Wrestling with humility has been one of the biggest parts of my faith journey over the last few years, and it’s been kinda strange. At the start it seemed easy for me to be humble, then I realised that I found it extremely difficult, and finally I’m starting to understand that it’s actually not about me. Maybe that’s confusing, but I’ll try to explain
When Jesus was famously asked to summarize the law he said simply “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
While it’s clear that love is central to Christianity, it’s only been the last couple of years that I’ve started seeing how humility underpins our ability to love. I would go as far to argue that without humility we cannot love.
Likewise, go and google the two words “humility important” and you’ll found endless people (even Harvard business review) working hard to convince you to pursue humility. This post isn’t about why humility is important, but about my experience wrestling with it, discovering that the path to true humility isn’t even close to what I thought it was.
Some of you might not know this, but I once won a medal for being so humble. Although it was sadly taken away when I started wearing it.
Maybe you’re as lame as me and laughed when you read that. Even though this is just a joke I stole from somewhere in the internet, I think it highlights the weirdness of this characteristic.
A few months ago, I asked on Facebook what people thought about humility (it was on the 16th of November if you’re interested) and it was pretty interesting to see a fairly wide range of responses.
Far too often I prioritize my ability to think rather than listening to what the bible has to say. I come up with something clever before going back to God’s word to find life. I’m challenged that if I’m genuinely going to give the bible any authority in my life, I need to slow down and give these following words some serious attention.
Matthew 18:1-4 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Philippians 2:3 – Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.
1 Peter 3:8 – Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.
Matthew 23:11-12 The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Despite hearing such things again and again in my life, it’s taken a long time for them to sink in at all. I saw that the bible seemed to put an emphasis on this characteristic, but it’s taken a long time for it to be anything more than words.
I saw all these characteristics of what it meant to be a “good Christian” and translated them into performance goals. It was basically a set of rules I had to follow in order to achieve “good Christian” status. Essentially it came down to “If I worked hard enough, I was worthy of being loved.”
A really famous quote often (incorrectly) attributed to C.S Lewis was one of the earliest breakthroughs for me on this – “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less”
This gave me something to aim for. It translated a vague idea into something that I thought I could do. Funnily enough, I tried so hard to be humble (so that I could be lovable) that my humility wasn’t thinking less about myself, but much more.
The power for Humility
While it’s taken me a while to realize what was going on, I was searching for meaning and value all over the place. It particularly manifested with people – If only enough of the right people saw my humility and thought that I was great. I thought that earning my own worth would bring me the satisfaction that I knew I craved.
The truth is so much better though
I had no idea that the only kind of satisfaction that would meet my deepest needs was completely independent of me. While I hope this sounds familiar to you, if you can identify with me above, maybe it hasn’t hit you like it can.
“We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope”
Despite our deep and utter sinfulness, we are completely loved. It’s not the other way round. Behavior isn’t a requirement for our acceptance. We can’t earn the love of a holy God, yet he gives it to us.
Ephesians 2:4-9 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus … this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works.”
From my experience, humility only comes when we are so secure in God’s love that we can completely forget about ourselves. Only when we no longer feel the need to impress others with our humility, can we truly be humble. And from my experience, it is the most freeing, exciting thing you will ever experience.
I think that this is the meaning of 1 John 4:19 “We love because he first loved us”. Until we experience the love of God and become totally secure in what he thinks of us, our greatest efforts to love others will always be (at least) tinged with selfish motives. They will always be in part self serving.
If love is putting the needs of others above your own, humility is the posture that allows for us to love.
Please don’t read this as “Oh, hi my name is Ben and I’m super humble now” because if you know me well, it’s simply not true. But I have been tasting the fruit of humility and I eagerly hope that my reflections might point you towards seeing God’s grace as a great treasure to be pursued.
What I’ve learnt/things I’m still wrestling with:
- The point of Christianity isn’t to follow a set of rules that allows you to be loved. It’s that there is a God who loves us despite our works.
- We can’t just ignore our own need for satisfaction.
- God wants you to be so satisfied in him that you can forget about yourself.
- Humility only comes when we are so secure in God’s love that we can completely forget about ourselves
- When God’s love becomes more than just a “fact”, it has the power to change your life.
Hungry for more?
- This sermon kicked me in the butt about this. I cannot recommend this enough – http://www.gospelinlife.com/pride-the-case-of-nebuchadnezzar-6375