Posted by: jmark | October 9, 2005

Book Review – Humility: True Greatness

Humility: True Greatness
CJ Mahaney
Multnomah Publishers

“…Then the evil spirit goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first…” – Luke 11:26

I struggle with pride. Every time I seem to master it, it comes back with a vengeance.

There are two ways to fight pride, one is to thrash about and lop off every branch and twig and leaf as they sprout. The other is to preach the gospel to yourself, and to cultivate humility in the soil where pride wants to grow.

This is where CJ Mahaney’s book comes in. It is not so much a treatise on pride, exposing it with surgeon-like precision, although he does do that in places, rather it is about cultivating humility. This is a key distinction to remember otherwise you will look for the book to do something that it isn’t seeking to do. I took me a while to realise this!

The book is divided into three sections.

In the first section he makes us stand before God and shows us how foolish pride is, and how much God detests pride. For me one of the key statements in the book was the definition that pride is contending for supremacy with God. This strikes like an arrow to the heart when you use it, as Mahaney suggests, instead of “Lord, forgive my pride”, “Lord, I was contending for supremacy with you, forgive me.”

In the second section on greatness, he looks at how true greatness is seen in the servant Saviour. It is here that Mahaney displays what he has shown in his other books, that the answer to our problems is to keep Jesus Christ central. We need to preach the gospel to ourselves daily.

It is however the third section that receives the most attention. Here Mahaney gets down to the nitty-gritty of practical humility. The list of suggestions range from the theological (Reflect on the wonder of the cross), to the practical (Begin your day acknowledging your need for God) to the humorous (Play golf and laugh a lot).

He has suggestions for how to begin each day, and how to end each day. One of the most challenging for me was under the heading of “Avoid Cosmic Plagiarism”. In it he urges that we give God the glory for success in our lives, and throughout the day intentionally ‘transfer’ all glory to him.

The pursuit of humility isn’t a solo effort. In fact it best grows when we water other people’s plants! In other words, seek to identify and encourage graces in others. Mahaney rightly suggests that this is something we don’t do enough of, within the church, within marriages, and within families.

As well as giving to others we need to receive from others, specifically, humility grows in the soil of correction. Mahaney quotes Paul Tripp, “Our own self perception is like a carnival mirror,” therefore we need to invite and welcome the input of others.

These two chapters are key because they highlight a much-needed lesson that Christianity isn’t a solo effort. It is a community effort. Professor Donnelly has said, “The word ‘saint’ does not occur anywhere in the New Testament in the singular. It is always in the plural.” We have privatised our Christianity too much, and Mahaney’s book is a helpful corrective because it sets this grace in the context of the church.

The two closing chapters deal with responding to trials and passing humility on to our children. This final chapter is first-class. In it Mahaney gives powerful counter-cultural lessons in teaching children what true greatness is. As a father this was something I had never thought of before as being a specific goal, and Mahaney’s suggestions were timely and useful.

Mahaney strikes you as a man who writes only what he himself has found useful. These are his own practices, tried and tested by one who journeys on the road to humility. However it is more than just one man’s ideas, throughout the book Mahaney grounds what he says in scripture.

Although the book is relatively short, and very easy to read, yet it will take time to read, and re-read. And it will bring profit and beauty to your Christian walk.

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