C.S. Lewis had a knack for breaking down complex concepts, so I wasn’t surprised to read what he had to say about humility. From his much-quoted book, “Mere Christianity”: “A really humble man…will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”
Pastor and author Rick Warren put it this way in “The Purpose-Driven Life”: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”
Great perspective, but easier said than done. In a self-obsessed culture, how do we think about ourselves less?
The brass tacks
At first, it seems like a straightforward assignment: Think about yourself less. But we’re always thinking about something. In thinking less about something specific, we create a vacuum in our brains unless we pick something else to think about. What replaces our self-focused thoughts? How do we get started? Here are a few suggestions.
Study something. Wrestle with ideas. Learn something new. Check out a library book on theology or animal science or watch a few YouTube videos about Mediterranean culture or Italian recipes. Scientists have studied the world for centuries, and God’s people have thought about complex ideas for even longer. Yet there is still so much we don’t know and so much we can learn from others. Researching astronomy or apologetics or the circulation system in the human body increases our understanding of God’s work, reminding us just how big He is.
In one of my favorite passages, God reminds Job who is really in charge. “Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt, to bring rain on a land where no man is, on the desert in which there is no man…” Think about it: God stirs up wind and heavy clouds to bring rain to areas of the world where no people are present to see His work.
That’s not the only thing He does unnoticed. Think of how little we know about creatures lurking in the farthest depths of the ocean. He feeds them and cares for them — and we don’t even know they exist. God created living things we haven’t discovered yet. He stirs up storms on other planets and keeps moons orbiting in other galaxies we can’t see from our vantage point in our solar system.
Think about others. Focus outward. Pray for others and think of questions to ask them next time you have an opportunity. How often do we take a real interest in others, listening without jumping ahead to how we want to respond? Think about some of the people you’ll likely come in contact with over the next few days. What can you ask them about? Don’t forget to truly listen to their answer. Active listening is both a gift and a skill. It takes practice, and practice takes time.
Think about God. “Humility is not … preoccupied with oneself and one’s own lowliness, but first mindful and conscious of God,” wrote David Mathis in “Humbled: Welcoming the Uncomfortable Work of God.” How often do you meditate on verses about God? No matter how much time we spend thinking about God’s attributes and studying Him, it’s never enough.
Of course, thinking about God often leads to talking to God. Thinking about others quickly moves to praying for others’ needs or thanking God for putting them in our life. Learning about the world God created increases our awe of who our God is, reminding us how little we are.
“For those of us who are under the delusion that we are strong, prayer makes little sense, especially as a pattern of life,” Mathis wrote. “But when we freshly realize our fragileness and weakness, we find that the New Testament’s emphasis on unceasing prayer is not a burden but an unparalleled offer.”
A great place to start
This post is not a step-by-step guide to becoming humble. We would be foolish to think we could grow in humility in our own strength, or that following a list of rules would somehow magically create this God-given quality in us. Humility is a heart attitude, not another to-do on a list. “It’s not something we can just up and do,” wrote Mathis. “We cannot humble ourselves by our own bootstraps.”
We know we need God’s supernatural help to be patient, content, bold and courageous. It is no less true that we need His assistance to be humble. It shouldn’t surprise us, really. Humility is, in many ways, a uniquely Christian quality. While some unbelievers may seem humble, and may truly act humbly toward others, they can’t grasp the essence of humility: a right view of ourselves in relation to God.
When we ask for help with our own humility, we petition our Savior who emptied himself to serve us. We admit we can’t follow His example on our own, and we come to Him on our knees to ask His help.
For people who want to be humble, there is no better place to be.
Copyright 2023 Lauren Dunn. All rights reserved.