Eight Humiliation-Free Ways to Learn Humility
- Know the greatness of your sin and your God.
John Owen said, “Two things need to humble us. First, let us consider God in His greatness, glory, holiness, power, majesty, and authority. Then, let us consider ourselves in our mean, abject, and sinful condition.” True humility results from seeing the truth—about God and about ourselves.
- Learn to give up self-defense.
To be humble you must learn to die to what Augustine called “the lust of vindicating ourselves.” There is a balance here. There is a time when you need to defend your integrity—when the loss of it will ruin your witness or mar the testimony of Christ. But most of the time, we spend way too much time trying to justify our actions.
- Be harsh on yourself rather than others.
Fénelon said, “Can we with justice feel contempt for others and dwell on their faults, when we are full of them ourselves? Our strong feelings about the faults of others is itself a great fault.” Be suspicious of yourself if you get overly exercised about someone else’s sin! Chances are, you have a log in your eye, while you may be fretting about the splinter in someone else’s. Here is a good test: Is this matter a big enough deal that you will lovingly discuss it with the person you are concerned about? If it isn’t, then it certainly isn’t a big enough deal to discuss it with others!
- Never consider yourself humble.
Don’t become like Uriah Heep from the old classic novel, who was always asserting his own humility. Don’t be like the church member who was awarded a medal for humility, but then had it taken it away because he wore it! A humble person will never presume to tell others that he is humble, because he doesn’t know it.
- Practice humility in the little things.
Andrew Murray wrote, “The insignificances of daily life are the tests of eternity because they prove what spirit really possesses us. It is in our most unguarded moments that we really show and see what we are. To know . . . how the humble man behaves, you must follow him in the common course of daily life.” What does this mean practically? Give in to your mate the next time the two of you disagree. Don’t get angry the next time someone cuts you off in traffic. Be eager to take the blame for mistakes. Quickly seek reconciliation with others.
- Forget your SELF.
This is really what you should be aiming for in the fight for humility: to be really unconscious of your self at all. This is especially relevant when it comes to your motives: Do you do the things you do for the Lord or for the applause of men? C. S. Lewis said that the relationship between self-regard and the need for approval of others is like an itch that needs to be scratched: “As long as we have the itch of self-regard, we shall want the pleasure of self-approval; but the happiest moments are those when we forget our precious selves and have neither, but have everything else instead.” This is subtle. It is easy and tempting to want the approval and compliments of others after you cook a nice meal, pray a moving prayer, or give a sacrificial gift. But that is an unhealthy itch that wants to be scratched; it would be better not to have the itch at all.
- Delight in the Lord, not accomplishments.
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:23-24 esv).
Note the three things men tend to glory in. Some men boast in wisdom, whether in the form of education, natural intelligence, practical know-how, or wit and cleverness. Others tend to boast in might—a sharp physique, physical prowess and strength, fitness, muscle tone, beauty. Still others are proud of riches—wealth, prosperity, success, affluence. But God says we should glory in understanding and knowing Him, not in our own human distinctions and accomplishments. One of the most important keys to humility is a sight of the satisfying God who is infinitely greater than we are.
- Meditate on the gospel.
When Paul wanted to cultivate humility in the members of a local church, he took them straight to the gospel. In fact, Philippians 2:5-11 is one of the most profound meditations on the gospel in all of Scripture, as he described the humility of Jesus in His incarnation, obedience, and death. And when Jesus taught His disciples servanthood, He pointed them to His own vocation as Servant, to be both their highest example and deepest motive for serving others: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45).
Our humility is the fruit of, and a response to, the humility of Christ Himself. The only way we’ll be freed from the pride of boasting in ourselves
is if we find a more worthy object in which to boast. That’s why the wisdom of Scripture never simply says, “Do not boast, but be humble”; instead, it directs us to boast in the Lord (Psalm 34:2; Jeremiah 9:23-24; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31) and to boast in the cross. As Paul wrote in Galatians 6:14, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
Brian G. Hedges (www.BrianGHedges.com) is lead pastor for Redeemer Church in Niles, Michigan, and author of several books, including Active Spirituality: Grace and Effort in the Christian Life. He and his wife, Holly, have four children and live in South Bend, Indiana.