A friend and I used to joke that we wanted to co-author a book someday called “Humility, and How I Attained It.”
We never did. But you get the irony, right?
Humility is the trickiest of virtues, for those that are truly humble do not necessarily recognize themselves to be. In fact, the moment you start to recognize your own humility then you have started to drift into an insidious kind of pride – you are proud of being humble.
Tricky, yes. But in spite of its trickiness, humility is not just a suggestion or a pie-in-the-sky attribute; it’s a key mark of the disciple of Jesus from beginning to end. Humility is a prerequisite for anyone to begin new life in Christ, for the first step toward Jesus is a recognition of our own helplessness. Our own wickedness. Our own inability to change the state of our souls. No one comes to Jesus without this; the gospel message is a humbling message by its very nature.
We come to Christ in humility, or we don’t come at all, but our journey into the virtue doesn’t stop there. In fact, humility is one of the ways Paul, in his imprisonment, told the Ephesian believers they could live a life worthy of their calling:
“Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us” (Ephesians 4:1-3).
It matters, and it matters a lot. Doesn’t it stand to reason, then, that humility is something that can – and ought to – be pursued for the Christian? Shouldn’t we actively seek after humility? But how can we do that when we know how elusive it is and how easily our hearts can turn humility into pride? There are certainly more ways to go hard after humility, but let me suggest three to get us started:
1. Embrace opportunities for anonymity.
If we really want to pursue humility, then we shouldn’t just wait around for it to happen. We should instead intentionally put ourselves in positions of service that we know for a fact will not be recognized. Jesus warned His followers of the danger of public good – that we will always be tempted to do good in order to be recognized:
““Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward with your Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:1).
The inverse should also be true – give, serve, help in ways that are intentionally behind the scenes. Volunteer for the thankless roles in the church. Show up at an elderly neighbor’s home when she’s away and cut the grass. Give a gift without telling the person you are doing it. Seize on these opportunities for anonymity as a means of chasing after a humble heart.
2. Practice the discipline of gratitude.
Giving thanks is, in and of itself, an act of humility. That’s because when you are truly practicing gratitude you are recognizing that another has done something for you that you did not, or could not, do for yourself. So the more we can integrate the rhythm of gratitude to God and others into our daily lives, the more we will also be running after humility. It’s very simple, but practicing the discipline of gratitude, even when you don’t feel grateful, will actually start to shape our souls.
3. Order your prayers around God’s kingdom.
Many have pointed out that in Jesus’ model prayer, there is a lot of praying to be done before we ever get to personal requests. In other words, the focus of our prayers should be fixed on God and His kingdom before we approach the throne of grace on behalf of ourselves. This is a choice we make – to prioritize God’s kingdom over our own perceived needs and desires. But what we will find, over time, is that our prayers will actually start to shape our attitudes. We can, therefore, pursue humility through what we choose to prioritize in our prayer lives.
Humility is tricky, friends. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go after it. Let’s in this, as in all things, surrender ourselves to the shaping work of the Holy Spirit, and show our surrender by the way we pursue humility in faith.