shows up in different forms and to differing degrees, it infects us all. The real issue here is not if pride exists in your heart; it’s where pride exists and how pride is being expressed in your life. Scripture shows us that pride is strongly and dangerously rooted in all our lives, far more than most of us care to admit or even think about."

Mahaney begins by making the case for how crucial this topic really is. He then takes a unique angle that I really appreciated. I always thought pursuing humility was important simply because the opposite, pride, was so abominable. But although Mahaney doesn’t mince words about the seriousness of pride, he also turns attention to the positive: Humility is something to cultivate because of the promise it offers, not just because of the curse its alternative brings.

“[O]ur motivation for rooting out pride must go beyond a knowledge of its pitfalls and perils,” he says. “Our pursuit should be driven by the amazing promise that humility holds out to us: God gives grace to the humble!”

Mahaney’s self-deprecating humor and honesty about his own struggles with pride make him relatable and credible. He often anticipated my questions and objections with powerful illustrations of pride in his own life. And his disclaimers that he’s unqualified to write a book about humility, combined with his friends’ and family’s endorsements of his humble spirit, only add to his credibility.

More than once, he caught me with a direct hit—describing my prideful thoughts or heart attitudes with startling exactness. Yet Mahaney isn’t out to beat you down and discourage you. Part of the beauty of the book is the thread of the gospel woven throughout. Over and over, he brings you back to the grace and mercy of the cross.

That emphasis on grace was revolutionary for me. In Mark 10:45, Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’’ I thought that meant I just had to strive to imitate Him—in my pride (ironically enough) never realizing that I CAN’T imitate His example.

My eyes were opened in a new way as Mahaney argued that having a correct definition of “greatness” and a perfect example to follow (Jesus) is not enough for us to attain humility. As he examines this verse in its biblical and historical contexts, he points out that only Christ’s death—His sacrifice to ransom us from sin—will set us free from pride and enable us to be humble.

“So to hear the Savior speak the word ransom and understand it rightly is to be freshly reminded and affected by our own serious and sorry state, our miserable
lostness and wretched bondage to sin. We cannot free ourselves from pride and selfish ambition; a divine rescue is absolutely necessary.”

One of the most powerful things I learned from this book was that I can’t be great unless I imitate Christ…but I can’t imitate Christ unless He dies to set me free from my sin. Understanding that is the key to toppling pride. I cannot practice humble servanthood unless I truly realize that my ability to do so is only made possible through Christ’s death on the cross. I’m INCAPABLE apart from that. I can only imitate Him because His sacrifice bought me freedom from pride and selfish ambition. Again, it all comes back to the cross—the foundation of Mahaney’s life and ministry (I’m now very anxious to read an older book of his, The Cross Centered Life) and the core of this book.

Once he has laid the theological groundwork, Mahaney gets extremely practical. Pride must be actively fought; humility must be intentionally cultivated. This character development isn’t just going to happen as we read the book—it’s going to take work. So the second half of the book lays out specific steps to take—at the beginning and end of each day, throughout the day, and occasional practices. This section includes chapters on “Identifying Evidences of Grace,” “Encouraging Others,” “Inviting and Pursuing Correction,” and “Responding Humbly to Trials.” Each one challenged and inspired me.

This book was a crucial one for me—one I know I’ll need to read more than once. There are a lot of ways you could spend ten dollars, but I’m confident that spending it on this book will be a powerful way for you to invite God to shape you more into the image of His humble Son.

As Mahaney concludes:

“Ultimately, there can be no effective expansion of your life’s mission and ministry, no fulfillment of the specific purpose He’s called you to, apart from the cultivation of humility in your heart and the weakening of pride in your life. So ask for His protection, so that from this moment you’ll give more attention, not less, to the presence of pride and the promise of humility.”

Quotes used by permission of Multnomah Publishing.


pk said...

Question about another book you've read, or should I say trilogy. What did you think of the Dekker trilogy? I heard him speak last week at a conference. Well, he didn't really speak persay, he read a story. Very well done!

Amy said...

(I replied to Paul personally but will comment here for the benefit of others looking for interesting fiction reading):

About the Dekker trilogy--LOVE, LOVE, LOVED it :) I had heard good things about his books but had never tried one--I finally checked out the first one at the library a few weeks ago and absolutely couldn't put it down. It starts out a little strange--the premise seems a bit farfetched--but before long I was so into the story that I didn't care if it was a little...unconventional. I couldn't wait to get my hands on the other two, and didn't get much else done during the times I was reading them :) Very engaging and suspenseful!

The beauty is seeing the redemption story in a different "universe" of sorts--it brings freshness and new emotion to familiar themes. I would highly recommend!

Eric S. said...

Thanks for this review. I'm looking forward to reading it. You'll love The Cross Centered Life. I've often said it's the one book besides the Bible I'd have every Christian read. (Of course, I've said that about many books!)