Lessons from a Turtle

by Dr. David Sampson on October 15, 2020

A study of history reveals that poets, preachers, and politicians alike, considered humility to be the indispensable virtue that sustains society and opens the way to personal success. Today, however, this noble, quintessential virtue is becoming an endangered characteristic. Humility is being exchanged for hostility within many functions of society. Peace will never come to a family, church, or nation without the practice of humility. The article below appeared in the Handbook of Magazine Article Writing by Philip Barry Osborne. It is a great illustration and a perfect reminder of humility. He writes:

"Alex Haley, the author of Roots, has a picture in his office, showing a turtle sitting on top of a fence. The picture is there to remind him of a lesson he learned long ago: 'If you see a turtle on a fence post, you know he had some help.' Says Alex, 'Any time I start thinking, Wow, isn’t this marvelous what I’ve done! I look at that picture and remember how this turtle—me—got up on that post.'"[1]

The lesson from the turtle photo is clear—we need one another to succeed in life. God never intended for man to be isolated and alone (Genesis 2:18). Personal, loving relationships forge within us honorable virtues. These virtues are manifested by our compassion, care, and concern for one another. If anyone is to find balance on the fence post of life, they must humble themselves and seek the support of others. While there may be some fences you can manage, others are just too big to get over, and you will only get hurt trying to make the leap. The only solution is to welcome the support and strength of others.

The Lord Jesus Christ stands ready to help you in every area of your life, but you must humble yourself and strip away your pride. He will not force Himself on you. His entrance into your life comes by faith in His provision for you (Romans 10:9,10,13). Spiritual pride says, “I can make it on my own,” but spiritual humility says, “Lord, not my will, but Thine be done.” You may be thinking—what is humility? Dr. Charles Stanley provides an excellent answer by stating:

"Humility is at the foundation of submissiveness. It is the complement character trait to wisdom—it is what keeps the wise from becoming arrogant. Humility is a sign of being filled with the Holy Spirit; it is a hallmark among those who have good reputations."[2]

Additionally, not only is a personal relationship with Christ essential (Acts 4:12)—your friendship and fellowship with God’s people are vital to your spiritual maturity (II Timothy 2:22). There have been so many Christian mentors who have influenced my life. Their spiritual impact enabled me to find balance on the fences of life. So, what lessons do we learn from a humble turtle on a fence? Here are five outcomes: 

  1. Goals take longer without the support of others.
  2. You need strengthening relationships to thrive.
  3. Balance is found in the blessing of cooperation.
  4. Working together creates remarkable moments.
  5. Your humble successes will cause others to look at your life with amazement.

Humility leads to happiness. Like the turtle in the photo, the impossible is achieved, balance is sustained, and the incredible unfolds when you humble yourself and allow God and His people to pick you up as you humbly work together for the glory of God.

Missional Until He Comes,
Dr. David L. Sampson
Titus 1:3


[1] Craig Brian Larson, 750 Engaging Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers & Writers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 256.

[2] Charles F. Stanley, Developing a Servant’s Heart, electronic ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997).

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