Jesus talked a lot about humility. He certainly practiced it and called his followers to practice it. Yet, Humility may be on the endangered list of spiritual practices. It is certainly the most misunderstood of all the spiritual practices. What is it and why do we tend to despise practicing it?
Jesus and Humility
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:29).
Jesus’ disciples were arguing about who was going to be the greatest among them – they were jockeying for position next to Jesus. They asked him – who will be the greatest? Jesus placed a little child in front of them and said that unless they changed their thinking and became like that little child they would have no place in his kingdom.
Then Jesus told them, “Whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Matt. 18:4-5).
Jesus insisted that his followers would be different from those who had bought into the economics of the culture. He told them –
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:25-28).
Jesus calls us to view the idea of success through a very different lens. We are most successful when we humble ourselves and follow him by serving others.
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (Prov. 11:2).
Humility may be the most avoided spiritual practice because it is so misunderstood. People tend to think of humility as a position of weakness. We have wrapped the idea of “humility” up in the act of “humiliation.” Who wants to be humiliated? No wonder we avoid it like the plague.
Humility is neither weakness nor humiliation. To practice humility does NOT mean that you allow people to humiliate you or take advantage of you. Humility does NOT mean you live a life of total self-deprivation or being a “doormat” for others to step on.
The reality is actually the opposite. Humility means you walk through life with power and self-confidence, immune to what others think of you. Humility means you draw your inner strength from God who is at the center of your life.
The Essentials for Humility
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:10).
The Bible talks a lot about humility. It always associates the humble with those who love God. Practicing humility is a roadmap to a successful life. What are the essential elements of a life of practicing humility?
1. Humility means you place God at the center of your life.
Humility is the fear of the LORD; its wages are riches and honor and life” (Prov. 22:4).
The number one obstacle to a life of humility is not pride – it’s control.
The tendency is for us to become dependent on our own abilities to make it in life. We can work, think, decide, reason, and negotiate our way to a comfortable and secure life. This creates a false sense of accomplishment. We no longer feel a need for God.
We may not buy into Nietzsche’s famous declaration, “God is dead,” but for all practical purposes, he is missing where there is no felt need for him.
The practice of humility recognizes that God is sovereign and in control of all things, including our lives and every breath we take. On our own, we can accomplish nothing (John 15:5).
2. Humility means you place others before yourself.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Phil. 2:3-4).
Once God is at the center of our lives, we then begin to look to his Son, Jesus for direction. And Jesus teaches us to love other people just as much as we love ourselves (Matt. 22:39). Jesus teaches us to love the way we would want to be loved (Matt. 7:12).
Humility does not mean that you deprive yourself of the things you want. It simply means that you make a strategic decision to always consider God and others in every decision you make.
Think about the people who are willing to sacrifice themselves for others.
- The fireman who runs into the burning building when everyone else is running out.
- The police officer who throws himself in the line of fire to save a child.
- The soldier who goes back into the battle to rescue a wounded comrade.
These are all acts of humility – placing others first. And they are the opposite of weakness!
3. Humility means you understand that you are strongest when you embrace your weaknesses.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9).
The Apostle Paul had a problem – there was something in his life that had plagued him for years. It was so shameful that he couldn’t even say it out loud. He was so embarrassed by whatever it was, that he couldn’t even mention it. And it was killing him.
He prayed and prayed for God to take this thing away. God was silent. Finally, after years of praying, God answered Paul. This was his answer – “My grace has already covered this thing, so stop worrying about it.”
Then God said this – “Paul, it is the very thing that you despise about yourself that I will use to bring glory to my name – my power will be made perfect in your flaws.”
This is a powerful idea.
In a culture that is constantly trying to make me something that I am not – a culture that is critical of every flaw – a culture that forces me to photoshop my life into something that appears perfect – in that culture, God gives us a counter-cultural way to live!
Paul responded to God’s answer by saying, “Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9).
I can embrace my weakness. I can own my flaws. I no longer have to be ashamed of them. I can be who I am and no longer have to worry about what everyone is going to think of me. I can do all of this because God’s grace has already covered all my flaws, and HIS power is made perfect in all my greatest weaknesses.
This is what it looks like to live out the powerful spiritual practice of humility!