For millennia, thoughtful brothers and sisters have exegeted Scripture’s thoughts on the virtue of humility. I will not (indeed could not) attempt to tour us around all the faces and facets of the theology of humility that the Holy Spirit has wrought in the church, wielding each successive generation and individual thinker as a chisel or polishing cloth to bring out some yet richer aspect of humility’s power or what we might do to acquire it in greater measure. Instead, I want to direct our gaze to a significant blemish on humility in our own generation where we need further chipping and sanding: our overcommitted busyness.
At first glance, the pathological busyness of our day seems disconnected from questions of humility, but it is precisely in caving to the pressure to be endlessly doing that our humility is most frequently vanquished. This often happens without a fight or even an awareness that we ought to be battling the temptation to arrogate to ourselves more activity than the Lord has handed us. Whether working on a job or a home, spending an evening with friends, or even attending to our spiritual growth, we so often live as if we could and should do more than we can and are called to.
The problem, simply stated, is our fierce functional arrogance. We experience it as stress—the constant burden to do one more thing, take on one more commitment, be in one more place. And indeed, there will always be a genuine strain from working in a fallen world. But a great deal of the burden is self-inflicted, and our Lord would free and heal us. We are discontent within the God-given limits of our brains, energy, emotions, circumstances, and the twenty-four-hour day. So, we race about from activity to activity. We anxiously knock out one more email, one more to-do list item. Sometimes I catch myself all but sprinting to and from the restroom to gain just a few more seconds. But then we take the same approach to breaks: We often binge-watch Netflix or scroll social media after we should stop, squeezing in one more moment away from the pressures of life and responsibilities waiting for us. Our family vacations are often filled with too many plans or too tightly held expectations of peace and quiet. Brothers and sisters, we don’t realize it, but we are grasping after God’s incommunicable1 omnipotence and omnipresence, and nothing could be further from humility.
What must we do to be saved?
In short, we must humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God (1 Peter 5:6), laying down our proud belief that we ought to be equal to the obliviating pressures we face. We must repent of believing we can (and should) be or do more than Jesus asks of us. Remember, He is the one whose yoke is easy (Matt. 11:30). He gives rest—not an endless, unsatisfiable list of chores.
Peter then unfolds the secret to humbling ourselves in this way in the very next verse, urging us to cast our anxieties on our Savior and friend because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). Thus, Christian humility must include an intentional, liberating, moment-by-moment discipline of entrusting to the Lord all the things we are not and cannot be doing.
Think of it this way: every minute you spend doing whatever you are doing is also a minute you are not doing a thousand other things. And oh, how the weight of all those not-doings hovers over us. The greatest engine of franticness I know is the visceral feeling that, at each passing minute, the conveyor belt of time is relentlessly propelling me toward a thousand deadlines for a thousand other projects I cannot currently move forward.
Only a humility that casts its anxieties about what we aren’t doing and can’t be doing upon a caring heavenly Father can shield us from a self-imposed slavery to our unrealistic expectations and demands of ourselves. For here is the freedom of our faith: we can entrust Him with everything we have yet to do and everything we need to say “no” to and never will do. Handing Him the thousand things we can’t do in each moment protects us from both the seduction of chasing endless accomplishments and the anxiety of the “million things we haven’t done.”2
So, whether you are reading this quickly while rushing to pick up a child, a project, or a conversation, remember that you are not and do not have to be the one who oversees all things. Humility casts every unchecked to-do-list item, every fear of missing out, every vaguely recalled commitment, on Him. How? By simply naming, directly and honestly, all that needs doing to the Lord. So let us fill our hours with humbling prayers, saying: “Father, these are Yours. Help me to be diligent with what is in front of me, enjoying this moment’s adventure with You. Help me leave all I need to do later with You till You bring me to them. Help me say ‘no’ and leave with You all I won’t ever get to, trusting You with all I can’t control.” There is no relief like humility, which shelters in the shadow of the Most High one activity at a time, as we play our part with joyful obedience and leave the rest of redemption to Him.