At every stage of our Christian development, and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is our greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend.1
Thankfulness stops pride growing. We can thank people for things that they do and who they are, and that’s important and encouraging for them. But we’re to thank God for that person, for the way he has worked in them. Thankfulness is a sign of a believer. “Ingratitude…[is] one of the distinguishing marks of non-believers”.2 If you’re struggling with feeling thankful to God at this time, try and think of just one thing each day to be thankful for. It might be that you have enough food, or the weather, or something that happened at Bible study. Thank God for one thing after someone has visited you, or you have visited them. Thank God for one thing in your friend or your child, or in your spouse, your church or your local community.
In the constant act of thanksgiving, the relationship with God is nurtured. Through thanksgiving, the gracious acts are remembered and the life of a person is thereby changed.3
God-centred thankfulness helps us grow in humility, as it stops pride growing.
Confession is a reality check as it reminds us who we are. Christian confession need not be overwhelming because the cross was sufficient for all our sins and we have been completely forgiven. It is at the cross that we understand most clearly that we are sinners, but it is also at the cross that we understand most clearly that we are deeply loved. When we confess we gain a deeper appreciation of grace and what we have been saved from. God’s forgiveness gives us peace and security, and therefore the freedom to grow in humility.
“They can hurt terribly, but they help you to be humble”.4 Humiliations can help us become more like Jesus, who was terribly humiliated. I’m not talking here of accepting domestic abuse. Not at all. I mean that we might fail at something, or we might get demoted at work. Be ready to accept humiliations, as we can learn a lot when we’re at the bottom of the pecking order—which for many of us is out of our comfort zone.
Don’t try and connect with people to elevate yourself. Is that person going to make me look good? Having that job, will that make me look good? Having that house? That spouse? Don’t try and elevate yourself; rather, try to elevate others. Serve others. When people are speaking at our funeral, what do we want them to say about us? About our values? Will they testify that humility characterized our life? Will they say, “She had humility, she had what mattered”?5 People who are humble inspire trust and confidence from those around them and therefore humility is key for leadership.6 Pride is anti-social behaviour, whereas when we’re humble, it’s best for others and best for us, as it’s who we were created and redeemed to be.
I think this one is really key, and not often talked about. Laugh at yourself and others. You have to be serious about some things, but don’t take yourself too seriously. When we’re able to laugh at ourselves, we more quickly swallow our pride. It diffuses situations. It means we’re not trying to keep up a facade that we’re this person who has it altogether. It means we can more quickly admit we’re wrong. It means we’re more real. It means we’re more in tune with grace. It means we’re more in tune that other people will have similar struggles to us in the Christian walk. Being able to laugh at ourselves is really important. It can help prevent burnout. It helps us keep going in life and ministry.
Listening to others shows we’re willing to learn from them, that we want to learn from them, whether they’re adults or children, whatever the persons’ background, Christian or not. The people that made the biggest impact on me when I was a child, outside of my immediate family, were an uncle and aunt. Each school holidays we use to go visit them on their farm. There were six kids in my family and ten in theirs, so there was potential for much chaos! I was a very shy child but I always loved going to their home as I felt loved and welcomed, and the reason they made me feel like that was they made a point of asking me questions and they listened to me, and that made a lasting impression on me. When we feel listened to, we feel loved. And when we listen to others, it’s a sign of us loving them and an acknowledgement that we can learn from them. And it’s also recognition that God in his sovereignty and goodness has put this person in my life.
It’s fascinating observing different talk show hosts. Some ask a question and just let the person talk. Others cut them off quickly, and kind of turn the question to being all about them. Despite having people on their show to interview, some don’t really listen. They seem to think they already have the answers. They don’t really seem to want to learn from the people they are interviewing. The best people at interviewing are those that listen. They let the person keep talking. When I was chatting to my sister about this she said, “Yes, and the ones who listen are actually the ones you want to talk to. They are the more interesting people!” Which is largely due to the fact that they are not so self-absorbed. When we listen to people it’s a sign of love, of wisdom, and shows that we’re teachable, and it’s a way we can become more humble.
This is closely related to the point above about listening to others. When we ask questions in a right attitude and manner it shows we recognize we don’t have all the answers, that maybe our preconceived ideas about something were in fact wrong. It can also show that we recognize the person’s authority over us (if that is the case) and we are submitting to them. It can show we assume trust in them. There are many varied and different situations in life when it would be good for us to ask questions, aren’t there?
If you’re not in the habit of asking questions, it might be embarrassing at first, but it becomes easier. For example, when you’re chatting with someone and they use a word you don’t know, ask them the definition. If you don’t understand other things they’re saying, ask them to clarify. It’s often our pride that stops us asking questions of clarification.
Ask questions of someone also because you assume they’re interesting to get to know. They have something worthwhile to say, whatever their age or background. They have something we can learn from, Christian or not. Ask questions of someone because they are created by God and it’s a sign of us recognizing their worth in God’s eyes and therefore our love for them.
There are many situations where we can ask questions of others that help us grow in humility, but one of the greatest ways is to ask God questions in prayer and when we read his word the Bible.
“Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less”.7 Humility is not thinking that others are more godly or kind than you, more intelligent or nicer, better at cooking or cricket than you. They may be, they may not be. Humility is when you consider other people’s interests before your own, thinking what is best for the other person and acting on that. We’re being humble when we think of others before ourselves. You may have a greater status than someone. You may have authority over someone. You don’t pretend you don’t have authority over them, but you think of what will benefit the people under you. What do they need? What is best for them? It doesn’t mean you don’t look after yourself. When we don’t look after ourselves we soon can’t help anyone else.
John Stott was by many accounts a humble man, and so it’s no surprise this was said of him after he passed away:
When I was nineteen I attended a day conference in Newcastle at which John Stott was the speaker. When we arrived, the friend with whom I’d come went off to the toilet and I was left alone, feeling out of place. An older man came over and began talking to me, asking me about myself. After a few moments my friend returned and the man introduced himself, “Hello, I’m John Stott.” My jaw nearly hit the floor. I’d been speaking to the great John Stott without realizing it. That moment made a big impression on me. John—who was the only speaker that day—had seen an awkward looking teenager on his own and taken it upon himself to make him feel welcome. I met him a few times subsequently and he always remembered my name. The private John Stott was just as impressive as the public persona: gracious, humble, without affectation. I’m sure it was this humility that meant God could entrust him with the influence and success he received. It is hard to underestimate the impact he has had across the world.8
This blog post was originally published on ThinkTank, and has been edited and republished with the author’s permission.
1. John Stott, ‘Pride, Humility, and God’ in Alive to God, eds. JI Packer & Loren Wilkinson, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, 1992, p, 119.↩
2. David Pao, Thanksgiving, Apollos, Leicester, 2002, p. 21.↩
3. Ibid., p. 37.↩
4. Michael Ramsey, The Christian Priest Today, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London, 1972, p. 80.↩
5. CJ Mahaney, Humility, Multnomah, Colorado Springs, 2005, p. 24.↩
6. Ibid., pp. 17-19.↩
7. Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2012, p. 190.↩