Humility isn’t a very popular topic these days, is it? We are encouraged to put ourselves first, share every accomplishment on social media, post daily selfies, and make a name for ourselves. As Christians, we know that not all of this is good. But it is very difficult to pick our way through this minefield while we are immersed in our own culture—to know what is OK and what could lead us more and more into a self-focused life.
As an artist, I post my work on social media, and like most people I’m happy when a post gets likes and comments. Sometimes I do struggle with putting my work out for the world to see, though. Am I showing off? Is this all about me? I know God gave me any abilities that I have, but am I trying to “make a name for myself”? Well, yes, I guess I am. In order to build my business, it’s important that people see what my work is like and associate my name with it. Anything wrong with that? If I am truly “making a name for myself,” like the ambitious tower of Babel folks (Genesis 11:1-9), the answer would be . . . yes. So, when I find myself in this position (which I have more than once!), what should I do?
I think the key is where my eyes are focused. On self or on Christ? Sounds simple, but it’s not a once-and-done choice. I chose to follow Christ a long time ago, but staying near to him involves tiny, directional adjustments that keep me walking beside him and toward him. “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:6). One of my favorite ways to acknowledge his presence is to ask him questions. Even a simple “Is this OK?” before I make a decision, or even post something on social media, has been helpful, especially if I was hesitant for some reason. If I sense a smile or a “go ahead,” I go ahead. Sometimes Scripture pops into my head at that moment, or even just a feeling that he is shaking his head causes me to reconsider. Conversations are deeper and better when we have eye contact. Once I look away from his gentle and humble eyes, I am so easily distracted. It’s natural then to look where I want to go and take steps toward my selfish inclinations.
As always, Jesus draws us to himself to teach us. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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” (Matthew 11:28-29). More and more, I am realizing that each separate problem I face is an opportunity to go to him for a big hug. As I confess my sin to him, he never shames me but kindly teaches me how to think differently. And here’s the heart of humility: He knows everything. We don’t. Sounds stupidly simple, but how often do we think in the back of our minds that we know better than God how to handle things? When this happens to me, I go to the verses that my mom instilled in me when I was little, so that I remember that I am still little, and he is big:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
From this basic place of humility (knowing our position under God), we can better follow him into humility with other people. More difficult. But again, he teaches us and leads by example.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 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.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:1-8)
The closer we resemble Jesus, the closer we are to being truly humble. And the more we humbly realize we are totally dependent on him to be genuinely humble, the farther we are from false humility (arguably worse than pride!). Jesus’ humility drew people to his heart. Humility attracts; pride repels.
I was recently shown this in a relationship that I value highly. We were arguing. I was right. He was wrong. Seriously, though! I did not want to admit it to myself at the time, but my pride in being right completely took over. It was a tricky situation, because looking back, I still see the other person’s wrong as greater than my own. But in the moment of anger, in my zeal to prove their wrong, I totally overlooked mine. It was obvious what my pride did—it repelled this person I love and created a gap in the relationship. I asked the Lord to take over, realizing I could not manufacture humility. The next day my thoughts became clearer, and I admitted to the person how wrong I had been and said I was sorry. I felt the immediate change, as two magnets pushing away from each other suddenly click back together when turned around. He was genuinely humble and also apologized, and together we calmly talked about how we would handle things differently in the future.
Relationships are obviously super important to Jesus. He prayed for unity among believers, even stating that by our unity the world will know that God sent Jesus and how much God loves them (John 17:23). This might be the most important reason God talks so much about humility. It is essential for unity and ultimately attracts others to Jesus. In these last days, when pursuing humility is so deeply countercultural, it may be more important than ever to learn from the only one who is completely humble in heart.
Suddenly, in my mind, I’m tearing my coworker apart limb from limb. How could she get the recognition that I rightfully deserved? This was the moment when I realized that pride was a problem in my life.