It's an easy book to read, it's not long, it's not heavy in its language - but it packs a punch. If you read it, be prepared to acknowledge how much pride really has a hold on your life and be willing to have your heart changed.
In fact my only hesitation in reviewing it now is that I am still thinking about much of what it said and how to apply it personally. Rarely has a book's points of practical application caused my to think so much.
Mahaney has broken his book into three parts. Part I: The Battle of Humility vs Pride. Here he outlines what humility and pride are and what they look like. Mahaney says that
Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God's holiness and our sinfulness (p22)In many ways this is the grounding of the entire content of the book. Mahaney points us both to the true holiness of God and our own sinfulness. When we have a true view of these, humility follows close behind.
He goes on to deal with pride and why God hates it so much:
Pride is when sinful human beings aspire to the status and position of God and refuse to acknowledge their dependence upon Him. (p31)He notes how God opposes the proud (James 4:6, from Prov 3:34), he hates pride and arrogance (Prov 8:13)and that he detests the proud of heart (Prov 16:5). A quibble here is that he states that from God's perspective, pride is the most serious sin. I have not thought about this enough yet, and I can see his point. Pride is saying we can do it without God. However, complete rejection of God as King and Saviour is perhaps more serious?
Part II - The Great Reversal. Here Mahaney shows from Jesus what true greatness is: "Serving others for the glory of God" (p44) and he stresses the point that we need Jesus' death to learn true humility:
Consider your own life for just a moment. Where would you be today if He hadn't ransomed you, if He hadn't liberated you? I'll tell you where. You would be self-sufficient, seeking to cultivate self-confidence for the purpose of self-glorification.
But what has happened to you? If you've been genuinely converted, you've been forgiven and transformed. And though for now there remains in you a temptation and tendency to sin, a fundamental and radical change has occurred so that you have the desire to serve others and to see God glorified. We know the inner call to lay down out lives for one another because He laid down His life for us. (p58, original italics)
Part III: Our Great Pursuit - Practice of True Humility is where it starts to get very personal.
Seven chapters cover all aspects of our lives and how we can try to learn humility in all of it. They include: how we start the day, end the day, how we look for signs of grace in other people, how we encourage others, to invite and pursue correction from others and how we respond to trials.
This entire section was very helpful, so I am going to comment on those that were highlights for me:
1. The suggestion to identify evidences of grace in other people. That we should remind ourselves regarding every believer we encounter: "This individual has been previously acted upon by God" (p103). Therefore we look for signs of grace in their lives, rather than deficiencies. I found this a very helpful suggestion. When I am tempted to look at someone without grace and find a fault, instead I now want to find signs of God working in them. For example, instead of noticing that someone is always late, perhaps notice that they always have time for people in need. Instead of notice that someone does not 'parent' in what I think is a wise way, instead notice that they are always kind and gentle with their children.
As part of this he suggested writing a list of the fruit of the Spirit and the different gifts that the Spirit gives (having given bible verses such as Gal 5:22-23, 1 Cor 12:8-10, 28). I actually did this and have two little cards on my desk reminding me of the many and varied ways people can show God's grace in their lives and how different people can be. It's quite helpful.
An added bonus is that is has encouraged me to do it in my children too, so now I have more words to use when I praise them: "You are a good helper", "You encourage me when you are kind", "You had patience then", etc
2. His challenge to parents - to be the example they need in this area, to teach them about true greatness and to teach them how to discern and admire true greatness. He made the suggestion that no matter how well your children do academically, athletically, etc, "don't celebrate anything more than you celebrate godly character in your children" (p160). Make the special celebrations those for when you have noticed "humility, servanthood or godly character," rather than exam results.
3. The challenge to invite and pursue correction, from trusted friends who will ask you really how you are going, and what sins you are struggling with. This is a great idea. Not one I have ever implemented well, but the challenge remains to do so.
4. His focus on the words of God and how they should change us. He challenges one to study:
- the attributes of God, especially those that have no human equivalent (eg. omnipresent, self-existent, infinite),
- the doctrines of grace (election, calling, justification)
- the doctrine of sin
In many ways I felt like this book was a starting point for me, there is lots more I can do - read more of God's word and other books, but this was a great place to start - to challenge my own pride and to work, with God's help, towards true humility.