I learned something surprising this week. I was studying humility for my summer sermon series on Spiritual Exercises (spiritual disciplines). What surprised me is that humility is not simply a state of mind or a belief. It starts there, but it doesn’t stay there. Humility, Jesus in particular showed us, and the biblical writers tell us, is lived.
Consider Jesus’ act of self-sacrifice, which Paul describes like this in Philippians 2: “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
Humility is lived out by what we do. James, the brother of Jesus, says in his letter (James 4:6) “humble yourself in the sight of the Lord.” Peter, one of Jesus’s closest friends says in 1 Peter 5:6 “humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand.”
We can and should practice humility. Even if our heart is not totally humble, humility is something that we can work on. We have to be intentional about it.
So how do we become more humble and practice humility? I found numerous excellent suggestions from the biblical writers and others. Here are a few steps to become more humble.
Pray for God to humble you. Pray for change in your life so that you become humble in your heart. Pray to be humbled? Sounds a bit scary, and it requires that we believe achieving a greater amount of humility is worth it. But if you want to become more humble, ask God to humble you.
In conversations, practice the 60/40 rule. My seminary professor, David Dorsey, taught that to a class I was in. His goal in every conversation was to listen about 60% of the time, and talk 40%. I love how that emphasizes the humility of listening, but doesn’t negate what you yourself have to offer.Force yourself not to be the one to talk. Actively battle a tendency to make yourself look good. Ask the question of people who will speak honestly to you “Do I talk too much?” Discipline yourself to realize how long you are talking. Try to listen, and ask questions of your conversation partner to show you are listening and interested in them, even if you aren’t!
As the wise teacher says in Proverbs 27:2 “Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth.” Force yourself not to say what you have done that is good. Whether in conversation or on social media. Ask people to tell you if you are pumping yourself up too much. Hear me on this. It is not wrong to recognize that you have abilities. When I was little, I once overheard my dad saying to my mom that he felt he was getting good at computer programming. At the time he was in his doctoral studies for computer education. His comment was simply an attempt at honest evaluation. He didn’t go around bragging about his skills. In fact, that was the only time I ever heard him say that, even when he got a computer game he programmed published in a programming magazine. So there needs to be balance. Don’t go around saying how great you are. Let others praise you. Let your work, your achievements, your skills do the talking. As I have said to my kids, don’t tell me how good you are at a certain sport. Show how good you are on the field. It can be really tricky. Really evaluate why you are saying what you are saying. Stay attuned to your heart. Even if you are giving a rundown of what you did on a certain day, and you are listing it out on Facebook, realize that you can be promoting yourself. When have you crossed the line from humility into pride? I can’t answer that for you. But we all should be evaluating that.
Hold your judgment for a while. Here’s a guy that needs a dose of the needed patience humility can bring.
It can be so easy to rush to judgment. But the humble person says “I’m going to keep my mouth shut and my mind open because I could be totally wrong about this situation.” Wait to evaluate. Then wait some more. Collect data. Make sure it wasn’t just a one-time anomaly. Give grace.
Fourth, be like John the Baptist, willing to decrease so that others can rise. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,” Paul says, “but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” I recently heard of a guy who was recently hired at a company. This guy so badly wanted to impress his boss. He wanted the boss to like him, he wanted to rise. So when another employee told this guy in confidence that he (the other employee) was looking for other jobs, this guy who wanted to rise saw an opportunity. He spilled the beans to the boss, broke confidence, and told the boss about the other employee’s plans. The boss, of course, talked with the other employee saying, “So, I heard you’re leaving us…” The other employee was shocked and embarrassed, his confidence betrayed by the guy who wanted to rise.
Fifth, go last. Jesus also taught quite a bit about humility. In Luke 14:7-15 he was at a big fancy dinner, and he noticed people scrambling for the best seats. So you know what Jesus says to them, “he who exalts himself with be humbled. Take the last seat.” Many times Jesus said things like this. One of his famous sayings was “the last will be first, and the first last.” So at a gathering, be last. Make sure everyone else before you goes first. Trying to decide what TV show to watch? Let the other person get their way. Trying to decide where to go to eat, let the other person get their way. Be willing to enter into a situation that you don’t like. Don’t get your way. Give up your way.
Next, Paul taught in Romans 12:16, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” If you live in the Lancaster, PA, area volunteer at places like CVCCS, Water Street, or Church World Service…and don’t tell anyone about your volunteering.
Here’s another idea: get an accountability partner. Just the act of having someone tell you what you need to work on is humbling, and we need that.
John Dickson, in his excellent book Humilitas, encourages a few more practical steps. I suggest you get his book and read it. I’ll share one step he recommends. Study the lives of the humble. In the Old Testament book of Numbers, we’re told that Moses was the most humble man alive. Why? How? Read about his life and find out why. I have some theories, and I’m not going to tell you them. Find out for yourself. Of course, study Jesus. But there are others. Mother Theresa, for example. Find more people who are considered humble. Study them, learn how they were humble. Why they were humble. Imitate them.
Get a trainer. Know someone you consider humble? Ask them to help you become more humble. Get Humilitas and start reading it together, working on implementing its ideas into your lives.
And handle your foray into humility with grace and generosity and love. Don’t be a begrudging humble person. Humility can be, well, humbling. And being humbled is hard. It can make us grumpy. But we need it!