The gospel is a great humbler, empowering us with such confidence that we become clear-minded about ourselves, as Paul urges in Romans 12:3. Compare and contrast these two stories.

Story 1:

A few years ago, I was checking in at the airport for an overseas flight. I was carrying an expensive television camera, and I didn’t really want to check it. I asked the woman at the check-in counter if there was any way I could take it on board with me.

“No, I’m sorry,” she said. “Our policy is very strict. If a carry-on doesn’t fit under the seat in front of you or in the overhead compartment, it must be checked.”

I understood that. She was following the rules. But I also knew that the favor of God can make exceptions, so I respectfully asked her, “Is there anybody else I can talk to about taking my camera on board?”

She said, “No, I’m sorry; there’s no use. There’s no way you’re going to take your camera on board.”

About that time, a man dressed in a captain’s uniform approached me. I didn’t know him, had never seen him before, but he walked right up to me and asked, “How can I help you?”

“I’m trying to take my camera on board,” I said, “so it doesn’t get all beat up with the checked luggage.”

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“I’m going to New Delhi, India, to meet my father,” I replied.

“Really?” he said as he raised his eyebrows. “That’s the flight I’m in charge of.” He then said, “When you get on board, just bring the camera up to me, and I’ll put it right behind the cockpit.”

The woman behind the counter glared at me and shook her head, clearly aggravated. I just smiled and said, “Sorry, ma’am; it’s the favor of God.”

. . . The favor of God can cause people to make exceptions for you. Think about it. What caused that captain to come up to me in the midst of that busy airport? . . . The favor of God.

– Joel Osteen, Your Best Life Now

Story 2:

In 1966 I joined Operation Mobilization for a year of ministry in France, but spent two years in India instead. While in London that summer, at the one-month OM orientation, I volunteered to work on a clean-up crew late one night.

Around 12:30am I was sweeping the front steps of the Conference Centre when an older gentleman approached and asked if this was the OM conference. I told him it was, but most everyone was in bed.

He had a small bag with him and was dressed very simply. He said he was attending the conference, so I said, “Let me see if I can find you a place to sleep.” Since there were many different age groups at OM, I thought he was an older OM’er.

I took him to the room where I had been sleeping on the floor with about 50 others and, seeing that he had nothing to sleep on, laid some padding and a blanket on the floor and used a towel for a pillow. He said it would be fine and he appreciated it very much.

As he was preparing for bed, I asked him if he had eaten. He had not as he had been travelling all day. I took him to the dining room but it was locked. So after picking the lock I found cornflakes, milk, bread, butter and jam—all of which he appreciated very much.

As he ate, we began to fellowship. I asked where he was from. He said he and his wife had been working in Switzerland for several years in a ministry mainly to hippies and travellers. It was wonderful to talk with him and hear about his work and those who had come to Christ. When he finished eating, we turned in for the night.

However, the next day I was in trouble! The leaders of OM really “got on my case.” “Don’t you know who that man is on the floor next to you?” they asked. “It is Dr. Francis Schaeffer, the speaker for the conference!”

I did not know they were going to have a speaker, nor did I know who Francis Schaeffer was, nor did I know they had a special room prepared for him!

After Francis Schaeffer became well known because of his books, and I had read more about him, I thought about this occasion many times—this gracious, kind, humble man of God sleeping on the floor with OM recruits! This was the kind of man I wanted to be.

– Doug Nichols, “Francis Schaeffer slept here,” shared by Randy Alcorn

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
— Romans 12:3

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
— 1 Peter 5:5b

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10 thoughts on “Humility: This, Not That”

  1. nhe says:

    I’ve heard both these stories before, but I don’t think I’ve seen them side-by-side. I love, love, love this!

    There are unkind things I want to do when I read the Osteen account. I’m not sure that what rises up within me is ONLY righteous anger. I probably have some unhealthy negative attitude stuff in there too that I need to repent of. That said, there is is a modern phrase that ends with “slap” that comes to mind when I read Osteen stories.

  2. another illustration Osteen often has used is getting the best parking space at the mall. It’s the favor of God, he says.

    I think it is very possible that God sometimes bestows his favor and makes something easier for us. But to only be able to recognize these “easier” types of events as God’s favor can be so selfish.

    Moses was upgraded to Pharoah’s accomodations…definitely first class…but not for personal ease. It was divine positioning for a future humbling assignment!

    One time I was coming back from India with a mission team. The ticket agent smilingly informed me that I had been given a complimentary upgrade to business class. (I’ll not lie and say I didn’t think this was a blessing!) I felt a bit wierd about accepting that seat when 4 others with me would have to sit in coach class. So I said, “Is it possible my associates could also upgrade, I feel a bit uncomfortable being the only one.” The real miracle came when everyone got the upgrade! Yes, I think it was the favor of God. It was also Lufthansa trying to sell all their coach class seats! I’ve tried to claim this same “favor” on subsequent occasions in overseas travel…but with little success.

    1. Jared C. Wilson says:

      Dane, you’d agree that being offered special treatment is different than asking for it, yes?

      1. dane says:

        I don’t think it’s necessarily morally wrong to ask for special treatment. I always ask for a complimentary upgrade to business class! I rarely get it, heathen that I am. what I think that is morally wrong, is a sense of entitlement that can go with this. the prosperity gospel turns god’s favor into an entitlement. so rather than receiving those instances of god’s favor as a grace and blessing that humbles me, it puffs my pride up, deflects from God’s glory and dishonors Christ and the gospel.

        fully agree that Osteen’s response to the ticket agent was an embarrassment. but I would have to honestly admit that I often carry around a sense of entitlement of my own. maybe it happens when traffic is all messed up on the way home from work. or when the brand new product I just bought doesn’t work like it supposed to. or when my wife makes us 15 minutes late and I feel embarrassed in front of all the people. somehow I think it is my right to be treated n better than thi

  3. I don’t necessarily want to jump in here and be an apologist for Osteen but I do have one thought. I wouldn’t really mind his story if it was balanced by a few stories of self-sacrificing humility. I think God can and does do things for His people such as promotions, scholarships, and many other kinds of favour. Sometimes just because He loves us and always, as Dane wisely pointed out above, for His purposes. The truth is that He also brings hardship to His people for His purposes as well.

    I think the problem may be the imbalance evident in Osteen’s account.

  4. JR says:

    The issue I had with the Osteen story was imagining how his prideful statement ruined his witness to the lady behind the counter. Self-agrandizement and posturing in the name of God’s favor before the face of the unconverted is the equivalent of excessive celebration in the end zone when the score is 50-3. At a minimum, it displays a lack of taste and a lack of understanding of grace. But the worst of it is to cast a dark cloud over the glory of God.

    When God grants us His favor, the purpose is to display His glory. Story 1 is the exact opposite of the effect that God’s favor ought to have in our life as believers.

    In Story 2, we actually do get a sweet taste of our Heavenly Father’s glory.
    There is a vast difference between these two.
    Thank you, Jared for sharing it.

  5. Jared C. Wilson says:

    Yes. When I read the first story, I don’t think of how God looks out for Joel Osteen; I think of how our witness is harmed in the eyes of that lady at the counter, who has been told God loves the pastor more than her, which is why he got his way.

    On the scale of evil things Osteen is responsible for preaching, this is low on the meter, but it’s still terrible.

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Jared C. Wilson

Jared C. Wilson is the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont. You can follow him on Twitter.

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