June/July 2023

Humility in Service

By Kayley Curtis

Above my desk, next to my computer monitor is a prayer. Eleven point, Georgia font, on plain printer paper taped to yellow wall paint. The words are read often, most times once a day, sometimes twice. 

Some days I read it quickly, eager for the words to say what I cannot. Some days I read it begrudgingly – repentance tastes so bitter until it’s swallowed. Some days I forget about it until I’ve messed up or become so anxious, the lines in my spreadsheets blur. But most days, I read it first. In the quiet of the morning, before I’ve even had my coffee and before anything else tries to frame the work day. 

Every day, I need it. 

I also need to break it down into its tiniest parts, because every line is important. Not because the writer, the one praying, uses all the right words or knows where the commas go to make emotions more impactful, though all that is certainly true. But because I have needed to pray it, needed every word, needed constant repentance. Please pray with me. 

Humility in Service

Sorry to stop us so soon, but let’s start with that title. For fellow believers who work in a service industry, pride is probably the easiest sin in which to indulge. I’ll proudly say that the phrase “the customer is always right” is a load of hogwash. The customer is always wrong – at least 99.99% of the time. We can certainly spend too long discussing how and why customers are often entitled, rude, and condescending with the infection of that phrase on modern society, but that’s not what this prayer is about. And I’ve already indulged. 

This prayer gives no mention of the ways in which the one praying has been wronged nor how often they were right about something. Rather, it’s called humility in service. Humility in your daily walk. Humility in work. 

I don’t usually like that word – humility. It asks too much of me, and it doesn’t let me be right all the time. Even if I think I’m right all the time, and I often think I’m right all the time. And yet, it’s a command – “Humble yourselves before the Lord…” Let’s continue. 

Mighty God, 

We’re stopping again – but I make no apologies. The prayer humbles us instantly, before we’ve even gotten to the good part. We are not allowed to skip over the title – not without practicing it in the first line. 

The word “mighty” means “possessing great and impressive power or strength.” That word is applied to God and God alone – an immediate reality check, if you will. Let’s keep reading. I should warn you, it’ll get worse before it gets better – but boy, does it get better. 

I humble myself for abilities I have misused, 

   opportunities I have neglected,

   ill-advised words I have spoken.

You know in conflict-resolution seminars, how they really emphasize the “I-statements”? This prayer reminds me of that – no blame-shifting allowed. We’re coming before the Father in utter honesty of our own sliminess. And it’s hard. 

I have misused abilities, gifts, potential. I have neglected opportunities to be thankful, encouraging, even kind. I have spoken words that are harsh, bitter, dripping with gossip, though I do my best to hide it in the cold phrase, “…just so you know….” 

I, and I alone, have sinned. 

I repent of my folly and inconsiderate ways,

   my broken resolutions, untrue service,

   my backsliding steps,

   my vain thoughts.

Folly and inconsiderate covers quite a bit of ground, doesn’t it? Folly ways are stupid and rash. The blurt-a-curse-word-at-another-car type of stupid and rash. I am not thinking at all; I am angry. Inconsiderate ways are selfish – I am thinking of me, how could I be expected to also think of you? 

In these two states, I break promises and lie; I help resentfully and keep score; I fall into habits I thought I repented of yesterday; I think I am the only one who does anything around here. And I really believe that last part – I tell others, I’m the only one who does anything around here! 

O bury my sins in the ocean of Jesus’ blood

   and let no evil result from my fretful temper,

      unseemly behavior, provoking pettiness.

Oh, bury my sins! They seem too many to count, especially when I sit down and try to count them. The list is looming, but the ocean gobbles it whole. Day after day, wave after wave. So much gobbling. I need this prayer. 

And let no evil result? What an ask! In my evil, let no evil continue – who can do this, but a Mighty God? I embody pettiness – take a look at my Bcc’d email list. I cannot fathom how my propensity toward such vitriol could result in good, and yet He works all things, right? Be gracious to me, oh God. Work all things, even these temperamental, piddling things. 

If by unkindness I have wounded or hurt another,

   would you apply the healing salve of heavenly comfort?

If I have turned coldly from need, misery, grief,

   please do not forsake me in your just anger:

If I have withheld relief from poverty and pain,

   do not withhold thy gracious bounty from me.

If I have shunned those who have offended me

   will you keep open the door of your heart to my need?

The silly part about those eight lines is the use of the word “if.” I often pause at the if’s – they should be replaced by something stronger. Something truer. 

If I am unkind? I repeatedly am, though I think I have good reasons. If I scoff at need? I am so busy, I never seem to have the time. If I withhold relief? I have so many excuses for why I cannot help, and I even think some of them are good. If I have shunned? But they cut me off, now I will drive slow in front of them as punishment and a certain finger might even appear.

The if’s should be replaced with when’s, at the very least. 

As you may have noticed, this prayer is thorough. It takes care to mention each sin individually, and names what the natural consequences might be. And yet, through Christ, I can ask for His intervention. For the working of all things for His good to take place in spite of me. For heavenly comfort and bountiful grace to extend, not just to me (it is so clear how little I deserve it), but to those I have dismissed and despised. Please keep the door of your heart open to me, I need You. Every hour I need You. 

We are in our mid-prayer shift. I have repented and shame has rolled off my back, by Christ’s hand alone. Now to be more like Him…I will need all the help I can get. 

Fill me with an over-flowing ocean of compassion

   the reign of love my motive,

   the law of love my rule.

The ocean metaphor is back, and I’m on board. Fill me with concern, Lord. With tenderness and charity. With things I cannot grasp on my own, things I cannot even understand without You. 

The reign of love my motivation – how can I let sin reign instead, when in Christ I have died to it? I think slave language is helpful and true. I am either a slave to sin and its passions, or I am a slave to Christ, like James and Paul and all those who love Him because He first loved us. A slave of God, of love, and of the promise of eternal life, the free and freeing gift. The most comforting paradox I know. 

The law of love, to love the Lord God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. A law that has been fulfilled – not by me, thank heaven. A law I must write on my heart, day in and day out. Before the coffee, before the work that can sometimes feel crushing, before I have a chance to forget. 

O God of all grace, make me more thankful,

   more humble;

More, and more, I ask. The phrasing assumes I have some already – some thankfulness tucked in the back of my closet, some humility in my mirror? The God of all grace provides and prunes. 

Inspire me with a deep sense of my unworthiness

   arising from

      the depravity of my nature, my omitted duties,

      my unimproved advantages, your commands

         violated by me.

Before I get to the meat, I love the structure of the second half of that sentence. The words tumble down, down the page, each phrase getting heavier, the leftmost words forming a downward push until I’m left with only…me. My depravity, my laziness, my feeble attempts to be better on my own, my direct disobedience. They stack together, strapped around my neck, suffocating. I have no one else to blame.

And yet. I am inspired. Another paradox I love – something about the freedom found in realizing how terrible the odds are for me. Not in a let’s-just-give-up type of way, but in a stronger, and-how-wonderful-it-is-to-be-rescued type of way. It’s a spring-board, a rocket, out of the depths of sin comes the King of Kings, and He’s got me by the hand.  

With all my calls to gratitude and joy

   may I remember

      that I have reason for sorrow

         and humiliation;

O give me repentance unto life;

Another assumption, that I will have many calls to gratitude and joy. Well, of course. I must, even if nothing good ever happens to me again. The basic fact of forgiveness forever trumps the next perfectly wrapped birthday gift, or the bonus check, or the close call on the highway. Forgiveness – how good and pleasant, David sings! I sing along!

Remembering is the hard part, I think. I’m shocked at how easily I forget, not only the goodness of the Lord, but the awfulness of me. I get one compliment on the thoroughness of my emails, and humility is suddenly out of date. Therein lies the reason I printed the prayer and taped it over my desk, I suppose. Every day I need it. 

Cement my oneness with my blessed Lord,

   that my faith may cling to him more immovably,

   that my love may entwine itself around him more tightly,

   that his Spirit may pervade every fibre of my being.

Cement is a heavy duty verb, but then again, this is a heavy duty prayer. As I get older, I’m finding in my walk that life with Christ is about need. Immovable clinging, tightly entwining, ever pervading need. The need grows and grows. 

Such desperation in clinging, in needing, and still the irony of it all – He clings to me. It’s all Him. Christ in me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, below me, beside me, above me. No fiber untouched, nor un-restored. It’s how my sins have been gobbled whole, it’s how I can be filled with compassion and love. It’s how the assurance of my faith in Christ feels fresh and new, each time I dwell on it, each time I remember. 

Each time I repent. 

I’m reminded of why I need to be humble in the first place. It’s not because I’ve sinned, although that is certainly true. It is because I am dependent on God. My dependance, my need is what makes me human in the first place. A humble human clinging to all-awe-inspiring, ever-forgiving God. 

Then send me out to make him known

   to my fellow-men.

I don’t get God all to myself. I must do something with all this good He’s created in spite of me. I’m humbled again – by my need for you, too. You, my fellow humble human. And I am not the only one who needs. You need, too. 

So again, please pray with me. 

About the Author

Kayley Curtis is an events manager by trade and a writer by hobby and love. She holds a BA in Writing and an MFA in Creative Writing: Non-Fiction Writing. She lives with her husband Tucker on Lookout Mountain, GA.